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Holistic Health Care For Pets

Dr. Steinberg with her pooch Kyah | Coco Zickos photo

Dr. Steinberg with her pooch Kyah | Coco Zickos photo

Ranaella Steinberg
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

What kind of medicine do you practice? I practice integrative veterinary medicine. That would be a combination of conventional medicine and what you would call complementary or alternative medicine.

What is alternative/complementary medicine? It is herbal medicine, acupuncture and also nutrition as being a larger part of health and wellness than conventional medicine. There also is a little of homeopathy involved.

What is integrative medicine? In integrative medicine, you are stepping back and taking a look at the whole picture. It is a very humane-oriented way to practice medicine. You do your best to do diagnosis and get definitive answers, and you also do that as minimally invasive as you can.

Were you always an advocate for alternative/complementary medicine? That was something really important to me in veterinary school. I attended the University of Florida. At the time, I petitioned the college to start learning about animal acupuncture and holistic medicine. They denied it, and I kept pushing.

That was a very long time ago in the early 1990s, and all of those practices – acupuncture, nutrition, herbs, Chinese medicine – all were considered to be far outside the box. Now, the University of Florida has the most progressive alternative track for students who want to learn that type of medicine. It has a full-time veterinary acupuncturist at the college who lectures and sees patients.

So that’s how far things have come just since I came out of vet school. I’d like to think that I encouraged my fellow students to see a broader perspective as acceptable. I also started the student chapter of Animal Welfare at the College of Veterinary Medicine, and that has really progressed to a point where it was one of the first schools that had a track for students who didn’t actually want to harm animals to get their veterinary degree.

In that sense, I pushed the envelope and helped make a difference, I hope.

Why did you decide to become a veterinarian? Most people, especially introverts, when they’re young, relate much better to animals than they do to people.

I certainly did. When I made the choice, that was why. But the reality is that unless you go into wildlife medicine – and even then you have people you must work with – there are people you have to communicate with and learn to have compassion for, as well.

Have you always practiced integrative medicine? When I first moved here I kept my clientele from Oahu, where I had originally moved to do marine mammal medicine. My clientele at the time were strictly holistic medicine, mostly acupuncture. Now, I focus more on integrative medicine and how to stay true to my beliefs in alternative medicine, and blend that with conventional medicine. I used to be determined to stay 100 percent dedicated to doing everything naturally – all the diets had to be home-cooked, you couldn’t use any flea-control products, etc.

But I noticed that in doing that, over time, especially being in a very tropical environment, that I wasn’t always successful, and parasite problems from unresolved flea infestations, for example, were affecting quality of life. And so I took time out from medicine for a while to reinte-grate some conventional medicine with alternative medicine.

Where do you practice? I do house calls on the North Shore, and one day a week I’m at the Kapa’a Animal Clinic. I’m at the clinic for clients who live too far for me to do house calls, and also that way, if I need to take radiographs (X-rays) or need to do surgery, it allows me to have a broader coverage of what I can offer my clients.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do? There are so many rewards, but I believe there is an innate intelligence behind everything. And when I feel like I’ve been able to be a part of the healing of animals, it’s my innate intelligence that is being honored and allowed to participate. It’s also especially rewarding to help people who really respect and love their animals and feel that they are a part of the family.

What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do? Animals, in general, have relatively short life spans compared to ours, and that’s really challenging. For me, it’s challenging to get to a place where death isn’t a failure because it’s inevitable. When you practice medicine, you have a feeling of responsibility to do everything you can to keep the animal alive, and while that’s true, at some point they’re going to make a transition so that’s definitely the hardest part. Yet, at the same time, it can be the most rewarding, because you know that the animals had a really full life, were loved deeply and the people did everything they could for them.

What’s one piece of advice you give to pet owners to keep their animals healthy? It’s the same as us. Having a stress-free environment, having a comfortable space to live where all the environmental factors are taken into consideration. Getting an appropriate amount of exercise that’s also enjoyable and good nutrition – what they put into their bodies.

Do you have any pets? I have a dog named Kyah.

What makes you get up every morning and do this work? I am truly grateful for my interaction with the animals. It’s my intention to learn everything I can from every patient. I also enjoy my interaction with their people, and I feel like I’m constantly being stretched intellectually and emotionally, so I feel like that keeps me growing, and I hope that means I’m evolving and being of more service in my profession. I’m fortunate to actually love what I’m doing.

Email: kaiwahine1@hawaii.rr.com.