"Alternative Therapy" Associations

I remember when acupuncture was introduced in a big way to American human medicine back in the 1970s. It was a strange concept, full of energy fields and Chi, focusing on painless surgery performed without anesthesia. It made for fascinating television viewing, but was easy to dismiss as voodoo medicine.

But in the last few decades, supporters of acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathic, and holistic medicine for both human and veterinary applications strove to organize and define professional standards for these modalities, to shed themselves of perceived do-all, cure-all representations, and to initiate continuing education and certification for their membership. They've focused and refined themselves, providing narrower, but more complete, definitions and guidelines as to how their type of medicine can aid healing. Instead of competing head-to-head with traditional Western medical concepts, they now serve as complements.

In fact, much of alternative medicine now borders--if it hasn't already crossed the line into--the land known as mainstream medicine. According to an article by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA--"What's Your Alternative?" www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/sep00/s091500b.aspx), 42% of animal owners utilized alternative therapies in 1997, 31% of American Animal Hospital Association members used alternative therapies in 1999, and 60% of veterinary medical colleges now offer courses on alternative medical therapies.

None of this would have been achieved without the formation of alternative professional veterinary organizations.

International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles into the body at specific points to treat disease or to relieve pain. Acupuncture points are located on or near nerve endings; stimulating these points can affect many body systems, including the joints, liver, kidney, and lungs. While traditional acupuncture relies on slender needles, other types of stimulus can be used, including cold lasers, magnets, ultrasound, or electrical current.

In 1974, six veterinarians interested in acupuncture as a treatment modality got together to form the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) in order to promote education, research, and the integration of acupuncture into veterinary medicine. Today, the IVAS membership consists of approximately 1,500 veterinarians throughout the world, and universities such as Colorado State University and Tufts University offer IVAS-recognized courses in veterinary acupuncture.

"Our purpose is to educate our colleagues, disseminate information on veterinary acupuncture to the public, and work toward the acceptance of veterinary acupuncture in the veterinary community at large," says IVAS Executive Director Edward Boldt, DVM. IVAS also strives to establish uniformly high standards of veterinary acupuncture, and to serve as a networking and communication function for its diverse international membership.

IVAS achieves those standards by offering certification status to veterinarians who complete an IVAS-recognized basic course in veterinary acupuncture. Then they must pass a series of exams, write a peer-reviewed case report, and complete 40 hours of internship with an IVAS-certified acupuncturist. To maintain certification, the veterinarian must complete 10 hours of continuing education every two years. While any veterinarian can become an IVAS member, only those who are IVAS-certified are listed on the web site (www.ivas.org) for referrals.

Besides offering basic veterinary acupuncture courses, IVAS offers advanced courses in Chinese herbal veterinary techniques, publishes a bi-annual journal and quarterly newsletter on veterinary acupuncture, sponsors yearly international symposiums on veterinary acupuncture, and provides a forum for reporting current veterinary acupuncture research and for communication among those engaged in veterinary acupuncture research.

One of the IVAS goals is to continue to work closely with the AVMA to develop acupuncture as a boarded AVMA specialty. "We'd also like to see more veterinary schools include veterinary acupuncture or alternative medicine courses," says Boldt. "Some of the schools already offer a session as credit; others offer it as an elective course."

American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

An affiliated and fully recognized organization of IVAS, the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA) was founded in 1998 in response to the restructuring of IVAS. Explains AAVA President Gary Levy, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, "Over the years, IVAS has grown to become a truly international organization. The AAVA was formed to meet the specific needs of American veterinary acupuncturists."

The AAVA's purpose and goals are to promote the art and science of veterinary acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, to further the professional development of its members, to encourage the education of veterinarians in veterinary acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, and to provide leadership and resources in the United States for the advancement of these disciplines.

To accomplish these goals, AAVA provides a network for all members to promote communication, continuing education in the field of veterinary acupuncture and traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, and member support, Levy says.

"Membership benefits include our newsletter, The Meridian; access to the members-only section of our web site, www.aava.org; regional continuing education meetings; and our annual general membership meeting. In addition, the AAVA wishes to provide the public with a resource for information about veterinary acupuncture via access to our web site and administrative office."

