Two dogs have itchy skin and small open sores on their legs. Or they both have a fever or a trauma injury or infected ears.
One goes to a conventional veterinarian and receives antibiotics, steroids, or other symptom-suppressing drugs.
The other goes to a veterinary homeopath, who studies the dog’s symptoms and asks all kinds of questions about his behavior and actions while looking things up in a book or computer. The homeopath selects a remedy, gives the dog a single dose, and instructs the owner to wait, watch, and report back.
The remedy is chosen not because it reduces or eliminates the dog’s symptoms but because by itself, when given to a healthy patient, it actually produces those same symptoms. And the remedy is so dilute that it contains not a single molecule of the substance on the label.
Welcome to the world of homeopathy, one of the most interesting and controversial alternative therapies and forms of “energy medicine.” Does it work? Is it a fraud? Is it safe? Are you and your dog good candidates for this approach to healing?
“Like cures like”
Homeopathy was developed in the early 1800s by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. He wrote, “If a medicine administered to a healthy person causes a certain syndrome of symptoms, that medicine will cure a sick person who presents similar symptoms.”
Dr. Hahnemann discovered this principle when he experimented with quinine from the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree, which was widely used to treat malaria. Dr. Hahnemann, who did not have malaria, was startled when he developed malaria symptoms each time he took quinine. He then experimented with different medications that he administered to himself and healthy volunteers, documenting their responses.
Because several of the preparations were toxic, Dr. Hahnemann tried to reduce adverse effects by giving the drugs in very small doses, but in many cases, this made the reactions worse. Diluting the preparations in stages, he found, maintained their effect while eliminating their toxicity. In fact, he discovered that a greater dilution coupled with agitation of the mixture (his first solutions were jostled as he traveled in a horse-drawn carriage) seemed to enhance the medicine’s effect.
Homeopathic remedies are made from vegetable, mineral, and animal sources. With each step, the substance is diluted by a factor of 10 or 100, and the mixture is subjected to a series of “succussions,” shakes, or poundings. In Dr. Hahnemann’s day, this work was all done by hand. Today it is partly mechanized.
Homeopathic remedies are generally made into tiny round pills, tablets, or granules, or presented as liquid remedies in dropper bottles.
The potency of homeopathic medicines is measured according to the number of dilutions and successions they have undergone. The centesimal scale, which is commonly used in the United States, measures dilution by 100 and uses the abbreviation “c.” One drop of the original or “mother” tincture diluted in 99 drops of water is a 1c preparation (1 in 100). One drop of 1c solution in 99 drops of water is a 2c preparation (1 in 10,000). One drop of 2c solution in 99 drops of water is a 3c preparation (1 in 1,000,000); and so on.
The decimal scale measures dilution by 10 and uses the abbreviation “x.”
While the most common potencies (6x, 3c, 6c, 12c, and 30c) are available over the counter in homeopathic pharmacies, health food stores, drugstores, mail order catalogs, and online, higher potencies are reserved for professional use. Very high homeopathic potencies, such as 1M strength (1M equals 1,000c), are considered the most powerful and usually require a written prescription.
The alleged strength of extremely dilute solutions is one of the paradoxes of homeopathic medicine. Critics argue that a solution so dilute that it contains no chemically measurable trace of the ingredient on the label can’t have an effect on anything and that homeopathy must be a hoax, or its cures are caused by the placebo effect, or its satisfied patients are under the spell of a mass delusion. Homeopathy’s basic premise simply doesn’t make sense to Western physicians.
But it does make sense to many biophysicists and other research scientists.
Medical journalist Lynne McTaggart is author of The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, a review of recent scientific investigations of energy. She learned that conservative medical researchers studying the behavior of water had, without realizing it, discovered that homeopathy’s underlying premise that dilution increases a solution’s strength is not science fiction but a fact of nature.
In studies conducted between 1985 and 1989, Dr. Jacques Benveniste, a French physician and allergy researcher who knew nothing about homeopathy, repeatedly found that when antibodies (anti-IgE molecules) were diluted in water, the resulting solutions inhibited dye absorption just as full-strength solutions did, even when there was no possibility of a single molecule of the original substance in the solution.
Although the potency of the anti-IgE molecules was at its highest in early stage dilutions and then fell through successive dilutions, the experiment’s results changed abruptly at the ninth dilution. From then on, the IgE’s effects increased with each dilution. “As homeopathy had always claimed,” McTaggart writes, “the weaker the solution, the more powerful its effect.”
