In this video, Dr. Karen Becker interviews Dr. Barbara Royal, founding member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), about an exciting new campaign the foundation is kicking off.
By Dr. Becker
Today I have a very special guest, Dr. Barbara Royal. Dr. Royal is one of the founding members of the AHVMA Foundation.
I’m very excited about this interview because the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) Foundation is very close to my heart, and I want all of you watching here today to understand why I’m so passionate about this organization.
A Little about the Foundation
The AHVMA Foundation has been in existence for quite some time, but Dr. Royal and other board members are steering it in a new, exciting direction. I asked Dr. Royal to explain a little about the foundation.
The foundation has two co-directors, three board members including Dr. Royal, and an executive director. This structure is fairly recent. As mentioned, the foundation has been in existence for quite some time -- funding scholarships and other small projects, and working quietly behind the scenes to encourage holistically-oriented curriculums in veterinary schools.
More recently, the members decided the foundation has an opportunity to have a much greater impact on the practice and teaching of complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM), and that’s the direction they’re headed in now.
I asked Dr. Royal to talk about the goals of the foundation. She explained that it is an effort by the AHVMA organization and holistic veterinarians to make a difference in their profession by finding ways to support research into the theory and practice of CAVM, and to expand CAVM education into more veterinary schools across the U.S.
As Dr. Royal points out, most of the research done in veterinary medicine is funded by government agencies, large corporations and pharmaceutical companies that have a stake in the results. The research is undertaken specifically to promote a certain type of processed pet food, a new drug, a piece of surgical equipment, or some other profit-making product.
But when someone wants to research a natural ingredient for pets, for example, or a nutraceutical – something low-profile that doesn’t carry a patent or trademark – there’s little or no funding available.
The Goal: Independently Funded Research into Alternative Veterinary Medicine
What the AHVMA Foundation wants to do is raise the money necessary to facilitate research into alternative veterinary therapies, and to provide more CAVM coursework in veterinary schools. And their goal is to find financial support from unbiased individuals and organizations with no agenda other than to learn what works and what doesn’t. They want to assist the entry of CAVM techniques into evidence-based medicine. Evidence-based medicine is defined as:
“The judicious use of the best current available scientific research in making decisions about the care of patients. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) is intended to integrate clinical expertise with the research evidence and patient values.” (MedicineNet.com)
In order to conduct independent research not backed by special interests like pet food manufacturers or veterinary pharmaceutical companies, the funding has to come from private citizens and groups.
And as Dr. Royal explains, veterinarians must also to come together as a group to impact the direction of future research. DVMs have to make a conscious, collective decision not to simply take whatever data is offered by Big Pharma and large pet food companies and call it a day. They have to have interest in finding out what’s real and what’s not for themselves.
Dr. Royal believes the AHVMA Foundation has the ability to bring in money to start funding research and education projects that will provide scientific evidence of the value of alternative veterinary therapies. This research will support what holistic and integrative vets already know about what works and what doesn’t in CAVM. It will also provide evidence of the benefits of integrating Western and alternative medicine techniques to make a much bigger positive impact on the health of animals.
Lack of Research Means Lack of DVMs Willing to Explore Alternative Therapies
Dr. Royal and I and most holistic/integrative practitioners have had experiences with colleagues in the traditional veterinary community in which we’ve found ourselves defending our integrative approach.
Part of the reason for their viewpoint is the lack of scientific research into the modalities used in CAVM. There is some human-directed research available using rats and primates, but dog and cat research just isn’t there. And many vets seem to use the lack of research as an excuse to ignore alternative methods of healing, which isn't necessarily correct
Because there is more research into integrative medicine for humans than animals, we often find ourselves experimenting with human model treatments to see what works for our animal patients.
Both Dr. Royal and I have had a great deal of success integrating alternative therapies into our treatment plans, but because there’s so little scientific evidence pertaining to animals to back up what we’re doing, our traditionally trained colleagues remain skeptical.
We simply have no research we can point to for many of the things we do in our practices – we just know they work because we’ve used them successfully. Having actual research to point to would pull many more traditional vets toward learning about CAVM and incorporating it into their practices. And that would be a win for everyone.
In evidence-based medicine, a doctor or vet can treat a patient with a new therapy that appears to work, but if he or she doesn't publish the work, then that information doesn't technically exist. No veterinary school or researcher can know about it.
