We kick off our first medical staff spotlight of 2009 with Alan Stewart, DVM, CVA, DACVIM. Dr. Stewart has been with SFVS since the beginning, and here he shares thoughts on things from holistic medicine to pet nutrition. Thanks, Dr. Stewart!
1. How did you know you wanted to be a veterinarian? What led you down the path to being an internal medicine specialist?
Being a veterinarian is all I ever wanted to do! I was one of those kids born with blinders. I always loved animals and knew I wanted to work with them. As far as being a specialist, I knew I wanted to work in a practice that could provide the highest quality medicine and offer the most current treatments and technologies. I wanted to be able to pass along all those things to my patients, and being a specialist allows me to do that.
2. You’ve been with the hospital since the beginning. What’s it been like, watching SFVS grow and change over the past decade?
It’s been amazing to see SFVS grow to be this big. I don’t think any of us had any idea. It’s been exciting and daunting and thrilling and scary all at the same time. But SFVS has clearly filled a huge need in the city. I’m so glad it’s here.
3. I know that you often combine more traditional, Western medicine with holistic treatments. Can you talk a little about that? What do you think the benefits are?
I was brought up and trained with a more traditional medicine background. Over the years, I came to realize that there were certain things I couldn’t do … and that some traditional therapies had negative side effects that adversely affected the pet’s quality of life. I was exposed to Traditional Chinese Medicine–acupuncture and herbs–and learned that there were definitely alternatives out there that can achieve much success. I want to be able to offer my clients the full spectrum of treatments and I wanted the hospital in which I work to be able to offer both.
By the time patients are referred to me from their regular veterinarian, we often don’t have the luxury of time–the conditions have progressed. Herbs and other alternative treatments can take longer to work, so the ideal time to use holistic medicine is before the pet gets very sick, in a preventive capacity. Holistic therapies are also very effective in the treatment of chronic illnesses. I love it when I’m able to combine both traditional and alternative therapies, but it can be more expensive and time consuming for the pet owner.
4. As an internal medicine specialist, one of your focuses is on gastrointestinal conditions in our pets. What are some of the most common conditions you see in your practice?
Yes, most of my days are spent treating dogs and cats with vomiting and diarrhea, trying to identify causes and determine the right therapies. (The Chronicle once called me Dr. Diarrhea.) By the time pets are referred to me, their GI conditions are usually an inherent problem, not caused by diet.
But a quick word about pet nutrition: I think after the pet food scare a year and a half ago, a lot of pet owners went online to find out about alternatives to the pet food they were feeding their animals. Unfortunately, just because something’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s been researched or is grounded in science, and sometimes these homemade or alternative foods can cause some big problems. It’s not yet scientifically proven whether organic food or such things as grain-free food is better for your pet (but common sense suggests they might be). Pet owners should always talk to their veterinarians before making drastic diet/nutrition changes.
5. When you’re away from SFVS, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Away from work, I have three main hobbies: playwriting, scuba diving and traveling to see endangered species. My favorite encounter with an endangered species was seeing the Golden Bamboo Lemur in Madagascar.
6. Any pets of your own?
Of course! We have a standard poodle named Murphy and a fat cat named Caitlin.