By Dr. Becker
I'm at the AHVMA conference today, chatting with holistic veterinarians as part of my Highlighting the Healer interview series.
Dr. Barbara Royal
My first guest is Dr. Barbara Royal. Dr. Royal has a practice in Chicago aptly named the Royal Treatment Veterinary Center. Dr. Royal recently completed her tenure as president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA). She really enjoyed her year as president and feels there's a good structure in place for the future in terms of the organization's mission and goals.
This year's AHVMA conference is the largest ever, and the energy level is extraordinary. The association has seen an exponential acceleration in the last year, according to Dr. Royal. They've increased membership numbers, including an influx of enthusiastic younger veterinarians, as well as experienced DVMs who recognize the advantages of having an integrative practice that offers more services to pet owners.
One thing I've noticed this year, with the 30 or so people I've interviewed for my Highlighting the Healer series, is there is a single underlying theme. Of course, everyone's personality is different, and every practice is different, but the one thing every single person I've talked to has in common is his or her perpetual search for knowledge. All these folks want to continue to learn. It's not something we see all that often with conventional veterinarians.
Dr. Royal sees AHVMA members as sort of the MacGyvers of the veterinary world. We come together with all of our out-of-the-box ideas, and she feels sure at some point we'll arrive at some incredible cure through our open-minded collaboration. The lectures at AHVMA conferences are never boring, and in fact, nothing about these conferences is boring. Everyone walks around absorbing information like a sponge.
One example is the lectures on leech therapy. I wasn't able to attend, but my immediate thought was, "Oh, my gosh! Leeches?" But when you understand that leeches can help treat an ear hematoma without surgery, you see the value and keep your mind open to the possibilities.
Conventional Vets Are Now Actively Seeking Information About Holistic and Alternative Therapies
Dr. Royal believes that eventually, vets who aren't expanding the services they offer into the complementary/alternative realm will be in the minority. When she attends American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) (conventional medicine) meetings, other attendees approach her constantly because they know she practices integrative medicine.
They say things like, "This is something we can't handle. Do you have another answer for us?" Or, "What do you do for that condition?" Or, "How do you treat XYX?" So it seems veterinarians in traditional practice are really starting to look for answers beyond what they were taught in vet school.
Now that the AHVMA is a member of the AVMA House of Delegates, AVMA members seem to feel freer asking questions about non-traditional treatments. Western medicine practitioners are seeing their own patients cured by integrative practitioners – patients they've been trying to cure for years in some cases.
Dr. Royal says she's been really amazed at how positive the response has been from Western medicine practitioners who are fascinated by what we do.
This is a huge change from just a few years ago, when practitioners of different approaches were very separated and even adversarial. Conventional veterinarians would say things to holistic vets like, "What are you doing? It's not real medicine." It wasn't taught in veterinary school, so they didn't want to know about it. But that's all changing, and Dr. Royal says the change is happening very fast now.
The AHVMA and integrative veterinary medicine have also made great progress in veterinary schools. There are at leave five programs currently in the works for integrative medicine departments. Another 10 are under consideration.
More Traditional Practitioners Are Attending AHVMA Conferences
People are starting to expect veterinarians to know about alternative therapies. Pet owners anticipate their vet will know something about herbal remedies, laser therapy, or acupuncture, for example.
What's really exciting for me is that at this conference, I've met a veterinary ophthalmologist, an orthopedic surgeon, and an endocrinologist. These are board-certified, traditionally trained, conventional veterinary practitioners who are attending a holistic veterinary conference because they know they need to acquire a broader base of knowledge and skills.
Dr. Royal points out that one of the attendees this year is double-boarded in different types of zoo medicine. And there are also food animal veterinarians who want to transition to integrative practices.
Dr. Royal's goal is to change the way veterinary medicine is practiced, and through that, change the world. She would like to see the end of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the terrible practices involved in factory farming and food animal medicine. Dr. Royal considers this our responsibility as loving pet owners. We love animals, and we should love the food animals or other animals we eat.
As I always say, it's very important to me that animals live well and die well. We're all going to die, but we can provide a beautiful life to a food animal and in the end it can still be food.
Dr. Royal agrees, because "everything needs everything." It's the nature of the Earth. We as humans are the caretakers, and we need to be good stewards.
Short-Term Goals for the AHVMA
I asked Dr. Royal what the AHVMA's goals are in the short-term. One goal is to bring more integrative medicine programs to veterinary schools and raising student awareness. Another is to insure that what the association offers across-the-board is of the highest quality, including its website and social media presence. They are also developing an evidence-based medicine database, which will offer a way for veterinarians to share case studies from their practices.
"All of our strength comes from our members," says Dr. Royal. Another goal of the AHVMA is to "give them everything they need to be really stable and sustainable in their own lives and practices."
The AHVMA has really thrived under Dr. Royal's guidance. I'm so grateful for her leadership and look forward to seeing what the future holds for the organization!
