Integrative Practitioners Are Seekers and Searchers

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. Susan Wagner (Ohio) and Dr. Joyce Harman (Virginia)
  • 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. Susan Wagner and Dr. Joyce Harman. The following are highlights from our conversations — the full transcripts can be downloaded at the above links.

Dr. Susan Wagner

My first guest today is Dr. Susan Wagner, a board-certified veterinary neurologist who co-founded the integrative medicine department at MedVet Medical & Cancer Centers for Pets and is a Healing Touch for Animals practitioner. Dr. Wagner is also a published author and an adjunct faculty member at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Like so many integrative medicine practitioners, Dr. Wagner's interest was triggered by personal health challenges.

"I was just getting ready to do my neurology residency and I wasn't feeling well," she explains. "I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, and of course I did the really healthy thing and went into this grilling residency anyway.

Fortunately, a good friend of mine who was also a resident got me a gift certificate to a session of cranial sacral therapy. I knew nothing about it and assumed it was unscientific, but my friend paid for it and I wanted to show my gratitude.

As you can probably guess, it worked. It got me through the residency, and I still see that practitioner today, some 30 years later. So that was what sparked my curiosity and ultimately led me to Healing Touch for Animals and other energy medicine modalities.

I've spent those 30 years continuing to learn as much as I can about different therapies and teaching and speaking about how they've helped me as well as my patients.

I think it's important, the further along we get in our veterinary careers, if things aren't going well, to consider that maybe it's time for a transformation. Maybe it's time to move into something different. And that's okay. It's not a failure — it's life, evolution, learning, and being a good scientist."

The first alternative therapy Dr. Wagner got involved with was Healing Touch for Animals, an energy medicine modality that is often misunderstood. Fortunately, there's research coming out on it now that will hopefully help improve understanding and acceptance of the therapy.

"I remember my first workshop," says Dr. Wagner. "Carol Komitor, the founder, had this really bouncy Springer Spaniel on her lap. As she talked to us, she kept her hands on the dog and within minutes, he took a deep breath, relaxed, and chilled.

Now, I'm looking for the syringe, thinking she drugged him! When I realized she hadn't, I knew I had to learn the technique and how it works. In neurology we deal with many very difficult patients, and I thought, 'I have to bring this into my world'.

Then I got involved in sounds and vibrational medicine. I was lucky enough to help with the Through a Dog's Ear project on music and sound. Next was essential oils, which are just fantastic from both a botanical and energy standpoint. I'm also trying to learn more about nutrition by reading your work and everything you've done to help us understand how to better feed ourselves and our pets.

In the past year, I've become fascinated with the endocannabinoid system — I kind of see that as a physiologic energy system. So, you have to go out and explore and see what resonates with you. See what you're interested in and follow it."

I asked Dr. Wagner to offer a final thought or words of inspiration for pet parents and veterinarians.

"Take care of yourself, especially if you're a pet parent," she replied. "If humanity can heal, the animals are going to be fine. So, take care of yourself. Do what you need to do to learn and grow, and that will help your pet, I promise you.

For those in our profession: if you're coming up against things that are overwhelming, just keep asking for wisdom. Just keep asking, 'What's the wisdom here? What do I need to know?' If we stay grounded during these difficult times, and ask for help, it's more likely that help will come or that we'll discover the solution ourselves.

It's okay if you find yourself in a bad place — just bring yourself back. And if you need to talk to a professional, do so. It's not wrong to talk to a professional. It's not wrong to talk to a spiritual advisor. That doesn't mean you're weak. It actually means you're strong. Let's do what we need to do, because we're all in this together."

Dr. Joyce Harman

My second guest today is integrative veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman, owner of Harmany Equine in Flint Hill, Virginia, where she sees small animals as well as horses. Dr. Harman is also a published author and past president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

"I wanted to be the first woman horse vet back when I was about four or five-years-old," says Dr. Harman. "I eventually went to vet school, where I found out I wasn't the first — there were many other women working in the horse world! I decided to specialize in equine sports medicine and exercise physiology and didn't know much about alternative medicine at that point."

After graduating from veterinary school, Dr. Harman attended a seminar on acupuncture and her interest was piqued, but it was her own seizure disorder that put her firmly on the path toward complementary and alternative therapies. In addition, she was driving home late one night from her job in a big equine practice and she thought, 'I'm not making a contribution.' And she couldn't get that thought out of her mind.

Fortunately, acupuncture cured her seizure disorder, and around the same time, she took the IVAS course, and the rest is history.

"The integrative medicine toolbox is really unlimited," says Dr. Harman. "In conventional medicine we have a certain set of drugs or therapies that we can use. Once we've used those, if the animal hasn't responded, we really can't do much else. And so, you're saying to the client, 'I've done everything I know how to do'.

The integrative medicine toolbox is big and without defined edges. There's always something else we can try. You can approach a problem from a Western perspective or a Chinese medicine perspective, from an Ayurvedic or European perspective. There are many, many options to choose from.

CBD for horses is one of the next big things because it has similar actions both mentally and physically. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects. The cool thing about horses is they're natural herbalists."

I asked Dr. Harman which aspects of her work give her the most satisfaction.

"There's so much," she answers. "One of my favorite things is that the horses really like me. When I was a conventional vet and walked into a barn with a handful of syringes, the horses would go to the back of their stalls and hang out there until I retrieved them. These days, I have horses leaning out over the door to say hi to me.

I get to take my time with them to get to know and understand them. And the little things that clients notice about their horses become important when we're looking at things from a holistic perspective. And so, the histories we take are much more extensive and the people enjoy sharing things about their horses with me."

I asked Dr. Harman to offer some final thoughts.

"I think one of the most important things we can do is to learn to listen to our animals and to our gut," she says. "I can't tell you how many times my clients have said, 'I think this is what's going on,' and they're right.

I wouldn't have come up with it myself or I might have, but at some period of time down the road. Some of my clients are incredibly intuitive about their animals. Owners need to trust their own instincts because very often they're on the right track.

I learn from the animals as well because sometimes they just reach around and point to the problem and you think, 'Oh, okay, I need to work on your ribs here'."

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