The AAVA web site provides helpful links to sites of general interest to pet owners, veterinary acupuncture web sites, and alternative medicine web sites.

Membership is open to all veterinarians. Active members must be citizens of the United States, licensed graduates of a college or school of veterinary medicine, and have taken and successfully completed an AAVA-approved veterinary acupuncture course or an equivalent program in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine and/or veterinary acupuncture. To maintain active status, members must complete a minimum of 10 hours of AAVA-approved continuing education every two years.

Associate members must be U.S. citizens and licensed graduates of a college or school of veterinary medicine. These members have not yet successfully completed an AAVA-approved course in veterinary acupuncture or an equivalent program in traditional Chinese medicine and/or veterinary acupuncture.

Veterinary students and international members are also encouraged to join. Currently, the AAVA has about 700 members.

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association

Chiropractic, an integral part of the holistic trend in animal health care, offers alternative explanations for disease and provides complementary therapy. The foundations of chiropractic philosophy are based on the intimate relationship of the spinal column to the nervous system, as well as the role of the spinal column in biomechanics and movement.

Founded in 1989, the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) is comprised of practitioners, individuals, and groups working together within their disciplines to expand and promote the knowledge and acceptance of animal chiropractic, says Ava Frick, DVM, chair of the AVCA's Marketing and Promotions Committee. Membership is open to chiropractors, veterinarians, students, and interested individuals and groups. Currently there are 284 AVCA members.

"The AVCA's purpose is to establish a governing body over legislation, management, membership, standards, promotions, certifications, and education within the animal chiropractic profession," Frick says. "Goals include promotion of the science, art, and philosophy of animal chiropractic; informative relations between professional colleagues of chiropractic and veterinary fields; informing the public of the value of animal chiropractic as a health science; developing and promoting a standard of education in animal chiropractic; and developing and promoting practice standards of animal chiropractic care."

Information about veterinary chiropractic care is disseminated to members primarily via the association's web site (www.animalchiropractic.org), along with its newsletter, which is published three or four times a year. Annual meetings offer continuing education opportunities.

The AVCA also maintains an educational standard in animal chiropractic, thereby providing certification to teaching institutions and programs to guarantee minimum standards. These standards apply to all animal chiropractic education, including basic certification courses, advanced courses, and continuing education courses.

Licensed doctors of chiropractic and of veterinary medicine who have passed approved AVCA postgraduate programs in animal chiropractic are eligible to sit for the AVCA board examinations. In order to become AVCA-certified in animal chiropractic, a graduate from one of the above programs must pass both the AVCA written and practical examinations with scores of 80% or higher on each. To maintain certification, members must complete 60 hours of continuing education every three years.

AVCA also serves the public by providing a referral list of veterinarians accredited in veterinary chiropractic.

"Many out there call themselves 'animal chiropractors' who are not doctors of veterinary medicine, doctors of chiropractic, or have had any recognized training in the profession," Frick notes. "Since these folks have no degree, there is nothing anyone can take from them (license) and no governing body overseeing complaints. Via the AVCA, an owner can be assured the 'chiropractor' working on his or her horse has been properly trained and is involved with ongoing continuing education."

Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy

Homeopathy is a system of medical practice based on "like cures like," involving administration of minute doses of a remedy that would, in healthy patients, produce symptoms similar to those of the disease. Homeopathy is said to stimulate the body's own healing abilities and strengthen the patient. Symptoms, as signposts of a treatable internal imbalance, are important guides to the proper treatment.

Founded in 1991, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH) certifies veterinarians in homeopathy, approves courses for certification and for continuing education credits for those who become AVH-certified, advances veterinary homeopathy, establishes guidelines for post-doctoral education and training prerequisites to certification, and expands and promotes the knowledge of homeopathy. Membership is open to veterinarians, and the AVH has about 150 members.

"The AVH was originally started by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, author of Natural Health for Dogs and Cats," says Shelley Epstein, VMD, AVH President Elect. "It became independent from Dr. Pitcairn, but it was his vision."

