Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 8 – adding complementary therapies

This is the post I’ve been wanting to write – the 6th rung on our ladder is complementary therapies – my specialty!

At the outset, I need to say that you will find some professionals/websites who believe that you need your vet’s permission to use complementary therapies.  That is not correct.

While you should always make your vet (and any other member of your healthcare team) aware of what treatments you are using with your dog, you are your dog’s guardian.  The decisions you make about your dog’s healthcare are up to you – provided of course that what you are doing for your dog meets accepted ethical standards and is within the law.

(Read further to navigate the interface between traditional veterinary care and complementary care….)

Arthritis management diagram

In my experience, the reasons why dog parents are interested in complementary therapies varies.

  • I meet people who have a mistrust of medications (which will be the subject of Part 9 in my series) and they want to lower their dog’s dependency on them
  • Others have used complementary therapies successfully for their own healthcare and seek to do the same with their pet
  • Some just want to ensure that they have done everything they can for their dog and feel that they have reached the maximum benefits with traditional veterinary care alone
  • And others see complementary therapies as a cheaper option than traditional veterinary care and seek it instead of going to the vet.  (There’s a difference between complementary and alternative!  I will not take clients into my practice who cannot provide records to show that their animal has been under the care of a qualified veterinarian.)

Key Point 1:  If you meet a complementary therapist who speaks badly about veterinary care, or actively encourages you not to go to the vet, then my advice is simple: walk away.


As a pet parent, I have used various complementary therapies with my dogs over the years.  These have included:

  • acupuncture
  • acupressure
  • massage
  • laser therapy
  • supplements
  • hydrotherapy
  • TCM food therapy
  • homeopathy
  • flower essences
  • herbal medicine
  • medicinal mushrooms
  • crystals
  • animal communication

It’s important to understand the modality of the therapy and what it aims to achieve.  Every practitioner should be able to give you a clear understanding of what they do with your dog and whether their therapy is a match for your dog’s situation.

Key Point 2:  Ask the practitioner about their qualifications and commitment to further study.  Have they attended specific training in their modality?

Be cautious of claims such as  “I mentored with…”  Mentoring is not structured training with examination, case studies, or a standard that the student must meet to become qualified.

While online study is useful for continuing professional development (and I use this mode myself), I am wary of ‘core’ qualifications which are achieved online exclusively.  A professional tutor or trainer should have been able to communicate with the student and seen their work firsthand and you just can’t get this quality of instruction through videos alone.  Moreover, if a practitioner is prepared to pay money to travel to achieve their qualifications, it gives you added assurance that they were prepared to invest in their career.

Key Point 3:  Look for other signs of professionalism like professional affiliations and, if the modality is regulated where you live, are they compliant?

Professional associations exist to support their professions with continuing education requirements, peer support, group insurance policies for liability/indemnity and networking.  In the dog care field, there are developments happening all the time.  Modalities need to adjust as new information comes to hand.  So if your practitioner isn’t connected to any associations, you have to ask why…

Key Point 4:   Ask your vet for recommendations, but ask questions about why they recommend a practice, too.

Many veterinarians are not familiar with complementary therapies or understand the range of what is available in your area so their ability to refer may be limited.  You should do your own research about what’s available and cross-check it with your vet’s recommendations/referrals.  Also, with more practices taking a corporate approach (the days of the independent vet practice are numbered if not gone altogether in many areas), they also enter into preferred supplier agreements which have a financial motive behind their referral.

Key Point 5:  Look for a robust intake process to any complementary practice.

A practitioner should take time to understand your dog’s health status and your concerns.  Satisfy yourself that these are in-depth questions and that the practitioner is not simply ticking boxes.  Every dog is different and so the approach for complementary therapy should be suited to each individual dog.

Key Point 6:  Treatment shouldn’t happen behind closed doors – you should be there!

As your dog’s guardian, you should be present when anyone is working with your dog.   Not only should you witness what the treatment entails, but also your dog’s reaction to it.   As a Fear-Free certified professional, my approach relies on watching the dog’s non-verbal communication and reactions and going at their speed.  A session should not just be about ‘get this done in 30 minutes.’

Key Point 7:  Understand the costs

Just as with veterinary care, complementary care incurs costs.  Make sure you budget for your dog’s care – from buying supplements to more hands-on therapies.  In this, I would say that while drug-based solutions can often kick in rapidly, the effects of some complementary therapies – such as supplements and homeopathics – take a bit of time to build in the dog’s system.  Factor in the time it takes to see results when you are budgeting.

And finally, if you aren’t seeing results with a complementary therapy within a reasonable amount of time, then stop and re-evaluate.  Remember that we can go up and down our ladder and that our dogs are aging at a faster rate than we do.


Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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