Why Your Holistic Vet Should Also Be an Excellent Conventional Vet

Story at-a-glance

  • Dr. Carvel Tiekert is the original founder of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA). In the 30+ years since its founding, the AHVMA has seen tremendous growth

  • Dr. Tiekert joined a conventional practice after graduation from veterinary school, but his natural inquisitiveness and drive to continue to learn and put him on a path toward integrative medicine

  • Dr. Tiekert believes integrative and holistic DVMs should focus on perfecting their conventional veterinary skills. His own excellence as a conventional practitioner paved the way for referral relationships with local colleagues who accepted his integrative approach. These collaborations ultimately created more and better healing options for patients

By Dr. Becker

I’m at the AHVMA conference today, chatting with Dr. Carvel Tiekert as part of my "Highlighting the Healer" interview series. Dr. Tiekert is the original founder of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Tiekert didn’t decide to become a veterinarian in the same way many of us did – through early exposure to animals. His mother was interested in nutrition, and that’s actually what sparked his interest in veterinary medicine.

Unlike most veterinarians, he didn’t have pets growing up because his family couldn’t afford them. “My parents believed that you couldn’t have something you couldn’t take care of properly,” says Dr. Tiekert, and that sentiment is expressed often in his dealings with clients.

The Evolution of a Forward Thinking Holistic Veterinary Pioneer

In 1967, Dr. Tiekert was hit by a drunk driver. His injuries caused cervical problems and also progressive paresthesia that took the form of numbness in the ring and little fingers of both hands. Then he began to have motor control issues, and he went to see a chiropractor. At the time he didn’t really know what chiropractic care was, but he had done a little research and decided to give it a try.

During his first treatment, all Dr. Tiekert’s motor control problems were resolved. After four treatments, 95 percent of his numbness had disappeared, and the remainder has been residual since then. So while chiropractic adjustments didn’t completely cure him – perhaps because it was four years between the accident and the treatments – they were tremendously beneficial.

Dr. Tiekert’s chiropractor worked with a man who did applied kinesiology (AK), which is the study of body movement. Dr. Tiekert wondered if AK could be used in veterinary medicine, and he began experimenting. Then in 1982 he founded the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) (more about that shortly) and around the same time gave a lecture to acupuncturists about applied kinesiology.

Prior to his exposure to AK, Dr. Tiekert’s practice was conventional, but with an emphasis on nutrition. His transition toward a more integrative practice began with nutrition and AK, but he was always a forward thinker. In fact, he did his first root canal in 1973.

Dr. Tiekert graduated from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1963, and went right into private practice. In the early 1980s he became certified in veterinary acupuncture. Next he attended a lecture on homeopathy, and he was also getting involved with magnetic therapy.

As a forward thinker and explorer, Dr. Tiekert was continually learning about and adding new healing tools to his veterinary toolbox. Eventually he became adept at so many different modalities that he as able to select from a large menu of therapies to discover what worked for each individual patient.

The Founding of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

Around 1980, Dr. Tiekert, prompted by like-minded colleagues, started building a network of veterinarians interested in non-conventional approaches, with nutrition as the foundation. At the time, the group wrestled with using the word “holistic” in American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, but in 1982 it was the most appropriate word to attract both the public and veterinary professionals.

Today, over 30 years later, the organization has grown tremendously and has diversified. In fact, the conference we’re attending this week is the largest one yet, by far.

Dr. Tiekert says he made a commitment “…that when I leave this plain, I will have made it better.” I’m sure it’s very gratifying for him to see how his creation has grown. These conferences must feel to him like a multi-generational family reunion of integrative holistic veterinarians.

Why Holistic and Integrative Vets Must Also Be Excellent Conventional Practitioners

When he graduated from veterinary school in 1963, Dr. Tiekert really didn’t understand what the words “alternative medicine” meant, and he went immediately into practice with highly competent, conventional DVMs. It was his natural inquisitiveness and personal desire to continue to learn and grow in every aspect of his life that put him on a path toward integrative veterinary medicine.

Despite his interest in alternative therapies, Dr. Tiekert was actively involved in veterinary politics over the years. He didn’t receive much pushback at all from his conventional colleagues, and in fact, his very first referral was from a well-known veterinary neurologist. When Dr. Tiekert asked the neurologist why he referred the patient, the response he received was, “Because I respect you as a conventional practitioner. When you send me x-rays and case reports, I have all the information I need.”

This is a great point to expand on. In order to gain and maintain the respect of colleagues and develop referral relationships that ultimately provide the best care possible for patients, it’s important that integrative and holistic vets practice excellent conventional, foundational medicine. We need to be top-notch diagnosticians. We need to hone our surgical skills, our communication skills, and all the skills that make us great doctors.

Then when we add the alternative therapies that resonate with us to our toolbox, we are able to rise to new heights in healing.

As Dr. Tiekert points out, if our conventional colleagues respect us and stand behind us, they may not ultimately accept what we do, but they tolerate it and don’t get angry about it. Dr. Tiekert says that to this day, his best friends in his home county in Maryland are his local colleagues. He does feel Maryland is unique in that respect.


The Future of Integrative Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Tiekert believes that today’s vet school graduates are coming from an academic environment that gives them the message that, “If you don’t really understand this, you should send it to a specialist.”

Back in his day, that option wasn’t available. Dr. Tiekert and his colleagues had to be jacks-of-all-trades in treating their patients, and he believes it was actually a blessing. For example, he had to learn to do orthopedic surgery, and he still treats orthopedic patients in his practice to this day. He’s an endocrinologist and nephrologist and can capably handle other specialties as well – because he had to learn all those things back in the 1960s.

Dr. Tiekert sees integrative veterinary medicine continuing to expand, with a few anticipated bumps along the way. Based just on the attendance at this conference, there are at least 2,000 veterinarians doing some form of non-conventional medicine.

Dr. Tiekert also feels that because nutraceuticals have become such a big player in conventional medicine, it has caused more practitioners to develop a higher level of tolerance for alternative approaches. Many doctors are using nutraceuticals in their practices now, which means they’re already opening their minds, to some extent.

Dr. Tiekert mentioned that for him, herbs don’t resonate in the same way homeopathy and homotoxicology do. This is one of the things I love about exploring alternative therapies – some things really resonate with each of us, and some things don’t. When we follow our interests and incorporate those modalities that really resonate with us, we tend to have a great deal of success with them.

And the neat thing about more veterinarians getting involved in integrative therapies is that we have an increasing number of options available when we want or need to refer patients. Ultimately, we will help and heal more animals with these collaborations.

Many Thanks to Dr. Carvel Tiekert!

I want to sincerely thank Dr. Tiekert for chatting with me this morning. I so appreciate all he has done for veterinary medicine. He has contributed in immeasurable ways to our professional holistic organization, not only by being its founder, but by continuing to be a vital force within it.