What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is a distinct philosophy of medicine that has its roots in eighteenth-century Germany, and subsequently spread to Europe, India, Australia, South America, the United States, and Canada.
The basis of homeopathy is the principle that “like cures like”: the idea that a substance given at a toxic dose can produce a certain set of symptoms, but given in much lower doses, it can cure the same set of symptoms, regardless of their perceived cause.
The founder of modern homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, speculated that a homeopathic medicine has a temporary, acute effect on the body. As the body rouses to neutralize this effect, similar symptoms from any other cause are likewise neutralized or eliminated. Homeopathic treatment thus involves matching as many symptoms as possible to the known effects of a remedy.
"The basis of homeopathy is the principle that “like cures like”: the idea that a substance given at a toxic dose can produce a certain set of symptoms, but given in much lower doses, it can cure the same set of symptoms, regardless of their perceived cause."
Many early remedies were already popular in eighteenth-century medicine. Because patients often showed severe side effects when they received standard doses of medicines, early homeopaths directed their efforts at finding the minimum dose that was still therapeutic. Experimental work appeared to show that a remedy could cause less reaction, yet still effectively treat a patient, when it was serially and systematically diluted and succussed (shaken in a specific manner).
By carefully observing patients and recording their symptoms and subsequent response to treatments, homeopaths were able to catalogue and cross-reference the remedies with the symptoms they could treat. At times, homeopathic practitioners would administer placebos to their patients to determine whether symptoms and responses were truly because of the remedy. Additional information was also derived from reports of toxic reactions to various drugs and natural substances. Modern homeopathic practitioners use these reference works, known as repertories, as a basis for determining treatment for an individual case.
What is the history of homeopathy in veterinary medicine?
Often, early homeopaths treated both human and animal patients, and there are numerous case reports of treatment in dogs, horses, and cattle. Veterinarians in the nineteenth century used homeopathic texts that were specifically developed for their profession, as well as information from their medical colleagues.
In the later years of the nineteenth century, homeopathy began to decline in popularity with the development of the pharmaceutical industry. Homeopathy began a resurgence in the middle of the twentieth century and has become popular again in veterinary medicine in the past 20 to 30 years. Veterinarians can take formal training courses to be certified in veterinary homeopathy. It’s important to note that the popularity of a treatment does not mean that it is scientifically validated.Homeopathy is practiced in dogs, cats, horses, ruminants, and birds. Its use in other exotic species is growing.
On which species of animals is homeopathy practiced regularly?
Homeopathy is practiced in dogs, cats, horses, ruminants, and birds. Its use in other exotic species is growing.
Who practices veterinary homeopathy, and do I need a referral?
Some aspects of homeopathy, such as homeopathic first aid for self-limiting conditions, can be readily taught to lay people. Because of the potential for harm if critical illness or chronic disease is assessed incorrectly, it is necessary to have veterinary training, as well as training in homeopathic theory and practice, to properly treat animals.
Many states and provinces consider veterinary homeopathy to be within the practice of veterinary medicine and, as such, only licensed veterinarians in those areas can legally practice it. As veterinary homeopathy gains popularity, there are an increasing number of veterinarians in private practice who have the additional training and experience.
What conditions are most often treated with homeopathy?
Homeopathic practitioners may treat both acute and chronic disease. From the homeopathic perspective, acute diseases are caused by external influences such as injuries, poisonings, infectious diseases, etc. The symptoms that arise in these cases are considered to have an adaptive advantage in that they often result in neutralization or elimination of the noxious influence.
Samuel Hahnemann proposed that chronic diseases were also caused by the invasion of an external force or “miasm”. To Hahnemann, symptoms that arose in response to this invasion represented the enduring action of this external force on the body. Some modern practitioners consider chronic disease symptoms as merely a constructive response to disease that has become enfeebled and ineffective over time. Chronic diseases, from the homeopathic perspective, include most common disease syndromes such as allergies, arthritis, skin problems, digestive disturbances, respiratory problems, musculoskeletal problems, organ disease, and cancer.
How can my pet benefit from homeopathy?
Homeopathic veterinarians believe that the practice is potentially valuable in any condition, regardless of prognosis from a conventional medical perspective. Some individuals may not be amenable to treatment with homeopathy and may experience little or no improvement despite the practitioner's best efforts.
Proponents of homeopathy believe that, if properly applied, homeopathy may eliminate the need for surgery in certain conditions or may eliminate the need for chronic medications.
How successful is homeopathy?
Homeopathy has been credited with saving countless lives during epidemics of dysentery, cholera, and typhoid fever in the age before antimicrobials (antibiotics). Success in treating chronic conditions will vary according to the age of the patient, prior treatment history, diagnosis, and the patient's vitality. Anecdotal treatment success does not indicate that the treatment resulted in resolution of the disease.
Scientific evidence to support the success of homeopathy is currently lacking. Many veterinary associations, as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, have stated that homeopathy is ineffective. The research council of the American Veterinary Medical Association reviewed studies involving homeopathy in 2014 and found that homeopathic treatment of disease in animals failed to prove any beneficial effect.
How safe is homeopathy?
Homeopathic remedies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Agency (FDA), which means they have not been tested for safety or effectiveness in a methodical, evidenced-based way. These remedies can contain harmful components not listed on the label or components in harmful concentrations different from what is on the label. Homeopathy can also be harmful if its use means avoiding or delaying other clinically proven conventional treatments.
Homeopathic remedies should never be administered without a proper veterinary diagnosis. Despite the popularity of telephone consultations among veterinary homeopaths, treatment using homeopathy in a critical illness should be considered inappropriate without adequate monitoring and follow-up evaluation by a licensed veterinarian.
"Homeopathic remedies should never be administered without a proper veterinary diagnosis."
Homeopathy may produce side effects or a worsening of the initial complaint. A partial response to treatment is not necessarily optimal for a patient's health if other symptoms continue unabated. Such partial improvements may be more common when over-the-counter combinations of remedies are used, as opposed to a single, more appropriate remedy. Veterinary homeopaths are trained to use single remedies and correctly interpret symptom changes.
Homeopathic practitioners believe that, when used correctly and by a skilful veterinary practitioner, homeopathic remedies rarely cause serious adverse reactions, but they may occur. When the correct homeopathic remedy has been administered, it is common to see a mild worsening of the condition, called an “aggravation”. Such aggravations should resolve within a short time once treatment is at least temporarily discontinued.
Can homeopathy be combined with other types of veterinary medicine?
Under certain circumstances, homeopathy may be combined with other forms of treatment.
Caution must be used when mixing homeopathy with some drugs, or with other forms of complementary or alternative veterinary medicine.
Combining therapies can make it difficult to determine what is working well, or whether the different treatments are interfering with or nullifying each other. Follow your veterinarian’s advice closely.
If your pet receives homeopathic treatment from a practitioner other than your regular veterinarian, it is imperative that you keep both individuals updated about the ongoing treatment to provide coordinated care of your pet, to allow proper evaluation of treatment, and to minimize any avoidable interactions or interferences.
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