Pet owners may be attracted to the use of homeopathy as a natural alternative to conventional treatments. The lack of side effects compared to the possible side effects of modern medicines is indeed appealing. Practitioners of homeopathy believe that particular substances, when repeatedly diluted, may be used to treat the underlying cause of particular symptoms. The substances chosen are those which at toxic levels would cause the same symptoms as those the diluted version cures.
The problem is, these substances are not only diluted, they are completely removed. The typical dilution rate of a homeopathic remedy is 30c. What does that mean? It means 1 to 1060 or 1/10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. This does not leave a single molecule of the original substance; it’s just water and a greater dilution than one drop in all the water on earth. Don’t believe me? Have a listen Richard Dawkins.
There are some trials which suggest homeopathy to be effective for animals, for example, Yaramis et al. (2016) found them effective for treating horses. However, they didn’t use a control group and the reported changes could, therefore, simply be caused by the act of observing the horses or some other confounding factors. Large scale, double-blind studies have found no evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy (Cracknell and Mills, 2008). This was also the finding of Shang et al. (2005) in their meta-analysis of homeopathy.
Homeopathic supporters make a reasonable argument when they state that the lack of scientific evidence does not necessarily mean that homeopathy isn’t helpful; additionally, if there are no known side effects, what harm could it possibly do?
I think the harm comes in two forms.
- It may be harmful when people are given false hope and pay for a treatment which is highly unlikely to work.
- It may be harmful to dogs if the owner chooses to use it in place of evidence-based treatments. For example, Vockeroth (1999) claims homeopathy to be as effective as conventional treatments in the treatment of bloat (Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus). Actually, bloat is a torsion of the stomach lining, requiring emergency surgical intervention to save the dog’s life.
I appreciate that some people are far more optimistic than I am and absolutely believe in homeopathy with complete integrity. However, I implore you to consider it only as complementary to conventional treatment rather than an alternative to it.
Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read