Dr. Benveniste and his staff then worked with five different laboratories in France, Israel, Italy, and Canada, all of which replicated his results. The 13 scientists who conducted the experiments jointly published the results of their four-year collaboration in a 1988 edition of Nature, a prestigious scientific journal. Their article described how when solutions of antibodies were repeatedly diluted until they no longer contained a single molecule of the antibody, they still produced a response from immune cells.
The authors concluded that none of the original molecules were present in certain dilutions and that “specific information must have been transmitted during the dilution/shaking process. Water could act as a template for the molecule, for example, by an infinite hydrogen-bonded network, or electric and magnetic fields…. The precise nature of this phenomenon remains unexplained.”
The editor of Nature found this so incredible that he appended an editorial questioning the results. There followed a firestorm of controversy, including investigations by a scientific “fraud squad” led by a professional magician (not by scientists familiar with the research methods) who accused Dr. Benveniste and his fellow researchers of not following scientific protocols and concluded that their findings were without merit. But in the 20 years since the article’s publication, research at laboratories around the world has only confirmed its original findings.
Practically no one today knows that in the 19th century, homeopathy was widely practiced in the U.S. and Canada and that it was in fact the preferred system of medicine, being more effective and far safer than the techniques and drugs used by allopathic physicians. During yellow fever and cholera epidemics, patients treated by homeopaths had much higher survival rates than those treated allopathically.
When allopathic physicians gained a medical monopoly, homeopathy’s popularity in North America declined, but it remains mainstream medicine in India, Europe, and other parts of the world. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Canada, homeopathy is being rediscovered. About 200 veterinary homeopaths are listed at the websites of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.
Members of the Academy are trained in Dr. Hahnemann’s methods, called “classical” homeopathy. In classical homeopathy, a single remedy is given alone, not in combination with other remedies, and it is usually given once, not repeatedly. Remedies are selected according to the patient’s unique symptoms, not his or her disease, which is why two puppies with kennel cough could be treated with entirely different remedies.
Even the word “symptom” has special meaning in homeopathy. You might think that kennel cough is kennel cough, but to a classically trained homeopath, the symptoms that matter include whether your dog wants attention or avoids it, prefers to lie on her right or left side, or seeks warm or cool surfaces. Classical homeopaths train their clients to observe and document all changes in behavior, even those that ordinarily seem insignificant.
Homeopathy in action
Judith Herman, DVM, practiced conventional veterinary medicine in Augusta, Maine, for 15 years until, in the early 1990s, she watched a horse die from a vaccine reaction. Alternatives to by-the-book conventional care suddenly seemed more interesting. At about the same time, two of her canine patients responded well to homeopathic remedies and their owners suggested she look into the subject.
Dr. Herman joined a homeopathic study group and liked what she found. “It made sense,” she says, “and most importantly, it worked.” In 1993, she enrolled in the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy and studied with its founder, Richard Pitcairn, DVM, PhD. Today her practice focuses almost exclusively on homeopathy, and she heads the AVH certification committee.
The most common conditions Dr. Herman treats include fevers, urinary tract infections, whelping problems, irritable bowel disease, pancreatitis, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries, kennel cough, chronic skin diseases such as sarcoptic mange, autoimmune disorders, and cancers.
Sometimes the results are immediate and dramatic. This summer, Dr. Herman’s veterinary technician raced to the clinic with her puppy and the toxic brown mushroom the puppy had just bitten. “The puppy had excruciating cramps, projectile vomiting, and diarrhea,” she says. “This type of poisoning usually requires hospitalization, but within 10 to 15 minutes of being dosed with homeopathic arsenicum, which was the remedy that best matched her symptoms, she was fine and needed no other treatment.”
Even a dog hit by a car and suffering multiple factures can be treated with homeopathy. In that situation, Dr. Herman gives a remedy to help with the immediate problem, then sets the bones or sends the dog to another veterinarian for treatment, and follows up with a remedy that speeds healing. “If a dog undergoes surgery,” she says, “homeopathy cuts the recovery time by half or more. I truly can’t think of any condition or situation where I wouldn’t try homeopathy first.”
Dosing and antidoting
Homeopathic remedies are different from conventional drugs in several ways. Because they preserve the “energy” or “vibration” of the substances they’re made from, it’s important to preserve their energy signature by storing and using them correctly.
