Q&A: Should Alternative Practitioners Ask for Veterinary Consent?

Q: Do you ask (and / or do you advise your students to ask) for a release or clearance from the client’s vet before working with an animal?

We have received this question from many readers, along with the related subject: how do you get referrals from veterinarians? Both are great questions, and it is something that many alternative animal health practitioners struggle with, especially when starting out.

Today, our experts weigh in on whether to ask for veterinary consent or not, and in an upcoming post, they will share tips on how you can work and establish relationships with veterinarians (which might lead to referrals).

Amy and NancyAmy Snow, Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute:

YES! In states where it is required, the Tallgrass Acupressure Practitioners must have veterinarian referral or supervision. We suggest our graduates have referrals even if they are not required to by law. Tallgrass graduates must review their state laws regarding animal healthcare and sign a form saying they have read the legal requirements in their state upon their graduation. They must sign the Tallgrass Code of Ethics and state they have read and understand the Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Scope of Service.

Additionally, all Tallgrass graduates are required to take an online Equine and/or Canine Pathology course, which includes a 150-200 page course manual and a 15-16 unit online curriculum. The intent is for Tallgrass Certified Animal Acupressure Practitioners to be able to identify health issues. This course makes it clear for our participants to understand where their scope of service ends and conventional, western veterinary care begins. This level of knowledge regarding pathology is essential for acupressure-massage practitioners.

Note: People do not need to be enrolled in the Tallgrass training program to take the online pathology courses. We welcome participants from other massage and acupressure programs to take the course. We see it as a liability issue for our entire hands-on animal care professions.

Lola MichelinLola Michelin, Northwest School of Animal Massage:

Many of our graduates have success using a referral form or authorization with their client’s veterinarians. Certainly in states where regulation requires one, a form should be in place. If there is a medical condition involved, it serves as a good protection and also can help inform the practitioner of potential concerns or indications. On the other hand, we don’t see it as a requirement for working with clients, particularly if there is no specific medical history involved. Most practitioners will have a form available to use in cases where the animal is under the medical care of a veterinarian, but they may also have clientele where they do not utilize it. We cover its use in our classes but advise practitioners to consider their clientele and their legal obligations when determining when or if to use it.

In my own private practice, I often have conversations with the attending doctors and I might have a referral form filled out in extenuating circumstances. However, in Washington State where my practice is based, we are licensed professionals so referrals or releases are not required and we are not under supervision of the veterinary board so I don’t use it in most cases. I do however always take a complete health history and document my sessions with each animal, as required by our state.

Beth-Innis-DVMBeth Innis, DVM:

I think it is very important for the therapist to be in contact with the animal’s veterinarian for several reasons:

1. To make sure that there are no contraindication to the alternative therapy

2. To alert the therapist to all medical and behavioral issues that the patient might have

3. To foster a collaborative relationship that benefits the therapist, the veterinarian, the pet, and the client

4. To serve as great data for the veterinarian when the alternative therapy assists in helping maintain/improve the pet’s health

Theresa-GagnonTheresa Gagnon, Mending Fences Animal Wellness:

I generally do not ask for a release or clearance from a client’s veterinarian. There would be some exceptions to that – one would be spinal injury, disk disease or recent surgery. For someone just starting out, I think that consulting with the client’s vet would be a good idea. It will show their willingness to be part of “the team” and respect to the veterinarian to direct the treatment. This would be an excellent way to get referrals from veterinarians.

Lisa RuthigLisa Ruthig, Bancroft School of Massage Therapy

I advise my students to ask for vet clearance before working with an animal in any case where they aren’t sure if massage is contraindicated, or where they would like the advice of a vet. There are certain cases where I require a veterinarian’s approval before I work, for instance, intervertebral disc disease and cancer. I find that if I ask a potential new client’s owner to check with the vet themselves, I often don’t hear from them again, so I ask for permission to speak with their vet myself. In this way, I can get my questions answered, satisfy the doctor about the safety and efficacy of what I do, find out if the vet would like a copy of my massage report, and perhaps make a connection for future referrals.

Caroline ThomasCaroline Thomas, Hoof and Paw Holistic Therapies:

I do not ask the vet for a release or clearance. My reason is that to merge traditional veterinary care with holistic care, you need to understand how vets understand animal healing. They have a scientific mindset and asking them to have a clearance makes any holistic support less credible. I totally respect people for asking the question but to take animal holistic care into the mainstream so that it is respected I judge each vet on their holistic merit as to how far I push Reiki, Bach flowers etc.

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