Dr. Rebecca Verna’s holistic veterinary practice in Marshall takes a whole-body approach to pet care.
Walking into Dr. Rebecca Verna’s Paws for Holistic Pet Care office is like walking into her living room. It’s a big, open, light space, with futons and sofas, and a couple Yellow Naped Amazon parrots and African Grey parrots in big, comfy cages. These, Verna says, are her roommates; her practice is mostly treating dogs and cats, although she does treat the occasional exotic and some rabbits. It’s a warm and welcoming place, there are no cold exam tables; patients are examined and treated on the futons or wherever they feel most comfortable, and house calls are also available. It’s all about making the patient comfortable.
Verna has a long list of abbreviations after her name, in addition to the DVM which she received at Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Her interests go far beyond conventional veterinary medicine. Verna says, “Soon I’ll have too many letters to fit on my card, which was not the goal…the goal was to keep learning. I enjoy it! Right now I’m involved in the tail end of another Master’s Degree. I just love to learn.”
Verna’s additional skills include certification in veterinary Chinese herbology, canine rehabilitation, Chinese veterinary food therapy, Chinese massage, animal chiropractics, veterinary acupuncture, rehabilitative and physical therapy for animals, Chinese herbology, Ayurvedic herbology, the use of Western herbs, homeopathic medicines, flower essences and essential oils, magnetic therapy, reiki and other forms of energy medicine, applied kinesiology, traditional Chinese medicine, food therapy for animals, and nutrition.
Dr. Verna knew at a very young age that she wanted to be a vet, that there was no other profession for her. It started when she was about seven, with her family’s pet guinea pigs. “When I was really little we had guinea pigs and mine got sick a lot. So we took them to the vet often. Finally, we had one that had an infection, and they had just come out with tetracycline that you could dissolve in water. So I administered the antibiotics by eyedropper to the guinea pig and it got well. And that was it. It was like…a miracle. I was hooked. I decided then and there that I was going to be a vet. After vet school, before my first job, I was worried…I had never wanted to be anything but a vet, and I thought, what if I don’t like it? There’s nothing else I ever wanted to do. But it was even better than I thought it would be, it was so much fun. It is the greatest, most fulfilling career on the planet, and I couldn’t be luckier.”
After working for various veterinary practices and as a relief vet, Verna opened Healthy Paws Medical Center in Haymarket, which she owned for 18 years. It was a huge practice with 35 employees. But, she says, “After some time, it was just too much. I didn’t get a chance to be the doctor, I just got to manage people and train people and meet with managers. I wanted to be with the animals, to be a vet. So I sold it to VCA, which is a big veterinary corporation.
Verna started Paws for Holistic Pet Care in Marshall six years ago. “I knew that people were clamoring for holistic, for rehabilitation, for physical therapy for their pets, and for treatment of cancer and back pain,” she said.
While Verna clearly has a significant amount of holistic skills, she doesn’t dismiss conventional veterinary medicine. “Technically, I consider myself an integrative vet, meaning I practice conventional medicine as well as holistic. The two are complementary, really. Yes, I’m a vet, and I keep up with all the advancements in conventional veterinary medicine and the new drugs, but I also have a lot of additional training, I know this whole new, additional way of looking at things. We do a lot of talking when people bring their pets in, because I really need to get to know the person and their fur baby and their lifestyle to figure out exactly what their needs are. The main thing people need to know is that if you’re taking a holistic approach it’s not a one-stop-shop, one-day thing, it takes follow up.”
At Verna’s practice, which doesn’t offer surgery, anesthesia, or ultrasound, she focuses on whole body medicine. “I look at nutrition and physical structure and the animal’s lifestyle and environment. Prevention, says Verna, is the key to avoiding most animal illnesses. She explains, “Eighty-five percent of dogs are dying of cancer. A lot of them are young. Some of it’s from breeding, but most of it’s from pesticides and herbicides, bad water, bad air, and I’m not even going to discuss the quality of most pet foods.”
“If it’s an older animal or one that’s sick or got cancer, then I’m really the place to go because we can really offer the best of both worlds. I’m pretty good at being able to help people decide, based on the owner and their dog and their individual personality and their lifestyle, whether surgery is going to be the best option for their pet. Or should they do chemotherapy, or just herbs, or both? I won’t discourage anyone from going with chemotherapy. I can give you facts about these conventional procedures, like surgery and chemo, but also give you holistic therapy suggestions which can be used alone or in conjunction with other treatments. Acupuncture is amazing, you can actually get animals to significantly recover from kidney disease, allergies, and cancer. I’m not claiming to cure cancer, but I have had a lot of success with patients who live literally years beyond expectation with a good quality of life, which is the key. I help people figure out what is going to be most useful and really make a difference, and like I said, we’re going for quality of life, and quantity of life as long as it’s a good life.”
“My biggest regret is that I don’t get the animals until they’re sick. Really, what I do should be for the well pet. Start with a puppy or kitten, feed them right, make sure they get enough exercise, make sure they get enough good, fresh air, make sure they have access to a healthy outdoor environment where they’re not spraying pesticides and herbicides and things like that. It can double their life. Let’s skip the cancer. I encourage people to come in before there’s something wrong. I think I could make a big difference in the lives of every pet if I could see them young, see them before people realize they have a problem. Every now and then I get lucky: I probably see about 10 new puppies a year, and 3-4 new kittens, and I can get them started off on a good life.”