Veterinarians and dog owners alike are intrigued with the concept of holistic (1) medicine for pets and are investigating such folksy treatments and preventives as homeopathic doses and herbs as alternatives to modern medicines.
Amid claims that these treatments are “natural” and therefore better than the typical doses in the medical bag, and confronted with anecdotal testimony to their worth, dog doctors, breeders, and owners are dipping their toes in the waters to give pets and working dogs a better chance at a long, healthy life. The benefits of herbs and homeopathic doses are touted for humans, so why not pets as well?
Much of the evidence on behalf of homeopathic doses is anecdotal and the mechanism by which these doses are said to work is complex, but the use of herbs is easy to understand and evidence of usefulness is more readily available. In addition, both treatment alternatives require diagnoses and dosages be made by trained practitioners who may or may not also be medical professionals.
Homeopathic medicine was founded by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, in the early 1800s. Hahnemann theorized that disease is a disruption in the body’s life force, that symptoms of disease are not the disease itself, and that the body could be stimulated into healing itself. To prove his theory, he developed the Law of Similars, a principle that uses substances that can create symptoms of disease to fight disease when given in minute doses.
As Hahnemann’s theory gained followers, other homeopaths opined that healing takes place from the top down and the inside out, and that the life force imbalance may be first expressed by skin problems, then by internal symptoms if the skin symptoms are suppressed with steroids or antibiotics.
“This vital force is responsible for maintaining the body’s state of health and balance. It is constantly assaulted. Some examples of things that can wreak havoc on the body are: poor nutrition, toxins, vaccines, allopathic medications, pollution, radiation and of course, emotional upheaval or constant stress,” homeopathic veterinarian Larry A. Bernstein wrote in a homeopathic primer (2) on his website.
“The vital force tries to protect the body and the signs of this battleground are symptoms. These symptoms can be expressed at many different levels. It may be only a skin rash or it might go deeper and present as asthma, arthritis or chronic intestinal problems. As the disease moves to a deeper level and the vital force must concede more territory in its battle for optimal health, these symptoms move into the mental and emotional plane and can exhibit as emotional imbalances like inappropriate fears, aggression, compulsion or even dementia. As time goes on and the process goes unchecked, the vital force is weakened by both the chronic disease and the suppression of more superficial symptoms. As it weakens, it must express itself on a more core level and may even progress to cancer.”
Homeopathic doses are extremely minute dilutions of substances – natural chemicals or toxins – that produce symptoms similar to the ones manifested by the animal. The preparations are so dilute that little or nothing remains of the substance but its “imprint.” Even while the substance is being diluted, its potency is allegedly enhanced by a process known as succussion, potentiating, or violent shaking that hypothetically adds energy or power to the dose.
Homeopathic veterinarian Susan Wynn (3) said that the mechanism of action of these dilute remedies may involve electromagnetic memory or some sort of submolecular action, but that research into the whys and wherefores is in its infancy. However, in spite of the lack of research into the mode of operation, Wynn said that “clinical trials have indicated that the remedies do work …”
“Homeopaths have found that these ultra-dilute remedies, if activated or potentiated between successive dilutions, can actually stimulate the body to initiate its own healing process. It is like giving a Bloodhound the scent and sending it on its mission,” Bernstein explained, then continued:
“If you were to give pure arsenic to an animal or person, you would see depression, anxiety, thirst, vomiting, jaundice and diarrhea. Now suppose that a homeopath sees a case that has many of these symptoms but you know it cannot be arsenic poisoning since that is so rare and the cat lives in a penthouse and could never be exposed to arsenic. … The homeopath may dispense Arsenicum-album, the homeopathic dilution of arsenic. This potentiated remedy stimulates the vital force to react to the symptoms. This is like giving the vital force a guide to the disease state so it knows how to react and start the healing.”(4)
Homeopathic treatments are chosen based on the rubrics, a list of symptoms and the remedies that produce those symptoms. These remedies were developed in the 1800s by giving high doses of the diluted substances to healthy people and then noting the symptoms produced. A book of rubrics is known as a Materia Medica; homeopaths study these books to become familiar with more than 1000 treatment options.
It is essential to choose the correct remedy in the correct dilution to treat a disease or injury.
Flower essences or remedies are similar to homeopathic remedies, but they are used to treat behavioral problems. Rescue remedy, a combination of five flower essences, is often used to calm dogs with separation anxiety and to help dogs that have been rescued from shelters, puppy mills, or abusive owners.
Flower essences are created out of 38 different botanicals by either floating the blossoms in water for a number of hours or boiling them for half an hour. Each tincture is preserved by mixing it 50/50 with full-strength, 80-proof brandy. Drops of this mixture are diluted in additional brandy and bottled for personal use. Before ingesting, patients are advised to further dilute the remedy by putting two drops in a 30-milliliter (1-ounce) dropper bottle and filling it with mineral water. The bottle should be refrigerated.(5)
Since many pharmaceuticals are developed by isolating a chemical found in a plant, the use of herbs to cure diseases and heal injuries is more acceptable than homeopathic remedies to many people.
Herbal medicine is well-known throughout history; in the US, it was used by settlers and natives alike for everything from headache cures to poultices for wounds.
Use of the whole herb rather than the drug extracted from a chemical in the herb may limit side effects, and herbs can be added to the diet to enhance general health. There is also some evidence that some herbs may prevent or lessen the potential for development of some diseases.
Herb tea is an easy and convenient way to use herbs. Teas are made by boiling one tablespoon of dried plant material or two tablespoons of fresh plant material in a pint of water, then left to brew overnight. The tea should be kept refrigerated. Dose is one tablespoon per 50 pounds of dog weight added to each meal.
Herbs can be chopped and added fresh, but should be steeped in warm water to break down the cellulose that is difficult for the dog to digest.(6)
Herbal aids and treatments exist for a wide variety of symptoms from poor appetite and arthritis to parasite control and yeast infections. Many dog owners use herbs to repel fleas, soothe irritated skin, and to cure minor digestive upsets. However, the evidence that such herbal remedies as garlic, herbal rinses, or herbal flea collars actually repel external parasites is scarce.
As homeopathic and herbal remedies grow in recognition, more and more pet owners are likely to gravitate to their use and more and more veterinarians will be amenable to using them as part of an arsenal of products available to enhance pet health. However, the lack of scientific evidence as to their efficacy is likely to remain a stumbling block to widespread acceptance.
1. Holistic or wholistic medicine is an approach to human or animal well-being that uses preventive medicine as well as conventional and alternative treatments for disease and takes into account the patient’s lifestyle, relationships, and environment when devising treatment plans.
2. “Our expanded homeopathic primer” by Larry Bernstein VMD. Dr. Bernstein is associated with Natural Holistic Pet Care, 751 NE 168th Street, North Miami Beach, FL 33162-2427, and is a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Information about homeopathy can be found at www.naturalholistic.com
3. “An introduction to homeopathy” by Susan Gayle Wynn DVM, www.altvetmed.com/. Dr. Wynn is a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
4. Ibid, note 2 above.
5. Yahoo! Health – Alternative Therapies website, http://health.yahoo.com/health/Alternative_Medicine/Alternative_Therapies/Flower_Remedies/
6. The Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog, by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown DVM, page 191
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