Using Homeopathic Remedies to Help Your Dog
How you can safely use homeopathy to help your dog heal himself.
Last month, we looked at how homeopathy works to help a patient’s body heal itself. In this article, we’ll explore how you can use homeopathic remedies to help your dog – and suggest when your dog would be better off in the care of a veterinary homeopath.
In the hands of a skilled practitioner, homeopathy can bring amazing cures of deep-seated illness. But it can also be used by the layperson to treat minor acute problems.
What kinds of ailments can you tackle at home? “You can always treat injuries,” says veterinary homeopath and author Richard Pitcairn, DVM. The best candidates for at-home treatment include bite and puncture wounds, insect bites and bee stings, minor burns, and digestive upsets. Homeopathic remedies can also be extremely helpful if your dog has an emergency (shock or collapse, for instance) if given while you are on your way to seek veterinary help.
But don’t try to treat an illness or injury that seems serious or life-threatening, or is interfering with your animal’s eating, cautions Don Hamilton, author of Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs: Small Doses for Small Animals. Specifically, Hamilton says, veterinary assistance is required if your dog refuses to eat for more than two days, has difficulty breathing, vomits more than once every few hours, has diarrhea or is weak or listless for more than two days, is unable to urinate or defecate, or has any condition that is worsening.
A good rule of thumb, Hamilton says, is that you can safely treat a problem of “short duration, where the animal is generally relatively bright and alert.”
Articles on homeopathy often recommend stocking up on a few major remedies, and suggest one remedy for each ailment. This approach is simple and convenient, but it ignores the reality of how homeopathy works.
Homeopathy treats individuals, not symptoms. So for an upset stomach caused by food or garbage poisoning, Hamilton’s book lists five separate remedies; for bites and stings, he lists seven. He then tells you how to decide which one is right for your dog. This article can help you understand what you can and can’t treat, but to choose the right remedy in each situation you’ll need to consult a reference work (see “Resources for Further Information”) or a trained veterinary homeopath.
How remedies work
As you prepare to treat your dog homeopathically, keep in mind that these remedies are very different from the allopathic, or Western, medicines you’ve always used. First, they’re given one at a time; every remedy you give “cancels out” the previous one. Also, when you administer the medicine, you must wait and observe your dog’s response rather than blindly giving dose after dose for a predetermined period of time. When you see improvement, you generally decrease the potency or stop giving the remedy. Despite the common claims that you cannot possibly make a person or animal ill with homeopathic remedies, many homeopaths feel that if you overdose your patient, you will begin to cause him harm.
A second key difference is that the potency level of a homeopathic remedy is not analogous to the strength of a Western medicine. With allopathic drugs, two 50-mg. tablets equal one 100-mg. tablet. But in homeopathy, two 6C doses do not equal one 12C, since the numeral and letter combination stand for how many times the remedy has been diluted, and the greater numbers represent greater dilution. (It’s one of the apparent paradoxes of homeopathy: that the more a remedy has been diluted, the more powerful effect it can have on your dog.)
Finally, homeopathic remedies have special storage and handling requirements, since they can be “antidoted” or neutralized by a variety of forces. Homeopaths recommend that all homeopathic remedies are stored away from exposure to sunlight, electromagnetic fields, and the strong odors caused by camphor, mothballs, mint, and spices. Even food particles in the mouth can antidote remedies, they say, so withhold food and treats for 15 to 30 minutes before administration.
How to use the remedies
You can find remedies at your local health food store or order them by mail. They most commonly come in the form of small pellets. How many pellets should you give? Hamilton offers this guideline: for small dogs, two to three; for medium dogs, three to four; and for large dogs, four to six. For particularly weak animals (who should be treated only under a veterinarian’s supervision), the pellets can be diluted in filtered or spring water and dripped with an eyedropper into the dog’s mouth. Remedies are also available in liquid form.
The next question is how strong a potency to use. Your lowest choice will probably be 6X, and veterinary homeopaths agree that home prescribers should not go above 30C. “If there is any question about the correctness of the remedy, it is best to start with a low potency,” Hamilton stresses. (Professionals typically use potencies ranging from 6C to 1M, reports veterinary homeopath Christina Chambreau, DVM, of Baltimore, Maryland.)
