Dubuque veterinary clinic offering holistic care enhances quality-of-life for area animals

GoodLife Integrative Veterinary Care

Owner: Dr. Katie Merkes

Address: 3392 Hillcrest Road, Dubuque.

Phone: 563-590-0145.

Services: Holistic veterinary care.

An older dachshund with a back injury that left his back legs paralyzed no longer needs surgery and is doing well. A 13-year-old dog undergoing pain management sometimes feels good enough to jump on the couch again or go up and down the stairs without help.

And it’s due to the type of care Dr. Katie Merkes offers at GoodLife Integrative Veterinary Care, 3392 Hillcrest Road.

“It just gets so frustrating thinking, literally, you’re on everything — your choices are to continue doing what you’re doing, which probably isn’t working well or euthanize your pet,” said Merkes, who opened her brick-and-mortar location in May 2021. “It’s kind of a beautiful evolution to say we’re on all the medication – great, let’s try some other things to see if we can supplement the medication.”

Merkes graduated from Iowa State University’s veterinary school in 2013, interned at California’s Pioneer Equine Hospital, then began operating in Dubuque after 2014 as a house-call practice.

While her practice is primarily house-call based, Merkes said she was beginning to see more of a demand for services related to older dogs who need pain relief or hospice from owners who seemed “interested in pursuing more holistic” methods. With the Hillcrest Road location, Merkes also has a place to perform surgery.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, with pet ownership increasing, the workload on veterinarians in general increased, giving Merkes a large enough client base to sustain her practice.

People whose jobs were remote during the COVID-19 pandemic were “eight times as likely” to bring a new pet into their homes, according to an American Veterinary Medical Association survey.

While services differ from patient to patient, Merkes primarily offers acupuncture, chiropractic care, Chinese herbal medicine and laser therapy.

Most of her patients receive integrative or holistic care. They’re typically older animals that are already receiving western medication and have “reached the end” of what can be offered with a pill, but owners continue to look to improve their pet’s quality of life.

“My favorite patients are the old dogs that they’ve seen a lot, and then it’s our job to kind of help them feel their best,” Merkes said.

When Merkes diagnosed her dog with bone cancer, having the holistic background was a benefit, she said, because she knew she wouldn’t put him through amputation or chemotherapy.

“Nowadays, people really consider their pets their children,” she said. “So being able to offer some other options that aren’t going to do any harm can in fact make a huge difference. People are looking for ways to do that.”

Only “so much” can be done through medication, which Merkes said can be frustrating. Some dogs, for example, might have side effects or underlying issues, making them “not good candidates for medication.”

Dr. Michael Fox, who has been studying and advocating for holistic veterinary care since 1962, said veterinary medicine has followed the “same path” as conventional human medicine.

“(The field was) relying on what the big pharmaceutical companies were promoting and what the pet food manufacturers were selling,” said Fox, who authored “Holistic Veterinary Medicine: Veterinary Challenges & Opportunities in a Changing World,” which published in a 2016 edition of the Journal of American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Fox said holistic care was “very much appreciated” by patients he has seen simply because it worked.

“I’m not saying you don’t use conventional medications and vaccinations. I’m saying that you have an integrative approach,” Fox said. “You look at the whole animal. What is its nutritional status? Is it being well nourish (and) cared for?”

More pet owners are looking for holistic care, according to Merkes, and there aren’t a lot of options in the tri-state area.

“It’s kind of cool to be a little on the forefront here in Dubuque,” she said.

Merkes started with chiropractic care, then added acupuncture and is working advanced pain management. For more information, visit, goodlifevetdbq.com/.