When doctors and DVMs want to find new treatments, they search the medical literature. If no study is published then there is no evidence of a potential healing tool to help your pet or a human family member. Only through properly done research and publication can new tools and potential healing therapies gain wider awareness and use. Research and education are essential in addressing the gap in knowledge between clinicians with special training in CAVM and those in traditional veterinary schools.
Another Goal: A PhD Program in Pet Food, Based on Species-Appropriate Nutrition
Dr. Royal believes the AHVMA Foundation should also create a PhD program in animal nutrition – a program not funded by commercial food companies. Obviously, a veterinary nutrition education program developed by a pet food company has built-in conflict of interest issues.
In fact, when Dr. Royal was in veterinary school, nutrition class consisted of visits by corporate employees to talk about their products. And hers isn’t an isolated case. This is the extent of the “objective” education many vet students receive in pet nutrition. Some veterinary schools don’t offer a nutrition program at all.
Holistic practitioners learn about nutrition outside their formal DVM education. Dr. Royal picked up much of her knowledge when she worked in zoo medicine. She learned what happens to animals when they aren’t able to eat food appropriate for their species. This is the kind of truly objective information every vet student needs.
So another of Dr. Royal’s goals for the foundation is to create a certified PhD program in veterinary nutrition that is based on documented scientific evidence of the benefits of species-appropriate diets.
In my view, this one groundbreaking program could do more to improve the health and vitality of pets than almost anything else.
How Dr. Royal Gravitated to Integrative Veterinary Medicine
Next I asked Dr. Royal when she decided to broaden her traditional veterinary skills to incorporate alternative medicine techniques.
She responded it actually sort of took her by surprise. As a vet student, if anyone had asked her if she planned to be an alternative practitioner, she says she would have laughed.
Dr. Royal explained that when she graduated from vet school she was very serious about practicing Western veterinary medicine. She also had experience with zoo medicine and felt confident about her knowledge of different species. But she soon discovered she wasn’t able to help a lot of her very sensitive patients or exotic animals using the Westernized drugs-and-surgery medical model she learned in school.
At the time she had a lot of racing greyhound patients. Greyhounds are an extremely sensitive breed and can’t tolerate many of the drugs used in veterinary medicine. So these poor dogs would come in, in pain, and Dr. Royal would have to send them away untreated. It felt awful not to be able to help those patients.
So she decided to learn acupuncture. On her first day of class, the instructor stood up and said, “This is going to change your life.” And Dr. Royal thought to herself, “Oh, please.” And then, of course, it did indeed change her life.
Her acupuncture training not only gave her the skills to perform the procedure, it also made a big difference in how she came to view the practice of medicine. There is more than one way to promote healing, and the body can teach us things. Primarily what Dr. Royal took away from the training was the importance of nutrition as the foundation of good health. The decisions we make about what to put in our dog’s or cat’s food bowl are the most important health choices we make for them.
When Dr. Royal attended Tufts University for extra coursework in herbal medicine and nutrition, she became even more passionate about alternative therapies.
From my viewpoint, the AHVMA is an interesting organization because its members are veterinarians who aren’t satisfied to practice just one method of treating patients. Holistic practitioners seek to fill their toolboxes with resources so they can help a wide variety of animals with a wide variety of health challenges.
When a holistic vet doesn’t see progress using a certain medical technique, he or she goes looking for a different tool in the toolbox. Holistic vets are never satisfied with saying, “There’s nothing more we can do.”
Vaccinations: How Many Does a Dog or Cat Really Need?
The foundation is actively involved in supporting the Rabies Challenge Fund, a research project intended to show the rabies vaccine actually provides protection for at least five to seven years, and perhaps for a lifetime.
The Rabies Challenge Fund involves ongoing FDA-level research that Dr. Royal believes will ultimately change the way veterinary medicine is practiced. Repetitive vaccinations are not only unnecessary in the vast majority of cases, they also carry significant risk of adverse reactions and establishment of permanent, chronic disease.
Many traditional vet practices are set up around the idea of yearly vaccinations. That’s how they get clients to bring their pets in for checkups, and they assume it’s the only way to get those pets in there. But there is another way to encourage vet visits, and it is to keep pets healthy.
It’s a shift from the “disease model” the traditional vet community uses, to a wellness model that helps owners understand the importance of creating vitality and wellness so their pets can live in good health into old age.
In my view, that kind of shift takes a lot of education. Dr. Royal agrees.
She explained that clients accustomed to the Western medicine model have a hard time believing alternative treatments can often halt or reverse a disease process in their pet. They’ve accepted the idea that their dog just has chronic ear infections or their cat just throws up a lot, but in holistically-oriented vet practices, we don’t accept health imbalances as “normal.” We deal with them by identifying the root cause and working to resolve it.
Dr. Royal explained that once animals have a foundation of good health established, they can come in for annual exams and their owners will end up spending much less money than they would with a traditional vet practice. According to veterinary insurance statistics, the average pet has 6 to 8 vet visits per year. That’s quite a high number. And from the perspective of holistic vets, it almost always means the DVM is treating symptoms of disease rather than creating wellness.
The Value of a Proactive Approach
Holistic and integrative vets aren’t fighting fires all the time like many traditional vets who wait for disease to occur. Our approach is proactive and focused on maintaining health. The goal of proactive wellness medicine is to create healthy, resilient animals whose bodies are able to handle the pathogens they encounter.
Nature creates most animal bodies with the capacity to heal themselves. Holistic medicine works with that natural healing ability; Western medicine most often works against it.
In Dr. Royal’s opinion, the Western medicine approach has created an appalling state of health for pets across the country – obesity, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, chronic allergies, seizures, arthritis, and more. We’ve come to accept as “normal” that most 8 year-old large breed dogs are severely arthritic. But that’s not normal – we’ve created the problem through mismanagement of the health of animals.
We’ve created all kinds of degenerative diseases, not to mention cancer.
Dr. Royal and I agree the amount of pet cancer we’re seeing, coupled with the limitations of treatment and the poor prognosis many animals have even with treatment, could be one thing that encourages more traditional veterinarians in the direction of alternative medicine.
The vast majority of vets are wonderful people who truly want to help their patients. They are disheartened and frustrated when they can’t. As the number of cancer cases continues to increase, it’s possible more traditional vets will open their minds to the idea of creating health vs. treating disease. As a profession we need to take a closer look at what we’re doing that could be causing the diseases we see so often in today’s pets.
Rather than accepting as “normal” that 25 percent of all pets will get cancer, or 50 percent will be obese, we need to take a step back and question why this is happening.
Why are animals in the wild not suffering the same types of disorders pets and captive animals deal with? What’s different about their lifestyles? What factors are contributing to illness in animals dependent on people vs. animals dependent on their natural instincts to survive?
And organizations like the AHVMA Foundation can help promote the notion that “No, this level of illness in animals is anything BUT normal.” These trends can be reversed. There are tools available. Holistic and integrative practitioners use them everyday in their practices.
Pet owners not content to accept the new “normal” can also motivate traditional vets to pursue alternative therapies with greater interest.
How to Help Support the Efforts of the Foundation
I asked Dr. Royal where people can go who are interested in getting involved with the AHVMA Foundation.
She refers everyone to the website at foundation.ahvma.org. The site is still under construction in some areas, but there are several ways to donate, including making a gift toward a specific research area. You can also read inspiring stories about pets who’ve been helped by integrative veterinary medicine. And the foundation would love you to submit your story. Simply write it up and send it to them with a letter from your veterinarian supporting the facts.
The AHVMA Foundation is the only entity of its kind, in that it is a national organization supporting unbiased integrative veterinary medicine, and finding funding for research into the theory and practice of complementary and alternative medicine.
As we discussed earlier, part of the work of the foundation has been to help veterinary students interested in holistic medicine further their studies in CAVM so they have a more integrative educational foundation by the time they graduate.
It would be wonderful if one day every vet student, in addition to working through an ophthalmology rotation, a cardiology rotation, etc., would also have the opportunity to work through an integrative medicine rotation.
What the foundation needs to get the ball rolling is a big infusion of initial funding. After that, financial support becomes self-perpetuating because the research and educational programs that result touch so many lives.
Right now the only way most vet students in the U.S. can acquire integrative medicine training is to attend AHVMA conferences. The conferences, which are partly funded by the foundation, are fabulous tools, but the foundation’s larger mission must be to get CAVM training into veterinary schools across the country.
I’d like to thank Dr. Barbara Royal, founding member of the AHVMA Foundation, for joining me today. I look forward to collaborating with her in the future.
You Can Make a Difference
I’m tremendously excited to announce that now through July 2, 2012, all donations will be automatically doubled. That’s right! For every $1 donated, MercolaHealthyPets.com will donate an additional $2. So please, take a moment right now to make a donation to the AHVMA Foundation.