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Why I Became a Holistic Veterinarian

I grew up in a small town in northeastern South Dakota, surrounded by animals on my parents’ farm.

Although I’ve always had a strong bond with animals as far back as I can remember, there’s one defining moment that helped me realize my calling to become a veterinarian.

It was a dreary, cloudy day out on the playground back when I was in grade school.

I was outside during recess and there was a big commotion.

As I approached the area where all the other kids were gathering, I realized a stray dog had been hit by a car.

He was crying in pain and wasn’t going to make it.

Everyone was frantic and unsure of what to do or how they could help him.

I felt his pain at my core and wanted more than anything to be the one that knew what to to save his life.

From that moment on, I was determined to become a veterinarian.

“That way,” I said to myself, “I’ll be the one who knows what to do any time I witness another animal in pain.”.

Fast forward to my college days where I graduated from the Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine -- what an amazing milestone in my life!

There, I learned from some amazing professors who taught me the extremely important lesson that, "Veterinary medicine isn't all about memorizing and reciting everything you learn. It's about how to LISTEN to your clients and the animals you're working with to solve their problems with what you know, in a collaborative effort."

Essentially, being a good vet is having the ability to work as part of the pet and owner's team to help solve their problem(s).

You need to gather as much intel as possible from owners, as they're the ones who live with their pets on a day-to-day basis.

A quick story to illustrate this point further:

In school, we were told a true story about a farmer who had a steer limping in his feed lot.

He'd had 5 different vets come out (who all kept administering additional antibiotics to the steer's feed).

The thing here is, sick animals don't feel like eating and this kept increasing expenses for the farmer (with both the cost of additional medications and having multiple vets coming out to try and remedy the problem).

When the steer was able to eat, he was getting increased side effects from all the rounds of antibiotics he was receiving.

Turns out, the 6th vet out to the farm hosed the steer off and discovered that he was limping all along because he had a wire wrapped around his foot.

Nobody had taken the time to really clean him up and take a good look at him!

The lesson here that still stands out so vividly in my mind is, "There's always a wire. Find it and fix it! Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and really take a look before making assumptions."

I'm forever grateful for all that I learned at Iowa State University.

After graduating from there, I started working at a small animal hospital in Wheaton, Illinois for 6 months and was then offered the opportunity to work at a mixed animal practice (which is both large and small animals) in Comanche, Oklahoma.

I was excited about the opportunity, so I packed my things, moved to OK, and worked in Comanche for the next 4 years.

Then, in 1986, I had the wonderful opportunity to purchase a small animal practice in Mustang, Oklahoma.

I absolutely love Mustang and have been here ever since!

I was a conventional Western medicine veterinarian for about 15 years before I started integrating holistic veterinary treatments into my practice.

It started slowly, by doing things like using MSM for arthritis instead of NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

I had great success with that and gradually discovered a whole host of other natural treatments that worked with high effectiveness and had little to no side effects.

A few years ago, I spoke at the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society’s meeting in Framingham, Massachusetts.

It was such a fantastic time visiting with other holistic veterinarians!

One of them asked me how long I had been in practice before I started incorporating holistic therapies and I replied it had been 15 years.

He told me that he'd talked with a large number of holistic / integrative veterinarians and that seemed to be the average amount of time before they'd all converted as well.

We talked at length on why we changed the way we practiced and our reasons were remarkably similar.

After about 15 years of practicing conventional medicine and learning its pros / cons, we were all coming to an epiphany and asking the same question.

"Do I continue to practice the way I was taught and play it safe? (I.e., reproducing the conventional standard of care.) Or do I dare to branch out and try harder to heal my patients and become an outlier?"

It’s very frustrating to be taught: "If you've relieved the pain, you've cured the patient."

Arthritic pain is a good example of that.

We’re taught that in Western medicine, if we’ve gotten rid of the symptoms, the patient is cured.

However, this philosophy is turned upside down in Eastern medicine.

With Eastern medicine, if the doctor’s patient gets sick at all, the doctor has failed.

It’s very much based on preventative care and treating the patient as a whole and not just treating to mask whatever symptoms are occurring.

The bottom line is, something causes my patients' symptoms, and I realized I had to learn more about discovering what the root causes of their problems actually were.

Settling for putting a "band-aid" on it (in the way of prescribing pharmaceutical drugs, steroids, etc.) just wasn't cutting it for me any longer.

There are many ways of practicing holistic veterinary medicine, and as an Australian mentor of mine once said, “There are many roads to town, mate. It doesn’t matter which one you take as long as you get to town.”

I’ve been practicing veterinary medicine for over 37 years now, and have gained the experience to know when to approach things holistically (typically my first course of action) and when to resort to conventional Western medicine based therapies.

Given this, I would actually consider myself an “integrative veterinarian”.

This term hasn’t quite caught on in popularity, but it essentially means I try to pick the best principles from both holistic and conventional veterinary medicine to provide my patients with the best possible care.

Regardless of Eastern or Western medical philosophies (for both pets and people), the staple of all good health is ultimately derived from having optimal nutrition as fuel for the body.

I've certainly witnessed this over time in all my years of practice!

It may be more expensive to purchase higher quality foods and supplements for your pet, I do recognize that.

However, I always say the best way to look at it, is it’s essentially the equivalent of purchasing health insurance for your pet.

Proper nutrition = preventative care.

(Please do me a huge favor and repeat the line above 3 times. For the sake of your pet’s health and your own!)

Many of my patients that come in with terrible allergies and many other issues, end up being cured once we address their diet.

So in summary, investing a little bit now on nutrition, can prevent having to spend a lot down the road on healthcare to treat something that’s already become a troubling issue.

Nutrition is just one element of holistic veterinary medicine, but a very important one that I wanted to touch on here in this post since it’s so crucial to your pet’s vitality.

As Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Picking up where his quote leaves off, I'd like to help you learn more about improving your pet’s health through nutrition by giving you a free pet nutrition cheat sheet that I've put together.

I created this cheat sheet to save you hours of doing research on the Internet to determine what to feed your pet.

This is a simple 5-step PDF that will cut through all the noise and give you the foundations for taking proper care of your beloved dog or cat companions.

Until next time,

Dr. Terry R. Wood


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