Homoeopathy is less likely to kill animals than refusing to take a pet to the vet

A social media war is raging in the veterinary world

An unnecessary war is raging between non-believing and believing members of the veterinary profession. No, I am not talking about religion, but the beliefs I’m talking about are held as passionately as if this was a fundamentalist versus atheist war.
The topic is homoeopathy, and the latest battle in the war has been prompted by an infographic written by a vet that’s being widely shared on social media, provocatively titled “Homoeopathy Does No Harm: Really?”. This lists a number of anecdotal incidents where animals have allegedly died when homoeopathy was used in the place of conventional veterinary medicine.
The argument used to justify the infographic seems to be that homoeopathy often relies on anecdotes to convince people of its effectiveness, and therefore it’s justifiable to use anecdotes to persuade people that it’s ineffective.
Understandably, the pro-homoeopathic lobby have responded with outrage, and unfortunately this has even led to ad hominem attacks on some of the anti-homoeopathy vets. Nobody will win this battle; insult gives rise to insult, amplified and magnified by social media.

The RCVS has already passed judgement on homoeopathy

It’s important to understand the background to this latest spat. Last year, an open letter signed by over 3000 veterinary supporters petitioned the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) to blacklist homoeopathy from the treatments that vets are allowed to use. In response, the RCVS issued a new position statement on the veterinary use of complementary and alternative medicines, including homoeopathy. The section that specifically mentions homoeopathy stated the following:
“Homoeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles. In order to protect animal welfare, we regard such treatments as being complementary rather than alternative to treatments for which there is a recognised evidence base or which are based in sound scientific principles. It is vital to protect the welfare of animals committed to the care of the veterinary profession and the public’s confidence in the profession that any treatments not underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles do not delay or replace those that do.”
This statement was welcomed by the vets campaigning against homoeopathy, even though it’s a long way from the “ban” that they’d called for. And the pro-homoeopathic vets felt outraged by the statement, even holding public demonstrations against it.
To me, it seemed as if neither side had read the statement properly: vets are still allowed to continue to use homoeopathy as long as they also used treatments that had a sound scientific basis where needed. Arguably, neither side “won”.
The vets against homoeopathy should really still be out there, shouting for a complete ban, while the homoeopathic vets should be quietly relieved that the RCVS is allowing to carry on business as normal.
The truth is, as I have said before, that the statement acted as a stern reminder that vets need to take great care when using homoeopathy, and that if they do not take such care, they may be struck off for unprofessional conduct. And this achieved two goals: first, vets and animal owners could continue to use homoeopathy, and secondly, most importantly, sick animals were protected from deluded individuals who might allow them to suffer by ignoring the science that could help them.

Successful veterinary treatment is not just about prescribing proven medication

Whatever the lack of evidence for homoeopathy itself, vets who engage in complementary medicine tend to offer longer consults with more listening than most conventional vets. And even if the treatments cannot be proven to work, it seems likely the sympathetic approach may provoke a potent placebo effect that has benefits for animals. And there is also an argument that the “anti-pharma” approach taken by homoeopathic vets may lead to a reduction in unnecessary medication being dispensed.
Vet Danny Chambers is a member of the RCVS Council who has been outspoken about homeopathy in the past, but his views on the way ahead in this debate are less hardline than might be expected. “I genuinely think that vets who practice alternative medicine could teach ‘conventional vets’ (I hate that term) a huge amount about communicating, engaging and empathising with client, and about how little intervention is often necessary. Likewise if they would be willing to learn about the effectiveness (or not) of their treatments by engaging more with science, we would all be better off.”

Going to the vet is better for animals than not going to the vet

It is important to remember that the scientific approach, using evidence-based therapies, has been proven to offer the best possible treatments to animals. But it’s equally important to remember that many members of the public are sceptical about certain aspects of the mainstream veterinary approach and there’s an undeniable demand for homoeopathy. Evidence-based vets should not ignore the evidence of this demand.
Making these pet owners feel alienated, and potentially pushing them away from visiting vets, carries a bigger risk to animal welfare than encouraging them to engage with their local vet clinic. A homoeopathic vet, aware of his or her responsibilities following the new RCVS position statement, is surely a far safer option for animal welfare than no vet at all.



2 thoughts on “Homoeopathy is less likely to kill animals than refusing to take a pet to the vet

  1. Thank–you for an article that tries to present both sides of a complex and serious concern. As equine herbalists for forty years, from a family that goes back generations, we’ve been watching this from both sides. We were particularly surprised at how little RCVS knows about the law governing veterinary treatment, what actually is conventional treatment and the difference between complementary and alternative.

    RCVS has incorrect information on its website viz. “How does this statement relate to EU COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 889/2008 of 5 September 2008 which concerns organic farming?

    “This Regulation sets out requirements for the production and labelling of organic products, not the treatment of animals. The Regulation does not seek to determine the appropriate treatment in the event of sickness or injury to an animal.”

    I emailed in early November to inform them that the Regulation states clearly that homeopathy and/or herbs must be the first line of treatment for organic livestock. I told them in which section and article they could find it. Section 4 of the regulation relates to Disease prevention and veterinary treatment and Article 24 is entitled “Veterinary Treatment”. I even sent them the information compiled with the help of DEFRA, that was sent to all organic farmers in Wales to explain it. Yet this incorrect information is still there.

    There is a government Science and Technology Report from 2000 to which RCVS submitted their evidence, which clearly distinguishes between Alternative and Complementary Medicine, yet RCVS include homeopathy with complementary which it is not.

    The same report and EU documents mention why science–based evidence has to take account of the special individualised nature of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The RCVS website explains that EBVM is, but fails to carry out what it states, before making judgements on homeopathy:

    There are five key steps to follow when using best practice to make a clinical decision:1
    1. Convert information needs into answerable questions
    2. Track down the best evidence with which to answer them
    3. Critically appraise the evidence for validity
    4. Apply the results to clinical practice
    5. Evaluate performance
    1 Cockcroft, Peter and Holmes, Mark (2003) Handbook of Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

    “EBVM is not about pursuing dogma. EBVM is not a home for evangelising zealots. EBVM is another facet of the constantly changing face of veterinary medicine”

    Yet they disagree with themselves in their statement, and agree when questioned, that they haven’t looked at any evidence at all.

    I have every sympathy with those affected by this — 20,777 at least so far — it’s time the RCVS put its house in order and made it clear that as long as the vet is registered it’s up to client and vet to choose what’s best. For the good of the animal in their care.

  2. Thank you! I virtually never used homeopathy but I do want to have the choice should I feel it is something that might work better for my dog than conventional medicine. I have been using integrative medicine with great results. I love science. I love regenerative medicine. I love being to able to treat my dog with surgery, antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen … but I do insist on reserving the right to use homeopathy should I deem that the right thing to do.

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