If you’ve ever used a drop of Rescue Remedy to calm a stressed dog, you’ve used homeopathy.
It’s a concept that appeals to many people: natural ingredients, used in dilute doses. But the explanation about how it works and the lack of scientific support always left me doubtful.
What is homeopathy?
Some practitioners of homeopathy (homeopaths) credit Hippocrates with originated the system around 400 B.C.E., when he prescribed a small dose of mandrake root to treat mania, knowing that it produced mania in larger doses. The pioneer of pharmacology, Paracelsus, declared that “what makes a man ill also cures him.”
It wasn’t a difficult jump for the German Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 to expand on the concept in the field he named homeopathy. Dr. Hahnemann was appalled by medical techniques of the time that included bloodletting, purging and the giving of complex mixtures like Venice treacle that included opium, myrrh and vipers flesh.
Dr. Hahnemann advocated using single-ingredient remedies given in low doses to treat diseases that he believed had spiritual as well as physical causes. Dr. Hahnemann believed that homeopathy could benefit animals as well as humans.
Does it work?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), “there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition.” Critics of homeopathy note that:
- Several key concepts of homeopathy are not consistent with basic concepts of chemistry and physics. For example the concept that diluting an active ingredient makes it stronger begs the question how the remedy can be effective if it has little or no active ingredients. The dilution process makes it difficult to study the effects on a human: does a remedy actually contain any of the ingredient listed on the label?
- There are no uniform prescribing standards. Treatment is highly individualized both by practitioner and for individual patients. No two practitioners will prescribe the same remedy for the same set of symptoms.
Ironically, homeopathic remedies are regulated as drugs under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDAC), but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness.
Homeopathy for dogs
When it comes to dogs, it’s easy to think, “It’s natural. What harm could it do?”
The problem is that many common homeopathic treatments are poisonous in their original form.
A second issue is that even natural ingredients can interact with each other and with prescription drugs. Really important to let your veterinarian and anyone else that provides health care to your dog know what homeopathic materials.
If you are considering using homeopathic remedies on your pets, the NCCAM has the following advice:
- Do not use homeopathy to replace proven, conventional veterinary care or postpone seeking the opinion of a veterinarian for a medical problem.
- Discuss any homeopathic remedies you plan to give your pet with your veterinarian first.
- Be sure all of your pet’s healthcare providers know about any complementary health practices you use. This will help prevent potentially dangerous interactions.
Is homeopathy good for dogs? Only you can answer that question. But if you do use homeopathy, be sure that you give Fido’s treatment the same caution that you would for prescription medications.