Last November I became for the first time, without parental supervision, a pet caretaker.
My partner and I took in Ling a six year old cat who was no longer able to be cared for where she was living. The first month was a whirl of vet’s appointments for checkups, vaccinations, worming, flea tablets, nutritional advice and catnip. Since then things have calmed down and she has integrated into family life. This has given me the time to think about her long term care and this is when I came across homeopathy for pets.
There are, it turns out, a number of fully qualified vets around Ireland who offer homeopathy as part of care packages. In fact there is an Irish Society of Veterinary Homeopaths! They offer homeopathic remedies for pets to treat a number of ailments from anxiety, respiratory problems, digestive issues and skin conditions caused by allergies or parasites. For those of you who do not know what homeopathy is, it is the practice of taking a substance and diluting it a large number of times. The idea is that the substance becomes stronger as the water has memory but the reality is that you are just left with water.
Support for this type of animal treatment seems to be based on two main arguments found in many blog posts and testimonials online. The first being that pets did not recover until homeopathy was given to them. This argument is easily rebutted as after a bit of digging into many of these stories it can be seen that other changes were made around the same time such as change of diet, environmental changes or simply the passage of time. Many of the pets were also on courses of medicines with proven efficacy simultaneously to using homeopathy. Sometimes these medicines take a bit of time to work before results are seen. These anecdotes did not show that the pets were sufficiently isolated to say for certainty that it was the homeopathy worked. Which to be honest it didn’t as homeopathy has no active ingredients.
The second argument in favour of using homeopathy for pets is that the placebo effect does not work on animals so therefore homeopathy must be effective. This is not the case. The placebo effect can be very strong in humans and animal caretakers are not immune from this. It has been shown that if caretakers have an expectation that something will or will not work they will act differently towards their pet. Animals can pick up on this and react accordingly. So the placebo effect does indeed affect animals and when it occurs in conjunction with other medication or lifestyle changes it can give a strong but false impression that homeopathy is effective.
A third argument used not so much to try and show efficacy but rather supporting the use of homeopathy is what’s the harm? The harm is found by delaying or not using effective, appropriate treatments or by continuing lifestyle practices which are contributing/causing the illness. This causes undue harm and suffering by delaying or preventing recovery. It has been argued that pain is felt more intensely by animals as they often do not understanding the concept of that pain ending. Meanwhile over in the UK the Veterinary Medicines Directorate stated that vets could only be prescribed as medicines if they could prove their efficacy, which they have not. Any vet using homeopathy will now be on dangerous ground. The Director of Operations John Fitzgerald described the harm homeopathy could do to pets,
“The products claim to treat diseases which can cause serious welfare problems and in some circumstances kill animals if not properly treated.”.
It is particularly worrying that some vets in Ireland despite their training science backgrounds are continuing to suggest using a treatment that does not work for animals. If your vet offers it as treatment please do not use it and insist on treatments that have been shown to work. We all want the best for our pets and it can be very upsetting to see them ill but homeopathy will not help. As for Ling she receives fresh bowls of water throughout the day so if she falls ill more water on a sugar pill will not help her!