"It's simply enlarging your horizons and the array of things you can offer to your patients," she said.
For example, a drug that can help a dog with an ailment might also cause serious side effects. So some vets might recommend an herbal remedy or a diet-and-exercise plan to mitigate those effects.
Practitioners say alternative treatments can improve circulation or digestion, ease muscle and joint pain, help animals recover from injury or surgery and calm a host of behavioral issues.
Amy Williams DeLong, a certified aromatherapist who specializes in working with animals, says aromatherapy can provide all of those benefits. Oils of herbs and roots that are known to ease pain travel by scent, and in a dog "are absorbed into the brain and bloodstream in less than a second," she said.
At a recent appointment, DeLong let 8 1/2-year-old German shepherd Izzy sniff a canvas tote filled with small bottles of essential oils. Izzy seemed to choose cinnamon and ginger by repeatedly licking the caps of the bottles. DeLong said those scents indicated that Izzy wanted a "warming" fragrance to help with circulation.
"We're going to make you a holiday blend," she told Izzy.
Izzy's human, Julie Northenscold, was looking for something to alleviate her dog's arthritis.
On DeLong's instructions, Northenscold sprays a custom scent in her home or rubs it into her hands and then onto Izzy's coat. Northenscold said that the scents have proved more effective than other medicines. The scents also help Izzy, who is deaf, find her owner. An initial aromatherapy session with DeLong (amywilliamsdelong.com) costs $65.
Training and certification for holistic pet practitioners vary widely. Some are veterinarians, such as animal acupuncturists, who are required in Minnesota to have a veterinary degree. Pet massage therapists don't need any certification in Minnesota. But Hesse, Brinks' massage therapist, trained at the Chicago School of Canine Massage. Her work requires a deep understanding of dog anatomy, she said. An initial consultation with her Sound Hound Canine Massage (soundhoundmassage.com) runs $80.
Still, most practitioners caution pet owners to work with trained professionals and not to try DIY remedies found on the internet.