Dr. Doug Kneuven
My next guest is Dr. Doug Kneuven, who is a holistic practitioner in Beaver, Pennsylvania. Dr. Doug, as he is called, graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University in 1987. As a child he loved animals, and he was also into science, biology, and chemistry. So by high school, he'd decided to channel his passions into a career in veterinary medicine.
It wasn't until he was a few years out of vet school that Dr. Doug really began exploring alternative medicine. By that time, he'd been in practice awhile and was interested in learning some different things. While in vet school, most students have all they can do just to get through all their courses. Then in the first year of practice, they learn more than they ever learned in vet school, and it's trial by fire.
Dr. Doug's interest in alternative therapies started with homeopathy. He tried to learn it on his own, but it was too difficult to apply without some formal training. Then he switched gears and decided to try acupuncture. He took the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) course and received his certification in 1994. He says, "I started sticking needles in animals and great things started happening." Animals were getting better than he ever expected.
Next he tried homeopathy again and even took Dr. Pitcairn's course, but it just didn't resonate with him. So he went on to get certified in Chinese herbal medicine and then chiropractic. He also had a keen interest in nutrition, but of course there's no place to learn about holistic nutrition for animals.
Raw Food Diet Provides an 'Aha' Moment
Dr. Doug ultimately did a lot of his own research into holistic nutrition, and learned a lot by treating his own patients. But he had a real "Aha" moment when he rescued a big Newfoundland who was almost totally bald. The poor thing looked more like an elephant than a dog, and his skin had a foul odor. He had been diagnosed with demodectic mange, and Dr. Doug confirmed the diagnosis.
First he considered trying acupuncture, but he suspected it wouldn't be much help. So he decided to try a raw diet since he had nothing, really, to lose. He'd heard about raw diets, but had learned in vet school they were "dangerous." He rolled the dice and put the Newfie on a raw diet. The dog's coat came back in beautifully and that was Dr. Doug's "Aha" moment in terms of the healing potential of species-appropriate nutrition.
I think it's often the case that we make some of our greatest "Aha" discoveries when we're desperate to help a two- or four-legged loved one and we have nothing left to lose.
Bridging the Gap Between Eastern and Western Medicine
After graduating veterinary school, Dr. Doug worked for another vet for about six months, and then he and a partner built their own practice from the ground up. Having been a veterinary practice owner from almost the beginning has given Dr. Doug the freedom to experiment with alternative treatments. He had no boss looking over his shoulder saying, "No, you can't do that kind of thing."
He did get some weird looks once in awhile from clients and even his employees, but he says, "I've made believers out of every doctor that has ever worked with me about acupuncture and herbs." Sometimes, even the most Western medicine-oriented vet in his practice will "sneak over and pull a bottle of herbs off the shelf to give to a patient."
Fortunately, Dr. Doug belongs to a community of veterinarians in the Pittsburgh area that work well together. "They will refer people to me when the person asks for something weird," he says. He also gives a lot of lectures at veterinary conventions. He feels it's part of his mission to try to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern medicine, and help practitioners understand there's another way of looking at things. Even if they're never going to practice holistic medicine, they need to understand something about it because often clients are doing things with their pets (holistic-oriented things) that, unless their vet is open to it, they won't share with him or her.
Dr. Doug feels the traditional veterinary community is changing in terms of their open-mindedness toward alternative medicine. Years ago, he gave his first lecture ever on raw food to his local veterinary medical association. One of the doctors came up to him afterwards and asked, "Would you eat raw meat all the time?" Dr. Doug had to stop himself from replying, "Would you eat Science Diet kibble all the time?"
But these days when he does a lecture, the room is full because more pet owners are investigating raw diets and other holistic-type therapies. So even if their vets don't want to learn, they feel they must.
AHVMA Conference Reminds Attendees to Make Time to Practice What They've Learned
I shared with Dr. Doug that at this year's AHVMA conference, so far I'm most enamored with the leeches. His response was "Really? So you're going to be out in the swamp picking up leeches and sticking them on dogs? I want to see that!"
I explained that I think I'll stick with clean leeches that have been bred for the job! But honestly, leech therapy makes all kinds of sense to me for those applications where the other options on the table are either toxic or involve invasive surgery.
I asked Dr. Doug what he's found inspirational about this year's program. He mentioned that he attended the lectures on food therapy, and he's actually taken a chi food therapy course but hasn't put it into practice. One of the benefits of attending the AHVMA conferences is that often we get reminders of things we've learned about but haven't yet tried.
Dr. Doug has been on the AHVMA conference committee for several years, and for three or four years he was the chairperson. The job of the conference committee is to choose speakers and try to get a balance of different types of lectures. They're also trying to work through some problems they're encountering receiving continuing education (CE) credits for lectures. For example, leech therapy is never going to be approved for CE credits, but it needs to be included.
I'm very thankful Dr. Doug is working with the AHVMA conference committee. This has been a wildly successful conference, and he's doing a great job helping to pick and choose which lectures will be most beneficial for all practicing veterinarians.
