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Dr. Evan Antin shares: Eastern vs. Western pet medicine

Did you know that pet acupuncture is considered Eastern pet medicine?

Has your veterinarian ever recommended acupuncture or using natural herbs to help with your pet’s health issues? Well, you might be surprised to learn that those treatments are actually considered Eastern pet medicine practices. Western practices, which are more common in North America, take a less holistic approach to medicine.

Dr. Evan Antin, a practicing small animal, exotics and wildlife veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital and member of Fetch’s Veterinary Advisory Board, shares everything he knows about the differences between the two veterinary practices so you can expand your veterinary vocabulary.

What are the main tenets of Eastern and Western pet medicine? 

I’m no expert in Eastern medicine. As far as I’m aware, and as it pertains to veterinary medicine, it’s about treating patients based on the individual’s symptoms and needs with a holistic approach. Holistic meaning they take the whole body and health into account regarding a disease process. The Eastern approach seems to be very subjective as it’s based on individual patients. It also utilizes natural herbs and treatments like acupuncture. 

In North American veterinary medicine, Western medicine is what you’re seeing in 99% of our modern-day veterinary clinics and hospitals. There’s more focus on treating the disease than the entire individual, compared to Eastern medicine, and it relies on the use of pharmacologic drugs and surgery. 

What are the main differences between the two practices?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Eastern medicine tends to be less invasive, with fewer potential consequences, but it’s also less effective for many disease processes. Western medicine can come with higher risks, such as medication’s side effects or surgical complications, but for a number of diseases, it’s the most practical and reliable option. 

If Eastern practices aren’t invasive, what are the most common treatments?

Acupuncture is a common and great example of Eastern medicine and seems to have a higher success rate than many other Eastern medicine techniques by about 50%. I guess CBD supplements would also fall into the Eastern medicine category and seem to show a decent success rate for their applications. 

I think Eastern medicine is worth trying in certain cases, but for patients that don’t respond to it, then I recommend the Western approach. 

What about the most common treatments in Western pet medicine? 

All prescription medications, surgeries and even radiation therapy fall into the Western category. So anytime you fill a prescription for your pet, you’re utilizing a Western medical strategy. 

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Is it common for veterinarians to practice Eastern-medicine techniques in the U.S.?

It’s far less common but is available in many places. Many traditional veterinary practices use some degree of Eastern medicine in their practice. One of my favorites is the herb “Yunnan Baiyao,” as it’s shown to help reduce uncontrolled bleeding from certain malignant tumors. 

How do you know which medical approach is best for your pet?

This isn’t black and white. Some pets respond quite well to Eastern medicine techniques, and sometimes those options are preferred and ideal. However, regardless of you or your pet, sometimes Western medicine is the only option. For example, herbs and a holistic approach won’t go far to help a dog with a GDV (which is gastric dilation and volvulus aka “a flipped stomach” or “bloat”) or a cat in DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). 

You’ve shared a lot of interesting information. How can pet parents learn more about Eastern veterinary medicine?

Your best bet is to find a local veterinarian practicing Eastern medicine, schedule a wellness appointment with them and bring your questions! 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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