Animal homeopathy, a branch of alternative medicine, is growing in size and popularity as society’s interest in alternative medicine for humans continues to grow. Homeopathy was first devised for humans in the 1790s by a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann. Its key concept can be found in its name: homeopathy comes from the Greek word for like or similar, and that’s what homeopaths believe: “like cures like.”
Homeopathy is founded on the belief that every being (pets as well as humans) has a self-healing response, and that health problems develop when that response is hindered or imbalanced. Homeopathy views the symptoms within the larger context of the affected individual’s overall health, and then tries to stimulate the body’s own healing responses.
Homeopathic remedies, therefore, cause symptoms similar to the ones the sick animal is already showing. For instance, an animal who has diarrhea would be treated with–in incredibly tiny amounts–a plant, mineral, or animal substance that causes diarrhea. The remedy replaces the illness, causing a cure by allowing the animal’s own healing powers to overcome the condition. Thus “like cures like.”
The debate about homeopathy
The substances used in homeopathy are derived from herbs, minerals, and other natural substances that are diluted beyond the point of actual toxicity. In fact, homeopaths believe that the more diluted the substance, the higher the potency, and the less frequently it has to be given.
This means that, by and large, homeopathic medicines are quite safe and produce no side effects, even when they sound a little ominous. Some of the most common compounds include ingredients such as sulfur, bee venom, and even poison ivy.
This is a distinctly different approach than that used by traditional Western veterinary medicine, and there’s a great deal of debate about whether the benefits of homeopathy are real and provable. The homeopathic stance against vaccination (which is seen as causing an artificial imbalance of the body’s vital energies) is particularly controversial.
Still, thousands of dog owners around the world believe strongly in its power to heal and maintain health, and a growing number of veterinarians are being trained in homeopathic as well as Western medicine.
What conditions should I use it for?
There are more than 2,000 homeopathic remedies available, and they address a wide range of chronic and acute conditions. Basically, for any of the ailments that modern dogs suffer, from viruses to bacterial infections, from respiratory disease to kidney dysfunction, there’s a homeopathic remedy.
How will a homeopath treat my dog?
When you first visit a homeopath, he should do a physical exam and ask a lot of questions. After all, the key to success in homeopathy is individualization–that is, two dogs who’ve been diagnosed with the same disease may be presenting entirely different symptoms, so they may receive entirely different homeopathic remedies.
All your dog’s symptoms need to be explored: What is the exact nature of the symptoms? What time of day do they occur? What is your pet’s overall demeanor and behavior? With this information (and more) in hand, the homeopath will decide which symptom to address first. The method is always to tackle just one symptom at a time, with as little interference from other medications or treatments as possible.
Remember, even its greatest proponents say homeopathic medicine has its limits. Because it relies on the natural healing properties of the body, if the body is already badly damaged through disease or accident, homeopathy won’t be effective. If it’s a matter of a traumatic disease or accident, alternatives such as surgery and antibiotics are likely to be necessary.
What to expect when giving your dog homeopathic medicines
Just as homeopathy differs philosophically from conventional medicine, there are differences in how remedies are administered as well. Here are just a few of the things you should keep in mind:
- Don’t give the remedies with food. Give homeopathic medicines at least an hour before or after feeding, so the food and the medicine don’t interfere with each other.
- Don’t give your dog any other medications unless your homeopath has approved them. This includes other homeopathic remedies as well as conventional medications. And though homeopathy is often used along with other alternative therapies such as chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, or even magnet therapy, check with your homeopath before you use them.
- Homeopaths believe that vaccination interferes with homeopathic treatment.
- Sometimes symptoms may actually worsen after treatment–but only for a little while. This is known as “homeopathic aggravation,” and it’s believed to be part of the healing process. Homeopaths will tell you that this will end quickly and be followed by even faster recovery.
- There may be “discharges” as part of the healing process. This can include diarrhea, discharges from the eyes, skin, or nasal passages, or even “behavioral discharges,” such as showing new fears or sleeping in a new location. As difficult as this might be to watch, homeopaths suggest that you interfere with these as little as possible. They’re considered to be good signs, marking the beginning of healing.
How to choose a veterinary homeopath
The first and best method is always referral. If you have friends or relatives who have been using homeopathic remedies with their pets for a while, find out who they work with. Even if their practitioners are not in your area, they may know of someone near to you.
Talk with your own vet as well. Though he are she may not be trained in homeopathy, many of the country’s largest veterinary schools offer classes and certifications in the field, as well as in other holistic practices, so your own doctor may be a better resource than you realize.
You can also learn more about the subject and find referrals online at a variety of sites maintained by groups such as the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.