Dr. PJ Broadfoot
My final guest today is a veterinarian in Van Buren, Arkansas, Dr. PJ Broadfoot. Dr. Broadfoot graduated from Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1981. She is married to a veterinarian, one of her classmates, and they have four children.
Dr. Broadfoot became interested in veterinary medicine as a child because her family had dogs. But her first love was actually horses. So she thought she would become an equine vet. But then she moved to a location that was near a racetrack and she learned that racehorses work a lot and are essentially commodities, which didn't feel right to her.
Real Life Cases vs. Veterinary School Training
Early in her veterinary career, Dr. Broadfoot realized that a lot of the things she encountered in her practice didn't happen as she had learned they would in veterinary school. Then in 1982 she read an article on choline loading (with acetylcholine, called choladine) in an insect and she was intrigued. She decided to try some to treat senility in dogs. Then she read that it was helpful for reducing the severity and frequency of seizures in humans, so she started using it with dogs with seizure disorders.
The following year, Dr. Broadfoot had a mare with tying up syndrome (a muscle disorder). She called a friend who is "a lot more integrative than he thinks he is" according to Dr. Broadfoot, and told him her Barb horse was tying up. He told her to try some dimethylglycine (DMG), and it helped. She also began using it successfully on dogs that couldn't get up, even after conventional therapies had been tried.
At that point she started asking herself, "What has been missing from my veterinary school training?"
She also had a dog patient with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) that caused her to investigate homotoxicology. She had a book on the subject, but it looked so complicated that she would occasionally thumb through it, and then put it right back on the shelf. But the owners of the dog with bone cancer didn't want to amputate his leg. So she decided to try homotoxicology and was able to give the dog 18 more months with a good quality of life.
I asked Dr. Broadfoot to explain what homotoxicology is, since many people aren't familiar with it. She explained that it's kind of an offshoot of classical homeopathy, which involves a single remedy and single potency. Many people find classical homeopathy difficult to do. The nice thing about homotoxicology is that while it uses homeopathics, it uses them in combinations and they fit a pattern of disease.
For example, if you sprain an ankle, the symptoms will be heat, pain, swelling, redness, and then the area will turn purple. In Germany, Dr. Heinrich Reckeweg, who is a classic homeopath and allopathic doctor, started putting those patterns together and combining remedies, which made the therapy infinitely easier to apply.
Dr. Broadfoot wishes she could do classical homeopathy, but she has found that her rural practice isn't a good setting for it. Her practice consists mostly of small animals, but she also does a few horses – primarily cases of West Nile virus or other conditions that conventional therapy has failed to cure. But she has to keep her farm calls to a minimum because her children are young and involved in all sorts of activities these days.
Algae, Antlers, and Thymus Extracts: The Cutting Edge of New and Exciting Alternative Therapies
Dr. Broadfoot started using algae as an immune system biomodulator. She became very fatigued, began taking the algae, and saw improvement in her energy level and ability to focus.
Just within the last few years, she became intrigued by deer velvet and the fact that it's a mammalian appendage that regrows every year. She finds the regenerative capability of it amazing. She's also intrigued with colostrum, as well as thymus therapy.
Dr. Broadfoot attended some training in Germany and heard for the first time about thymus extract for cancer therapy. But when she returned to the U.S., she couldn't find a source for thymus extracts. Then a couple of years ago, a sales rep happened to ask her if she was interested in thymus extracts! She said, "Well, yes I am," and a couple of weeks later she got a box in the mail.
The box sat there for a period of time, and then she had another patient, a cat, for which nothing was working. She started thymus extracts on the cat, and as she explains it, the kitty "was resurrected from the dead." And she's still going strong seven years later.
Dr. Broadfoot estimates she's treated close to a thousand patients with thymus extracts since that kitty. The thymus is the seat of the immune system and almost anything can affect it, including stress and missing nutrients in the diet. Dr. Broadfoot uses colostrum with zinc along with thymus extracts. Zinc is necessary for the thymus to work properly.
She says there's a lot of work still to do, and a lot of research. "Thymus actually balances the arms of the immune system," according to Dr. Broadfoot. "It's a great linchpin. If you've got a hyper-immune state or a hypo-immune state, it actually balances those."
Dr. Broadfoot uses deer velvet, which she calls "antler medicine," for a broad range of conditions. In the Chinese literature, it is listed for lower body weakness and kidney disease. It has indications for psoriasis and for some people, it was cleared up the condition – people for whom conventional drugs didn't work. Antler velvet is another immune system biomodulator that works for some very bad skin conditions. Dr. Broadfoot gives deer velvet in combination with algae.
As you can see, Dr. Broadfoot is doing amazing things with alternative therapies and I'm so happy she shared her story with us today!
Many Thanks to Today's Intrepid, Innovative Healers!
I want to extend my sincere thanks to Dr. Barbara Royal, Dr. Doug Kneuven, and Dr. PJ Broadfoot for sitting down with me today to discuss their groundbreaking healing techniques and their commitment to the health of animals.