Don’t store homeopathic remedies in kitchen cupboards or bathroom medicine cabinets. Instead, keep them in a cool, dark, quiet, dry linen closet, dresser drawer, or basement shelf. Be sure their storage area is far from sunny windows, fluorescent light fixtures, power lines, electrical appliances, cell phones, computers, microwave ovens, and fuse boxes. Keep remedy containers tightly closed when not in use.
Whether you’re treating your pet with tiny pellets from a glass or plastic vial or a small brown envelope, or administering a liquid remedy from a dropper bottle, the number of pellets or drops generally doesn’t matter. More isn’t better, especially in sensitive patients where the number of pellets or drops administered is more significant. For best results, get at least some of the remedy into the dog’s mouth and hold the mouth closed for three seconds.
Don’t touch the remedy with your hands, and discard any pellets that fall to the floor. Don’t expose remedies to strong fragrances, cigarette or incense smoke, or anything containing camphor, tea tree oil, eucalyptus, peppermint, or other strong scents. Keep your pet away from these items as well, because they can “antidote” or neutralize the remedy, even hours or days after treatment.
Give the remedy at least 30 to 60 minutes before or after feeding the dog any meal or treat. Wait at least five to ten minutes before letting the dog drink plain water.
In classical homeopathy, a single remedy is given by itself, and if it’s the correct remedy, it stimulates a cure. But in some cases, a remedy may have to be repeated, or a different remedy is needed. Homeopathy is such a complex subject that an experienced veterinary homeopath is your best guide to the selection of remedies, correct remedy strength, and the timing of use.
What to watch for
Homeopaths need detailed descriptions in order to match your dog’s symptoms to the best remedy. To provide this information, get in the habit of writing down any unusual behaviors or actions.
For example, what is your dog’s energy level? Is she more or less active than usual?
Does he have any obvious symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, discharges, stiffness, or changes in ear position, posture, or facial expression?
Do any symptoms get better or worse with changes in weather, after rest or exercise, at a particular time of day or night, after eating, or in response to touch or pressure?
When you pet, stroke, or massage your dog, do you notice anything different, like swollen lymph nodes or muscle spasms?
Does your dog prefer warm or cool surfaces? Lying on her left or right side? Is she more or less thirsty? More or less hungry? Having more or fewer bowel movements? Changes in urination?
Has your dog’s behavior changed? Does your independent dog suddenly want to sit on your lap? Does your snuggle puppy want to go off by herself?
Keep careful track of homeopathic remedies that you administer, noting the date and time as well as any changes in your dog’s condition or behavior in the hours and days that follow.
Whether you work with a homeopath in person or by phone or e-mail, have this information handy so you can answer questions and provide accurate descriptions.
The “healing crisis”
Homeopathic treatment often includes a “healing crisis,” in which the patient gets worse before getting better. Just how much worse the patient becomes is a subject fraught with confusion and controversy.
The healing crisis, if it occurs, usually manifests within a week or two of treatment, but it can take place within a day. And sometimes, it can give rise to symptoms that seem far more dramatic than the dog’s original health problem – although, homeopaths suggest, these symptoms should resolve quickly.
Some caregivers have followed their homeopath’s instructions only to watch in horror as the dog’s minor symptoms become incredibly painful. If they aren’t able to reach their homeopath for further instructions, they may turn to a conventional veterinarian for help. Because conventional treatment interferes with homeopathy, the emergency care becomes a cause of strife between client and homeopath, and in memorable cases, homeopaths have “fired” clients who resorted to conventional care, refusing to ever see their dogs again.
In July 2000, Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns took her then-10-year-old Border Collie, Rupert, to a veterinary homeopath, with the goal of finding some lasting relief for Rupert’s chronic allergies. After taking a lengthy history and conducting a physical exam, the homeopath prescribed a remedy.
About 12 hours after being given the remedy, Rupert experienced a dramatic crisis. His ears became inflammed and filled with pus, and, in an apparent effort to find relief, he shook his head so hard, he broke a blood vessel in one ear flap. The flap quickly filled with blood and fluid and stood out from his head in a rigid and clearly painful fashion. He staggered sideways and whimpered in pain.
“I was frantic,” says Kerns. “The first thing I did was call the homeopath. But her voicemail indicated she was out of town for a few days. She did leave contact information for another veterinary homeopath who could help with emergencies, but this vet was far away, and Rupert was in agony. I felt I had to take him to a veterinarian who could see and respond to his new symptoms, and I took him to a conventional emergency vet clinic.”
Kerns knew that the conventional medical response to such a dramatic ear infection would be a prescription for antibiotics, and that the hematoma would have to be lanced, stitched, and bandaged. She also learned that steroids would be prescribed to reduce the inflammation.
“I knew from reading and writing about homeopathy that steroids and antibiotics are anethema to many homeopaths; I guessed that the practitioner I saw would be upset about these developments. But Rupert was suffering acutely; I would have done anything that would help him feel better fast.”
When the homeopath returned, Kerns steeled herself for a lecture. “Sure enough, she was furious with me,” says Kerns. “She told me that the dramatic reaction had been evidence that the remedy had worked; it was moving the problem from the inside of my dog to the outside, which is supposed to be a good thing. She told me that the steroids and antibiotics had probably set back Rupert’s healing process by weeks or months, and it would be far more difficult to stimulate his body to deal with all the chronic and now acute wreckage. And she said that if I were anyone else, she would have fired me as a client on the spot. Well, I didn’t expect or want special treatment, and I didn’t have to be asked to leave; I didn’t consult this practitioner again.
“I have heard hundreds of stories from dog owners who say that homeopathy has cured their dogs. It does seem to be a powerful tool, and sometimes succeeds where other treatments do not. But the experience I had with Rupert made me concerned about the whole process. If maintaining the purity of the treatment in hopes of a future cure is more important than alleviating my dog’s immediate suffering – well, that doesn’t fit my definition of compassionate medicine. I would try homeopathy again, but only if the practitioner understood that I would also use conventional medicine if I thought the situation warranted its use.”
Dr. Herman sympathizes. “When the dog’s condition is accurately diagnosed and the correct remedy is used,” she says, “the healing crisis, if there is one at all, should be minor. We try not to disturb it because it’s like a skirmish, a small battle, between the patient’s vital force and the disease. The remedy comes in and triggers a reaction from the vital force, and that’s when you see a temporary worsening of symptoms.”
Last week Dr. Herman treated a young dog for kennel cough. The next day he was better, but the day after that he was suddenly worse. She reassured the owner and asked her to wait and watch a little longer, and by the following day, the dog was completely fine.
Dr. Herman’s first patient was her own Golden Retriever, Patrick. When she first took up homeopathy, she gave him a remedy for a skin condition. He improved for 24 hours, then his eyes began to tear and water. He was eating normally and was active and playful but his face was drenched. The next day his eyes were dry. That evening, he started itching and he scratched all night.
“I was definitely worried,” she says, “but he acted like himself when I called him, so I waited and hoped for the best.” By the next day, he was better and his itching and scratching decreased until those symptoms disappeared as well.
“These are examples of how a healing crisis should work,” says Dr. Herman. “The patient’s vital force is activated and healing begins from within.
“But if the patient gets dramatically worse and is in terrible pain, that’s an indication that the homeopath didn’t choose the right remedy or potency. There are over a thousand remedies and each one corresponds to a specific set of symptoms. It’s impossible to keep all this information in your head, so you have to look things up, and because several remedies treat similar combinations of symptoms, it takes time and patience to find the perfect match. Whenever I hear about a homeopathic remedy triggering an extreme healing crisis, I know it wasn’t the right remedy or potency.”
Dr. Herman appreciates the frustration of both homeopath and client when animals suffer. “The antidote to the painful effects of a wrong remedy is finding and using the right remedy or potency,” she says. “This works best if the case isn’t complicated by the administration of symptom-suppressing drugs.”
At the same time, Dr. Herman acknowledges, “We never want our dogs to suffer. I respect my clients’ decisions about treatment even when I would prefer to do something different, and so do most of the veterinary homeopaths I know. Conventional care can interrupt homeopathic treatment, but it isn’t necessarily true that it interferes to such an extent that the dog can’t ever be successfully treated with homeopathy in the future.”
Finding the right homeopath
Searching for the right veterinary homeopath is like searching for the perfect dentist, hairdresser, or dog trainer. You want someone with the right combination of technical skill, patience, and personality. Some conventional veterinarians consult with and recommend veterinary homeopaths. Trainers, groomers, dog clubs, health food stores, and pet supply stores may be able to refer you to a local homeopath. Some homeopaths maintain websites that explain the subject in detail.
