I was thinking about hitting a hornet’s nest with a stick, but decided to stir up some real trouble instead. So, I’m working on a few pieces regarding the use of alternative veterinary medicines, starting with today’s article on homeopathy.
First off: What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a field of veterinary medicine that has a loyal following and a number of professional practitioners. Homeopathic remedies are widely marketed as curatives for a wide variety of physical, emotional and behavioral conditions; but the general public has very little knowledge of this field or its principles.
Homeopathy is the creation of Samuel Hahnemann (1755 – 1843) a German physician, building on previous studies by Anton Von Stork, who proposed that poisonous plants can have medicinal values when administered in small doses. The basic principles that Hahnemann proposed are:
- Like Cures Like: Meaning that a very minute dose of a toxin can cure the symptoms that it would cause in larger doses, or would cure similar symptoms caused by a disease. Putting it another way; poison ivy causes itching, therefore a minute dose of poison ivy would cure a rash. 1
- Water Memory: The concept that water is able to retain and remember the shape and characteristics of medicines that it once contained.1
- Dilution: The principle that the more a substance is diluted in water, the more powerful it becomes in treating symptoms.2 The process of “succussion” (being shaken between dilutions) and successive dilutions is a key characteristic of homeopathic “remedies”.
Example: Lets suppose that a homeopath chooses to treat a patient’s fever with a plant substance that can induce a sensation of heat: Chili peppers. He wants this treatment to be very effective, so he will subject is to 30 succussion and dilution steps (called 30X, a very common homeopathic dilution, homeopathic remedies are often distilled far more than this). He would create a ten-to-one mixture of 10-to-one chili peppers and distilled water; then take one part of that mixture, shake it and dilute it in ten parts distilled water. This step of shaking and diluting would then be repeated twenty-nine times. The final result would be that the each drop of chili pepper solution would be diluted by 10 to the 30th power (or, one in a million trillion trillion). Put it another way, it would be pure distilled water. But the homeopath would state that this dilution would make the treatment of the fever even more effective.
What is it used for?
Veterinary homeopaths and alternative medicine practitioners will prescribes homeopathic treatments for behavioral problems, phobias, wounds, diarrhea, viruses, gallstones, fibroid tumors, allergies, asthma, colitis, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, chronic infections and a host of other conditions.3
Does it work?
In a word. No.
Homeopathy is based on an 18th century understanding of disease, nervous systems, immune systems and physics. The fact is, a homeopathic “remedy” is simply distilled water, or a drop of distilled water poured on a sugar pellet. There is no active ingredient in a homeopathic treatment, so it can’t do anything.
This is, however, a major industry that has spent enormous sums of money attempting to prove that homeopathic remedies are effective. This has been studied by the Federal Trade Commission4, The National Institute of Health5, the British National Health Service2, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council7 along with other national and international medical associations, have all concluded that no evidence exists to support claims that homeopathic treatments are effective in treating any diseases or medical conditions. Each of these bodies has concluded that homeopathy has never been found to be more effective than placebo.
So, in summary: Like does not cure like, water does not have a memory, and dilution doesn’t make medications stronger. (A note on those last points: Proponents of homeopathy would have you believe that water retains a memory of a substance that it touches, but does not retain a memory of every bladder and bowel that it passes through. By homeopathic principles, a small cup of water from your kitchen faucet is actually a tremendously powerful dose of mastodon pee.)
Is homeopathy harmful?
In and of itself, no. Since a homeopathic remedy has no active ingredients it can’t be directly harmful or interact with any medications. However, if an animal is treated for a medical condition only with homeopathic treatments, it is harmful in that it amounts to withholding effective care from the suffering animal. 6
The takeaway from all this: If you believe that your animal is suffering from a condition that would be cured by a drop of distilled water or a sugar tablet, then use homeopathy. Otherwise, seek help from a qualified veterinarian.
- What is Homeopathy? | Live Science
- Homeopathy – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- Veterinary Homeopathy | Homeopathic Treatment For Animals | Alternative Veterinary Services (alternativevetservices.com)
- Staff Report on the Homeopathic Medicine & Advertising Workshop (ftc.gov)
- Homeopathy | NCCIH (nih.gov)
- 1,800 Studies Later, Scientists Conclude Homeopathy Doesn’t Work | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine
- Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds | Homeopathy | The Guardian