Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is a medical system that was developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann more than 200 years ago. It involves giving highly diluted remedies to treat or prevent disease and has become more popular in recent years. It is seen as an alternative to conventional medicine. Many pet owners turn to homeopathy to treat or prevent common medical conditions.
Why do people use Homeopathy?
We all want to stop our pet’s becoming ill, as well as help them recover from any problems as fast as we can. Modern veterinary medical treatment is based on thorough research and testing, but unfortunately there are situations where it will not work. Some animals will not respond to treatment, and some diseases are impossible to cure, no matter how hard we try. There can also be side effects to many drugs or surgical treatments. These factors can lead to owners researching alternative therapies to use alongside or instead of drugs and conventional treatments. Homeopathy is one of these alternative therapies.
What is Homeopathy?
Homeopathy is based on 3 underlying principles;
- ‘The Law of Similars’. This is based on the thought that signs and symptoms of an illness can be cured by substances that can cause those signs and symptoms in healthy individuals. For example, homeopaths believe that diluted coffee extract can be used to treat insomnia, because coffee contains caffeine which acts as a stimulant and keeps you awake.
- ‘The Law of Infinitesimals’. This states that greater responses to treatment are achieved with less active ingredient. In homeopathy, “active” compounds are usually highly diluted, to a point where there is a very tiny chance of any of the original compound being present in the preparation.
- ‘The Law of Succussion’. Succussion is a specific type of vigorous shaking or tapping, which is carried out at each stage as the “active” compound is diluted. This shaking is believed to ‘potentise’ or ‘dynamise’ the remedy. This is what causes the claimed “healing power” to pass from the less diluted stage to the more diluted stage, and to become more potent as it does so.
All 3 of these principles have no basis in the modern scientific understanding of the world. There is no evidence of any “homeopathic healing property” which can be measured or demonstrated scientifically.
Homeopathic practitioners will normally start by carrying out a long consultation where they will gather information about your pet. This includes their current disease, history, emotions and personality. They will then use this information to decide on a treatment protocol. The treatments can be made from any animal, vegetable or mineral. These are usually highly diluted in either water or alcohol. They can take the form of tablets, liquids, creams, ointments, etc.
Does Homeopathy work?
Homeopathic practitioners claim that these remedies work. However any positive results are likely to be due to the placebo effect. The placebo effect is a human phenomenon. It happens when a person’s physical or mental health appears to improve after taking a placebo treatment (one which is designed to have no therapeutic value). When testing conventional medical treatments, their effectiveness is usually measured against a trial group which receive a placebo treatment. Any improvements to physical or mental health must be statistically significant when compared to the placebo group to ensure that a treatment is effective.
Homeopathic treatments do not generally undergo any testing. There have been no high-quality clinical trials, in either humans or animals, which have found homeopathic medicines to be effective.
In human medicine, there may be a place for the counselling aspects of a detailed homeopathic consult. If a human patient believes that the treatment will work, they may also see a placebo effect generated by homeopathic products. However, in veterinary medicine these factors are unlikely to benefit patients.
Is Homeopathy safe?
Most homeopathic remedies are considered safe. There are however some instances where they can potentially cause harm to your pet.
Most homeopathic remedies are unlikely to contain any of the original “active” substance. This is because it has been greatly diluted. Occasionally homeopathic remedies are given in a more concentrated form. These can have safety hazards, depending on the “active” ingredient.
Homeopathic medicines are made from a huge variety of sources. These include fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Some of these have the potential to be a safety hazard, even when highly diluted.
The highest risk of homeopathy is the delay or complete avoidance of conventional treatment. Many homeopathic practitioners will recommend avoiding conventional therapies as they believe they may interfere with the homeopathic remedies. In cases where your pet is in pain, or is suffering from a disease that is treatable, this poses an animal welfare issue. It is our responsibility as pet owners to keep our pets “protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease”. If there are treatments available which have been shown to be effective in doing this, it is unethical to avoid these in favour of a homeopathic remedy, which has no evidence to suggest it is effective.
I am still interested in alternative therapies - are there other options?
Homeopathy is only one of many alternative therapies. Others have been proven to be highly effective.
If your pet is unwell, it may be helpful to consider Physiotherapy, Laser therapy, Hydrotherapy or Acupuncture. These are used with traditional medical treatments. Many veterinary practices will recommend these treatments for certain conditions. They will know of local practitioners who they can refer you to.
Do I need to know anything else?
It is always important to seek veterinary advice when your pet is unwell. Many complementary therapies are used with traditional treatments. Homeopathy has no basis in scientific knowledge, and although some people feel that it can be helpful for themselves, there is not likely to be any benefit to animals.
If you are interested in alternative and complementary therapies, your veterinary team will be able to advise you on options that will benefit your pet.