To achieve its goals, says Epstein, the AVH holds annual meetings where members present cases and scientific lectures, and discuss current research and methods for case analysis. It serves as a speaker referral source, works with student organizations at veterinary schools, certifies courses in continuing education, and offers scholarships to graduating seniors who want to study veterinary homeopathy. It disseminates information on homeopathy to its membership via a quarterly journal (featuring a different remedy each issue, peer-critiqued case review, and book reviews) and through two members-only e-mail forums, which also serve as venues for discussing cases and exchanging news and information. In addition, the AVH offers basic certification to qualified members.

"Basic certification is a pretty rigorous process," Epstein states. "Certification demonstrates to clients that this veterinarian understands veterinary homeopathy, has mastered a minimum number of standards, and is ready to prescribe remedies."

To gain certification, the veterinarian must complete a course of at least 120 hours of study (50 of which must be in veterinary homeopathy), pass a qualifying exam demonstrating an understanding of homeopathy, and submit four cases for review. After the cases are accepted, the applicant takes a written exam at home; upon passing, the applicant is then granted certification. To maintain the AVH certification, a veterinarian must take 30 hours of continuing education courses every two years.

Currently, the AVH is developing advanced certification to reflect a higher level of learning, much like the boarded diplomates of the AVMA.

The AVH's web site (www.theavh.org) and business office offer referrals for both certified and uncertified AVH members.

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

Utilizing a "whole picture" approach to animal disease, holistic medicine looks at the patient's environment, disease pattern, genetics, nutrition, stress factors, hygiene, and relationship with the owner to develop a treatment protocol. Instead of solely addressing disease symptoms, holistic medicine attempts to find out why the disorder occurred and to address the problem at its core using the most effective--but least invasive--therapy. Treatments might involve alternative therapies such as nutritional therapy, nutraceuticals, behavior modification, acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic. In acute situations, surgery and drug therapy from traditional Western technology could be utilized, complemented by alternative treatments.

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) was founded by a small group of veterinarians in 1982 to serve as an explorative and educational resource for holistic medicine, to study alternative therapies, and to promote holistic medicine.

Says AHVMA Executive Director/Founder Carvel Tiekert, DVM, "In the early 1980s, alternative therapies were just beginning to be recognized and utilized within the profession. I saw a need to put together an organization for veterinarians interested in alternative therapies, so I contacted a group of veterinarians and we had our formative meeting in conjunction with one of the large veterinary conferences in 1982."

Since then, the AHVMA has grown to 900 members worldwide. Membership is restricted to veterinarians and veterinary students.

The AHVMA provides a forum to inform its members. The Journal of the AHVMA, a quarterly magazine, covers the latest holistic veterinary information and includes articles, case histories, interviews, practice tips, etc. Annual meetings address alternative treatment modalities. The group allocates grants for humane research and veterinary student scholarships and maintains a resource library.

In addition, the AHVMA has a membership directory for referral information, accessible via its web site (www.ahvma.org) or by calling its office.

The goal is to continue to serve veterinarians interested in holistic medicine and to promote holistic therapies.

A Final Word

Whether you choose to embrace alternative or complementary medicines is, of course, up to you. However, a word to the wise: To protect yourself, your horse, and your bank account, select a licensed veterinarian who has taken advanced--and continuing--studies in the chosen field of complementary treatment.  


International Veterinary Acupuncture Society
PO Box 271395
Fort Collins, CO 80527-1395
Phone: 970/266-0666; Fax: 970/266-0777
E-mail: office@ivas.org
Web site: www.ivas.org

American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture
PO Box 419
Hygiene, CO 80533-0419
Phone: 303/772-6726
E-mail: AAVAoffice@aol.com
Web site: www.aava.org

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association
PO Box 563, Port Byron, IL 61275
Phone: 309/658-2958; Fax: 309/658-2958
E-mail: AmVetChiro@aol.com
Web sites: www.animalchiropractic.org; www.avcadoctors.com

Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy
6400 East Independence Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28212
Phone: 866/652-1590; Fax: 704/535-6669
E-mail: avh@naturalholistic.com
Web sites: www.theavh.org; www.theavh.org/flyerv5.htm

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association
2218 Old Emmorton Rd.
Bel Air, MD 21015
Phone: 410/569-0795; Fax: 410/569-2346
E-mail: office@ahvma.org
Web site: www.altvetmed.com/AHVMA_brochure.html, www.ahvma.org

About the Author

Marcia King

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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