One of the best ways to find a veterinary homeopath, Dr. Herman advises, is to go to the website for the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (see “Resources Mentioned in This Article,” page 13). “Here the veterinarians who are certified have gone through a long process of evaluation and testing,” she explains. “They use a standard of practice that follows the Organon, the teachings of Hahnemann. They must maintain continuing education credits. Certification stands for a proven level of understanding and competence in these practitioners. The dog’s guardian will feel more confidence in the abilities of a certified veterinary homeopath than someone of unknown credentials.”
A veterinary homeopath who is always available for follow-up questions is a blessing, especially for new clients. “I’m on call for my clients 24/7,” says Dr. Herman. “They want to know whether they should repeat a remedy, give a new remedy, or go to the emergency room. Much of my work is a combination of education and hand-holding.”
Sometimes the homeopath is a considerable distance away, working with clients or conventional veterinarians by phone or email. Long-distance consultations are common.
“When I travel in North America,” says Dr. Herman, “I’m in phone contact with my clients, but when I go to Europe, a veterinary homeopath in Louisiana covers for me, and I do the same for her when she travels.”
Is your dog a candidate?
Although most homeopaths believe that homeopathy can help any dog in any condition, some dogs are better candidates for success than others.
“The most challenging cases,” says Dr. Herman, “are older dogs with long-standing chronic conditions, especially those who are fed a supermarket kibble and have received annual vaccinations along with conventional symptom-suppressing drugs. I feed a raw diet and recommend it to my clients because, in my experience, dogs on raw food respond better and faster to homeopathy. Younger dogs who are otherwise in good health, physically active, and on a raw diet usually respond quickly to remedies.”
For those who aren’t able to feed raw, Dr. Herman recommends upgrading the commercial diet and adding raw meat whenever possible. “And even those who switch to raw may have to experiment,” she says. “We have a few dogs who do best on a raw diet that includes some grains, while most do better on a grain-free diet. My own dog hates vegetables. There isn’t a single diet that’s perfect for all dogs, but the more you feed fresh, raw, high-quality ingredients, the more likely it is that your dog will respond well to homeopathy.”
Some veterinary homeopaths report that the patient’s response to homeopathy can be enhanced by supplements that improve digestion and assimilation, including probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Are you a candidate?
Healthcare is so strongly affected by cultural conditioning that many people will never consider trying homeopathy. It’s just too different from what they’re used to.
Others may be interested but are so used to suppressing symptoms that the thought of letting a fever run its course or waiting through a day of discomfort raises their own stress levels. The clients most likely to obtain good results are those who learn the basics of homeopathy, know how to administer remedies, carefully observe their pets, and record symptoms. These clients understand that homeopathy isn’t necessarily a quick fix and that problems a conventional veterinarian might diagnose as acute or new, like ear infections, usually aren’t acute at all – they’re chronic problems that just got worse.
“Yes, you can suppress the symptoms with drugs,” says Dr. Herman, “but the symptoms will come back and will be harder to cure. That’s what most people have trouble grasping. They’re used to thinking that once symptoms disappear, the patient is cured forever. But we all know dogs who get treated with symptom-suppressing drugs and whose problems keep coming back. In truth, the symptoms never went away, they just got buried for a while.
“In the end,” she says, “everything depends on the caregiver. That includes the person’s interest in the healing process and his or her expectations. My job is to make the animal as comfortable as I can while respecting the owner’s decisions.”
Dr. Herman’s first patient, her own Patrick, convinced her of the value of homeopathy. “Most Golden Retrievers have inherited health problems,” she says, “and he was no exception. His mother died of lymphoma 10 months after giving birth. His father died at seven of hemangiosarcoma. I removed a precancerous tumor from Patrick when he was one year old. His hips popped out for the first year of his life, and he had chronic hip problems.”
Patrick was three when Dr. Herman discovered homeopathy. “Thanks to the right remedy, his skin improved every year, becoming less and less of a problem as he got older,” she says. “He didn’t begin limping until he was 11, and he was still active and enjoying life. At age 14, he suffered a seizure and I realized he had a brain tumor. We had four more months together, and then he passed on.
“When I told his breeder, she was amazed that he lived so long because every other dog in his line had died by age eight. I was the only one who fed a raw diet and used homeopathy. Everyone in his line – aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, and nephews – died at age seven or eight, and Patrick lived almost twice that long with so few problems. He’s a big reason why you I am convinced that homeopathy, even in a worst case, can always do something to help a dog.”
CJ Puotinen, a frequent contributor to Whole Dog Journal, is the author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, which describes several energy healing techniques.