My Journey to Becoming a Holistic Veterinarian
Updated: Apr 24
I could say it all started at an early age, but that would not be entirely correct. My parents always knew that I had a passion for animals and science, but they were not sure if that meant I would be a veterinarian or go into another animal-related field of work. Even though I was land-locked in Colorado growing up, I had a strange obsession with becoming a marine biologist. I remember as a small child saving a little finch who was trapped under our wood pile and naming him Junior. My brothers and I nursed him back to health, and once he could fly again, we released him back into the wild. There were many stints of saving animals like this while growing up. For some reason, my mother seemed to attract all the wildlife in our neighborhood, so if they needed help we were there. The animals must have known that there were people who would take care of them living in our house, because without fail there was always an animal showing up that needed help!
However, this story is not about all the animals we helped or saved, though they would form the foundation for why I wanted something more in my veterinary career. The seeds for natural medicine were sown while living in New Zealand. I was lucky and adventurous enough to travel to New Zealand for veterinary school. Knowing no one and never travelling internationally alone before, this was a true adventure to chase a passion of mine! I fell in love with a Kiwi (not the bird, even though they are cute too!) while attending vet school, and the rest is history. We lived on a lifestyle block in the middle of the countryside, grew our own food, raised sheep, chickens and it was pretty dang amazing! Check out this amazing picture of our pond we had on our property - there is nothing more peaceful than watching the Pukekos run around and listening to the Tui's and Bellbirds singing in the morning. I was able to experience the beauty and peace of what living off the land does for your health.
So why did we leave this magical paradise to move back to the States? Well, working as a veterinarian in NZ and paying student loans in US money is not exactly the path to wealth, so we made a difficult decision to move back to Colorado. This is where life changed....
You always take life and health for granted until you are robbed of it. My husband and I have been avid hikers, campers, runners and just about anything you can do outside, we would do it. About 6 months after moving back to the States, things began to change. Suddenly we were faced with an autoimmune disease diagnosis, and life changed forever. This was the moment when I knew there had to be more than what conventional medicine could offer. There had to be more! Being told that here are your options, and all of them potentially have fatal side effects is one of the scariest things I have been through, and this is how I felt and I am not the one with the diagnosis. I know my husband was scared, but I cannot even begin to imagine how he felt compared to me. I will always be by his side supporting him, but I do not have the disease. To be told you will have a disease for the rest of your life was not something I was willing to stomach. I knew there was more than we were being offered.
So began hours and hours of research into ulcerative colitis and what it all meant. There were so many case reports of people fixing themselves through diet, supplements, doing crazy detox plans, but there were also many reports of people plowing through different drugs because nothing helped resolve their symptoms and becoming more and more sick. Where do you even begin, especially when your doctor does not even want to discuss natural treatment options? We have been through many doctors, and I am very thankful that our current doctor is open to trying different treatment modalities. I will never forget though the anger I felt when one gastroenterologist ridiculed and belittled my husband for trying a clean diet and asking about supplements he could use. I thought to myself we will show this bastard that this stuff does work and left that office without saying a word knowing we would never set foot in there again.
As we were going down this path with my husband, I thought to myself, why am I not using these therapeutic options in pets. If we can cure autoimmune disease and many other conditions through diet, herbs and supplements, what am I missing for my own pet patients? I was tired of telling my clients that there was nothing more we could do if their pet was not responding to conventional medicine, especially for my cancer, kidney and liver failure patients. This did not sit right with me, and now I knew how my clients felt when I spoke those words to them. There had to be more we could do! I started researching about holistic medicine in animals, and I was astonished to find so many therapeutic options that I was not using and had no idea existed. Why aren't we taught this in vet school?!!
I became a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and signed up for webinars under the College of Integrative Therapy and immersed myself in this different but amazing world of medicine. I signed up for an acupuncture course to provide my patients with better options for pain control. I focused on acupuncture for about two years while I started learning more about Chinese and Western herbal medicine and nutrition for pets, not just feeding Hills or Royal Canin food.
My miracle case came when we fixed a beautiful Doberman's neck pain with acupuncture. The clients had tried everything conventionally and were not really sure about trying acupuncture, but I convinced them to just try it since the other alternative was euthanasia. Zeus walked in slowly to the acupuncture room with his head drooped down and laid down on the bed. He slowly licked the frozen baby food while I did his treatment. After we removed all the needles, he laid down and stretched out on the bed. Then all of a sudden he sprung up and started prancing around the room. The pet parents and I looked at each other and just started laughing! I wish that I could have videotaped that moment, because that was a game changer for me. I knew what I was doing could help so many more pets than I could before with just conventional medicine. Zeus lived for another year and ended up passing away from his heart condition, but lived a life free of pain.
I have also added on traditional Chinese medicine to my treatment modalities, and this has been another incredible option for all my patients. We are told that once a patient has kidney disease that is it and we can only manage their symptoms. With herbal therapies, I have seen kidney values decrease and patients live much longer than predicted. I have patients who have had elevated liver values for years, and we are able to bring them back down into the normal range. My cancer patients live longer than expected and feel good during their treatments. It is absolutely crazy, beautiful and amazing to be able to help pets in this way!
Being able to practice medicine this way has truly changed my life. I was on the path to being burned out and ready to go into a new career. I was tired of telling pet parents there was nothing else you can do. The best thing that people say to me now is when they thank me for giving them hope again that we can help their pet. I want to help find the imbalance in the pet and fix it so we can hopefully give them more time with their pet parents and give them good quality of life. This is why I became a veterinarian. I want to give people hope, keep their pets feeling amazing and give everyone more quality time to spend with their fur babies. The bonds I get to develop with my patients and clients is unbelievable, and it is all because of Eastern medicine. Unfortunately, my husband had to develop an autoimmune disease to open my eyes to this world of medicine, but I hope that more people become aware of this treatment option not only for themselves but also for their pets. Never settle for "we can't do anything more." That is why I am here to help you.
With love and gratitude,
Dr. Katie Woodley
Check out these resources to find holistic veterinarians in your area or to learn more about what natural medicine is: