Equine Alternative Medicine Gaining Steam in Vet Schools

Coursework focused on alternative medicine (such as massage therapy and acupuncture) in equine veterinary education has increased about 30% in the past decade.

Photo: Rhonda Rathgeber, DVM, PhD

Complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM), such as massage therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, and chiropractic, is gaining popularity among horse owners, yet not all equine practitioners feel confident providing these services. Why? According to researchers from Washington State University's (WSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, lack of education appears to be a major contributing factor. That being said, the study also found that alternative medicine coursework in equine veterinary education has increased about 30% in the past decade.

"CAVM is increasingly used in both human and veterinary medicine, yet our study shows that unlike human medical schools, many veterinary schools still do not offer courses in this field," explained lead researcher Mushtaq Memon, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACT, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at WSU's Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.

Memon and colleagues sent questionnaires to all 41 veterinary schools accredited by the AVMA Council on Education in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. The schools answered questions regarding their CAVM courses, including if the classes were required or elective, the number of credit hours, and whether it was a lecture- or laboratory-based format.

Thirty-four of the 41 schools responded to the survey. The data showed:

  • Only one school required that all veterinary students take a course in CAVM to graduate;
  • Fifteen schools offer CAVM courses as electives;
  • Four schools had faculty devoted to teaching CAVM; and
  • The most common topics covered in the CVAM courses were nutritional therapy, veterinary acupuncture, and rehabilitation or physical therapy.

"Several of the schools that responded to the survey indicated that they believed there was a shortage of expertise relative to the public demand," relayed Memon. "These schools also indicated that additional coverage should be considered in the professional curriculum."

A similar survey about CAVM was published in 2000, which reported that only seven of 23 surveyed schools included education programs in CAVM. Thus, CAVM coursework has increased approximately 30% in the past decade.

A related study published previously by Memon et al. reported that 107 of 120 veterinary students enrolled in Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine were either "somewhat interested" or "very interested" in learning about different CAVM modalities whereas only 3% did not think their future clients would be interested in CAVM.

Despite horse owners' and trainers' demand, some schools are hesitant to incorporate CAVM.

"Skeptics of CAVM argue that these therapies are not standardized and that there is insufficient evidence to warrant inclusion of CAVM into the veterinary curriculum," said Memon.

The study, "Survey of colleges and schools of veterinary medicine regarding education in complementary and alternative medicine," was published in the Sept. 1, 2011 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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