Once you’ve given the remedy, should you repeat it, and if so, how often? “Waiting is almost always preferable to repeating or changing the remedy,” Hamilton advises. “It may take time for the body to respond.” Higher-potency remedies are usually given only once if there’s improvement, but lower potencies often require some repetition. The goal is to keep the animal improving by giving an additional dose when it seems likely the previous one is about to wear off. If the symptoms worsen, it’s likely that the potency you’ve given is too high, or that it’s the wrong remedy altogether.
“The main factor,” Hamilton writes, “is that your patient should be improving in all aspects, especially her behavior . . . . As she improves, reduce the frequency of administration until you can stop the remedy . . . . You will usually know within two or three doses if your companion is responding . . . Don’t repeat the remedy more than a few times if you are not seeing a good response.” If you have any doubt about whether you’re on the right track at any point, seek professional homeopathic attention.
The remedy should be placed directly in your dog’s mouth. Homeopathic pellets are sweet-tasting, and most animals accept them quite readily. Your dog does not need to swallow the pellets as long as contact is made with the gums. Most homeopaths advise that you try to avoid handling the pellets, as contact with your skin may neutralize them as well. Some pellets come in containers designed for direct administration from the bottle cap into the mouth; you can also pour the pellets onto a fold of paper and slide them into your dog’s mouth.
Since homeopathy works by effecting change in the vital force, most homeopaths recommend that it is not combined with other modalities that also alter the vital force. Acupuncture and most herbs shouldn’t, therefore, be used concomitantly with homeopathy. Holistic therapies that can safely be used alongside homeopathy include Bach flower remedies, chiropractic, massage, and nutritional therapies. Most veterinary homeopaths believe acupressure is also acceptable. A natural, healthful diet is essential to success, they agree.
A risk-free system?
If you’re going to treat your dog at home, you need to understand that this system of healing is very powerful. The common belief that homeopathy is absolutely safe is absolutely untrue, homeopaths warn.
According to Dr. Pitcairn, the highest risk comes when a patient receives a remedy that’s very close to the correct one but is still off base – and novices are more likely to miss the mark altogether. “If you have some knowledge and you use medicines that are similar to the case, especially if they’re used inappropriately, like repeating them, you can cause serious reactions, even life-threatening ones,” Pitcairn says.
More commonly, the home practitioner ends up complicating his dog’s condition by treating it unsuccessfully before deciding professional help is required. This muddied-waters predicament is familiar to homeopathic veterinarians and points up the need to restrict your at-home prescribing to the simplest, most straightforward complaints.
Homeopaths speak regretfully of the fact that homeopathic treatment is often a last-ditch, desperate attempt to save an animal who is deathly ill and has already been subjected to virtually every other treatment available. The case is then difficult to sort out – and the animal’s vital force has been weakened. Worst, Pitcairn says, are “cases that have been through the hands of what are called eclectic practitioners . . . where they’ve used homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs, Prednisone, antibiotics, all together in the same animal.” Homeopathy can still sometimes help such an animal, but the task is far more difficult and success less likely.
Even when homeopathy cannot cure an animal, it can still help by ameliorating his overall well-being during the time he does have left. “If the quality of life improves, even if the quantity of life doesn’t, haven’t I helped?” asks homeopathic veterinarian Christine Crosley.
Homeopathy can also be used in a preventive way. “It should be primary treatment,” says Dr. Pitcairn, “so that when you get a young animal, you start out treating the signs of chronic disease which are so prevalent now in young animals and eliminating them before they get established and cause damage to the body.” The majority of puppies and kittens born today “already show signs of chronic disease that are inherited,” Pitcairn says – something that wasn’t the case 20 or 30 years ago.
The health problems induced by over-vaccination and poor-quality commercial diets are compounded by the short generation time of animals, Pitcairn explains, allowing quick deterioration within the species. But with early homeopathic treatment of chronic illness – manifested as skin disorders, ear and eye discharges, inflamed gums, and the like – the trend can be reversed.
“Homeopathy should be primary care and it should also be used as a preventive program,” Pitcairn says. “If that’s done, and if people look at the vaccine question and don’t overdo that, and they get [the animals] on good food, then they’ll have healthy animals, and the next generation will be healthier yet.”
Also With This Article
Click here to view "Case Studies: Homeopathy Helping Dogs."
Click here to view "Finding a Veterinary Homeopath."
Click here to view "Finding Help in Print: Best Books on Veterinary Homeopathy."
Click here to view "Resources for Further Information."
-By Debbie Stover
Debbie Stover is a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri.