Could Integrative Medicine Help Veterinarians Avoid Burnout?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Mercola Healthy Pets, this week is dedicated to bringing awareness about the practice of integrative veterinary medicine
  • I’ll be talking with integrative veterinarians all week about why it was important to them to continue growing and learning beyond their basic veterinary school education
  • Today’s guests are integrative veterinarians Dr. Liza Schneider (New Zealand) and Dr. Cynthia Lankenau (New York)
  • Be sure to check out the Pet Game Changer link at the end of the article and enter the daily prize giveaway contest, happening all this week
Dr. Becker

We call them "Game Changers" — the exemplary, hardworking individuals who have gone the extra mile to promote animal welfare all around the world. Every week, we feature a special Game Changer, so if you know someone in your community who deserves this award, nominate them and help us get the word out about the magnificent work they do! Click .

Incredibly, this year marks the 10th anniversary of Mercola Healthy Pets! I can't tell you how thankful I am that 10 years ago, Dr. Mercola made the decision to build a natural health site for pets inside his immensely popular site, and then invited me to be his lead veterinary consultant for this new platform.

I'm also tremendously grateful to all of you, my newsletter readers and visitors to the site, for your continued loyalty and unbelievable support over the years. Without you, none of this would be possible and because of you, we've become the largest pet health website in the world.

Healthy Pets has given me an unparalleled opportunity to grow a national and international community of pet lovers that not only embraces common sense integrative veterinary medicine, but also shares my passion for proactive wellness: intentionally creating healthier animals by making informed, wise lifestyle decisions over a pet's lifetime.

My hope is that the massive amount of free educational articles, videos, seminars and webinars Healthy Pets has provided over this last decade will ultimately translate into pets living longer, healthier lives.

To mark this important 10-year milestone, this week, all week, I'll be talking with other integrative veterinarians about why it was important to them to continue growing and learning beyond their basic veterinary school education, to add additional tools to their medical toolbox, and how broadening their knowledge base has positively impacted them.

Today's guests are integrative veterinarians Dr. Liza Schneider and Dr. Cynthia Lankenau. The following are highlights from our conversations — the full transcripts can be downloaded at the above links.

Dr. Liza Schneider

My first guest today is Dr. Liza Schneider, who grew up in South Africa and is today is one of New Zealand's leading authorities in holistic health care for animals.

"I love helping animals and humans," says Dr. Liza, "but there are those areas in our conventional medicine paradigm where we are just managing symptoms, and the medications that we use to manage symptoms have side effects. So, we need more medication to manage those side effects and on and on we go.

It was frustrating to me, near the beginning of my career, because I wanted to do my best to help animals get and stay healthy without relying on medication wherever possible. I've always believed that 'where there's a will, there's a way'.

I understood from a young age that nutrition plays a massive role in health and well-being, so I started to learn and apply various tools to improve the nutritional status of my patients as well as using nutraceuticals, herbs and homeopathics, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and kinesiology.

And I'm a bit of a practical soul, so my aim was to find tools I could learn easily and quickly and apply efficiently that gave great results. I'm so grateful to now have those options for my patients."

Like many of us who practice integrative medicine, Dr. Liza became interested in alternative and complementary therapies through personal experience.

"As a child, I was very active on the sports field," she explains. "When I 'd get injured, I'd become very frustrated when the doctor told me to rest for four weeks. That really didn't go down well. Fortunately, my parents had the foresight to take me to an osteopath or a chiropractor and they would get me back on the sports field really quickly, within a few days I was usually competing again.

Further to that, my younger brother was quite sickly with asthma, and conventional medicine wasn't helping him, and I'm pretty embarrassed to say that I used to beat him up a bit! But again, my parents had the foresight to help him in an unconventional way and take him to a homeopath that turned his life around. These days he's a bodyguard with a few black belts, so he's a really good guy to know!

So, from an early age it was really obvious to me that there were more ways to meet our needs for health and wellbeing than just what our conventional paradigm dictates."

Also like so many integrative and holistic practitioners, once Dr. Liza had been practicing for a while, she realized that the tools she'd been taught in veterinary school, while wonderful in many situations, didn't do the job in every situation. "And then my learning really began," she says.

"Practicing integrative medicine is so lovely because as vets it gives us such peace of mind that we're working with our clients to do everything we can for their animals. There are so many options available to us, and we've got the best of both worlds — we have all that conventional medicine has to offer as well as complementary therapies.

With pancreatitis, for example, the hyperbaric oxygen chamber can help reduce inflammation to such a degree that the animal generally doesn't have to become a chronic case, or stay in the hospital for long periods, or throw up all the time and be managed with drugs and more drugs.

Sometimes conventional medications are used to make an acute and quick impact in helping an animal feel more comfortable. And then we want to look at how can we support the patient to reduce the need for medication.

We're always looking at the diet — what nutrients is the pet getting? What nutraceuticals or herbs or homeopathic remedies might help? What hands-on treatments like acupuncture or kinesiology might help?

And then we look at all the possible options and decide what will work best for this individual pet. Does he hate being handled and will be happier with a hands-off approach? And what's the owner comfortable with?

What can the owner afford? Can the owner manage to get the pet back and forth for regular treatments, or does this need to be a distance care situation to promote the quality of life of both the animal and the owner?"

I asked Dr. Liza, "If you could share one idea or thought or insight with all the veterinary professionals watching and reading here today, what would it be?"

"As veterinarians, we constantly find ourselves in difficult situations that aren't black and white," she answers. "Even in conventional practice, you've got to consider so many aspects of care. The integrative model gives you other things to consider, but this isn't necessarily an obstacle.

It's an opportunity for us to do more for our patients, more for our clients, and more for our planet. An integrative approach is just optimal to facilitate sustainable healthcare. It meets the needs of humans, animals, and the environment."

Dr. Cynthia Lankenau

My second guest today is Dr. Cynthia Lankenau, who is the sole practitioner of an integrative mixed animal practice in western New York State. Dr. Lankenau graduated from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1981 and began studying complementary and alternative modalities in 1992.

While still in veterinary school, acupuncture caught her attention first, followed by an externship on the Navajo reservation which she says was a mind-opener — in particular her introduction to shamanism. After graduating from Cornell, her experience with alternative therapies continued to expand.

"I hadn't even heard of homeopathy," Dr. Lankenau says. "We were taught in vet school that herbs were toxic, not that you could use herbs. This whole world of other modalities opened up for me, and I just got completely involved, and that's all I do now is alternative modalities.

In the beginning, I was working in a high intensity practice and had developed a good reputation. So, when I started doing more alternative medicine, I had already established myself as a competent vet.

I had earned the trust of my clients and so when I started doing acupuncture, they were open to it. Of course, I was sort of in my own world, and I guess people thought I was weird, but I just sort of did my own thing and didn't get any pushback.

I really love herbs. I love all alternative therapies, but I see herbal medicine as providing a functional foundation of good physiology. In my practice, I see a lot of very sick patients for whom conventional medicine has nothing else to offer. Herbs strengthen their physiology and get their liver functioning better so they can handle more modalities and you can ask more of them.

Ultimately, the animals tell us what they want and don't want or can't tolerate. They don't like herbs; they like remedies. They want therapies involving touch, or they don't want to be touched. We do what they want us to do."

Dr. Lankenau is an inspiration and exactly the kind of practitioner I want to highlight this week during integrative veterinary medicine awareness week. Most importantly, she has learned how not to burn herself out. She hasn't lost hope. She looks forward to the future of veterinary medicine, and she's always adding healing modalities to her toolbox.

I asked Dr. Lankenau, "If you could pass along one tidbit of knowledge, or one thought or idea to both pet parents and veterinarians, what would you share?"

"I would tell them to walk in nature in their backyard and learn the plants that grow there," she replies. "Because in your backyard, you may have everything you need to treat an acute emergency. You may have plantain for snake bites, tick bites and spider bites. You may have milk thistle. You may have yarrow for hemorrhage and yellow dock for liver issues. You probably have dandelion, the most beautiful herb out there.

My tip would be to take walks in your backyard, and every day or each week pick a plant and learn about it. Learn what it does. Learn the energy of that plant, because it could save your life."

You can learn more about integrative veterinary medicine at the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies.

Nominate a Pet Game Changer in Your Community

Mercola Healthy Pets has made it our mission to provide animal lovers everywhere with a wealth of free, innovative information about the most common issues facing pets, with the goal of improving both their health and lifespan.

We believe in empowering pet owners with resources and tools to build healthier, happier pets. However, we realize we're just one voice among many amazing veterinarians, healers, rescue organizations and other remarkable individuals dedicated to helping animals.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we wanted to create a way to recognize and honor shining stars across the globe doing remarkable things for animals. We want to celebrate the people in your community by highlighting their good work here on the Healthy Pets site. Nominate your Pet Game Changer here.

Enter to Win Free Mercola Healthy Pet Products!

To celebrate Mercola Healthy Pets' 10 Year Anniversary, we're giving away awesome human-grade pet products every day this week! Enter to win free Mercola Healthy Pets products here.

Monday — Heart Health for Cats & Dogs

Tuesday — Organic Fermented Foods for Cats and Dogs

Wednesday — Dehydrated Raw Dog Food - Grass Fed Beef Entrée

Thursday — Seasonal Support for Cats & Dogs

Friday — Joint Support for Cats & Dogs

Saturday — Krill Oil Liquid Pump for Cats & Dogs

Sunday — Complete Probiotics for Cats and Dogs


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