University of Minnesota veterinary professor Jeffrey Klausner is on the curriculum committee. "We hope to give introductory material to students to raise their level of awareness of these techniques," he says. "Whether we start teaching in-depth about the procedures, I'm not sure.... We need further study."
In 1996 the American Veterinary Medical Association released its first set of standards for complementary therapies. Although the guidelines say that acupuncture is now considered an integral part of veterinary medicine, many of the vets at the conference say their colleagues frown on the use of alternative therapies.
In recent years Nielsen's practice has evolved from a strictly conventional practice to one where alternative therapies are used regularly. One of the most compelling reasons to educate vets about holistic therapies and to research their effectiveness is to weed out the charlatans that, he says, just like in human medicine, plague the field.
"With alternative therapies there is so much information out there that is misleading and untrue," says Nielsen. "And it's largely due to profit motives." Some states have begun licensing alternative veterinary practitioners. Minnesota has not.
Nielsen says his practice has attracted new patients suffering from everything from cancer to hip dysplasia to heart disease. Not only has traditional veterinary medicine given up on many of these animals, but conventional treatment is often ineffective and usually too expensive. For example, surgery and radiation therapy for an animal with cancer can cost upwards of $15,000, he says.
"Everyone has to decide whether to be a pioneer or a settler," he says. "There are some of us who just can't be settlers."