Homeopathy and Me

Alternative medicine is a controversial subject in the veterinary profession. It inflames passions on both sides of the debate and opinions can get quite heated. Now maybe my head is full of rainbows, roses and the plots of Disney movies (actually, with a 3 year old the last one is true!) but I don’t see why we can’t all just get along and simply agree to differ.

I have no problem with homeopathic, naturopathic, alternative, complimentary, or whatever they term themselves, vets practicing, treating and prescribing to patients. I actually don’t care very much that homeopathy has never, ever, been shown to work in any properly performed medical trial. All I care about is that the pets who are with these colleagues of mine are not in pain or suffering and their conditions are adequately treated and this means giving them something that will actually make them better, as well as little brown bottles of hope and star dust.

I do care when animals are taken off conventional treatment and given little the sugar pills of promise or tinctures of purified water and blind faith instead. I definitely care when well-meaning owners are convinced that conventional medicine is the wrong approach, or even actively harmful, and I most certainly care that there are barely qualified lay people giving advice to pet owners and in some cases diagnosing and treating conditions. This is illegal in the UK, not to mention downright dangerous and morally reprehensible.

If an owner approaches me about alternative therapies for their pet, I am happy to explore their options and will refer them to a homeopathic vet if it is appropriate. Ultimately, we are all working in the animal’s best interests and as long as that is kept at the forefront of our approach, and vital conventional medication is not stopped, that is fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arthritis is a common condition in elderly dogs and, although it is best treated with medication, it can also respond to diet and lifestyle changes, supplements and acupuncture. Homeopathic therapies also exist but using these alone will leave a pet in pain.

One big argument for why homeopathy ‘works’ for animals is because they don’t know they are being treated and they are therefore immune to the placebo effect. Actually, the opposite is true. The people who care for them, and who will be judging their progress, know they are getting it and are invested in the idea it will work. So, there is a huge tendency to err towards the positive. Also, our pets are masters at hiding signs of illness, very good at reading us and figuring out what we want, and will always respond positively to attention, which is what they are likely to get by the bucket load from an adoring owner desperate for them to get better.

The main issue I have with alternative vets apart from their medicine, is how many of them, particularly those who write in the press, are so fantastically aggressive and negative towards conventional practitioners.

I would maybe be more interested in learning more about raw food diets if their proponents didn’t insist, in every debate that I have ever seen, that by recommending commercially prepared pet food I am slowly and deliberating killing the animals in my care.  There never seems to be any nuance to their debate or any acknowledgment that while some commercially prepared foods are pretty dreadful (large coloured kibble, you know the ones I mean!), others are really very good and do pets absolutely no harm at all.

I recently read an article from one of the UK’s leading homeopathic vets in one of the country’s most popular dog magazines, sneering at conventional practitioners. He accused us of over-using diagnostic testing to make money (I shall politely ignore the fact that his consultation fees start at £180 – mine are £25) and stated that alternative treatments were more effective than conventional in treating a huge range of conditions, including Diabetes and Cushings Disease, which is totally false and incredibly dangerous to be writing.

It is declarations like these that draw the battle lines, entrench opinions and only damage the public’s perception of the veterinary profession as a whole.  It is also a shame because in many ways the holistic approach of alternative vets; focusing not just on treatment but on diet, supplements and overall health is one which is excellent for the pet.  Obviously conventional practitioners do consider this but I think there are things we could learn from our colleagues, if only we could listen to each other, rather than arguing!

The basic tenet of any medical profession is; first, do no harm, and we can be fairly sure that homeopathy won’t do that. Unless, of course, it is used instead of conventional treatment or if medications, safe and proven, are discontinued because of it. As I hope I have explained, I am supportive of complementary and alternative therapies, up until this point.

As an animal’s advocate, I will not stand by if you leave them in pain or suffering while placing your faith in dilutions and dreams, and neither would they want me to.

*** Addendum ***

This blog is attracting a lot of comment, particularly from those who believe in homeopathy and I feel I should respond.

As most of you have gathered from this article, I do not believe that homeopathy works.  However, if there is ever a properly conducted, peer reviewed trial that proves that it does, I will be the first to promote it.  Whatever it’s supporters say, there has not been one yet and this has been decided by people far more qualified than I.

In the meantime, if you chose to use homeopathy on your pets, you MUST do it under the care and direction of a veterinary surgeon with qualifications in the subject.    It is very difficult, even for a dedicated and observant owner, to fully assess how much an animal is struggling as they will always attempt to hide their symptoms.   Vets are trained to look for signs and know how to use tests to properly diagnose and quantify illness.  They will also be able to give conventional medication which will ensure your pets are actually being treated.

Treating poorly pets yourself or with the guidance of a non-veterinary homeopath runs the very real risk that disease will go undetected, untreated and your pet will suffer.

I am very happy for conventional and alternative practitioners to work together, the whole point of this article is to keep the debate civil. However, I believe, and will continue to believe, that using homeopathy alone to treat illness is not, in any way whatsoever, adequate, sensible or humane.

***