Homeopathy just might be the dark horse of nontraditional, or complementary, veterinary care. Its basic concept can be difficult for the uninitiated to even grasp, let alone consider as viable. But its advocates – both practitioners and beneficiaries – can’t imagine helping dogs and other animals to good health without it.
It involves administering a remedy under the premise that “like cures like,” a method developed at the turn of the 19th century by Samuel Hahnemann. Manufacturers of remedies take a particular element, dilute it in water or alcohol, then agitate the mixture in a procedure called “succussion.” During succussion, the element’s basic value is transmitted to the water or alcohol.
One practitioner whose treatment centers on homeopathy is Ann Swartz, D.V.M., C.V.H. She’s also the president of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, an organization of veterinarians who have established a certain standard of care, accredit courses in the practice and also certify veterinarians in homeopathy, thus the “C.V.H.” – certified veterinary homeopath – behind her name. “Our goal is to convey that certified members have a certain area of expertise in practicing classical homeopathy,” she says. By “classical,” she means the way Hahnemann practiced – using just one remedy at a time, then monitoring its effectiveness.
Homeopathy is an often misunderstood term, let alone treatment. “Most frequently, someone will say, ‘I want homeopathy’ or ‘I’ve tried homeopathy.’ What they’ve tried is a vitamin or an herb. People confuse all the ‘h’ words: herbal, holistic, homeopathy.”
She likely did the same back before she got her veterinary degree from Oregon State University in 1988. Nonetheless, her goal “even when I came right out of vet school,” as it is now, is “to provide at least three choices for a client to choose what might work best in their management situation, their home life and their own philosophy. It’s more like a team approach.”
While she lays out for clients what treatment conventional veterinary medicine would indicate, at this point in her practice, many seek her out because she is a veterinary homeopath.
“A lot of the cases we see come to us because the individual might be sensitive or oversensitive to medication. They can’t take the conventional medication that the veterinarian is prescribing. Some owners choose not to do surgery or can’t afford a treatment,” she says. Sometimes the animal is resistant to the normal drugs prescribed for a condition. Oftentimes, the animals – Swartz’ practice is about half large and half small animal – have unusual symptoms or exhibit unusual behaviors. “I can remember being a conventional practitioner and not knowing what to do for those things.”
Swartz says that veterinary homeopaths “all have lots of stories” of their patients’ recoveries after receiving the right remedy, and shares one of her own that is “so exciting,” she says.
“I first saw a puppy Chi mix when he was 4 months old. Since 10 weeks of age, he had been on antibiotics, steroids and antihistamines for a respiratory problem.” Nonetheless, the puppy still had “fluid lung sounds” and was “not feeling very well. It took a while to talk about everything that had happened, the progression, getting a timeline of cause and effect, and the inter-relationship of the whole thing. In the history, eventually, it was sort of teased out that it had been chilled numerous times as a baby.”
Swartz gave the puppy a remedy of aconitum, which is for any kind of ill effect from a chill. She asked the owner to call her the next day to let her know how the puppy was doing. “In the next day or two, the puppy was feeling great,” she says, and was able to be taken off the drugs. “For the first time, this puppy was on no medications. That’s pretty dramatic, and, no doubt, the recovery was due to the remedy.”
She’s seen the same thing in lambs. They’re a couple of days or a week old and have pneumonia, she says. “In my previous life [as a traditional veterinarian], I would have had them on antibiotic injections twice a day, and many would have died. One or two doses of aconitum and they recover. So, that’s a really nice remedy.”
Homeopathic remedies are made from “any number of substances,” and most are given as a liquid or pellet. However, she says, “The form of the remedy doesn’t so much matter. The amount doesn’t always so much matter. It’s the potency.”
Potency is described by a “c” or centesimal scale, such that a 30c remedy, for example, is less diluted with fewer succusses and less potent than a 200c remedy. “The sicker the animal, the lower the potency” used, Swartz says.
Most practitioners buy remedies from pharmacies. The remedies are “regulated by the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture], so there’s quality control and inspections,” she says, just as there are with any over-the-counter medication.
Homeopathic treatment is first about getting to the bottom of the condition, then prescribing the right remedy and monitoring the animal’s response. “That’s what makes the practice a little more follow-up, paying a little more attention to what the individual does” after the remedy is administered.
While “anything can be treated with homeopathy,” Swartz says, “there are a number of things in this life that can’t be cured no matter what you do. There are still things no matter what modality you use that are really bad,” such as skin issues, autoimmune conditions and “system” problems, those that involve an entire body system, rather than a single part.
“When someone comes to me, if they want to do homeopathy, we talk about what is involved and what it entails. The goal is the comfort of the both the patient and the client. I guess in my practice, I try not to judge people for their choices.”
That means if a dog owner wants to try Chinese medicine, Swartz refers him or her to someone she knows and trusts. That includes “conventional, aggressive therapy,” if that’s the route the person chooses. What she would like to see is her “conventional colleagues” refer their clients, who want to try something different or for whom conventional veterinary treatment isn’t working, to homeopathy practitioners. “I would hope that we’re getting closer to that in the MD world as well as in the DVM world.”
Many other non-traditional treatments, such as chiropractic, acupuncture and herbs, have long been accepted as aids in the treatment of a variety of animal illnesses. That acceptance in the United States goes back a few decades, however many of the treatments hearken to ancient times in other parts of the world.
Homeopathy is still finding its way in this country, as evidenced by a resolution from the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association presented to the January 2013 American Veterinary Medical Association //Link “American Veterinary Medical Association” to https://www.avma.org/Pages/home.aspx //meeting in Chicago which sought to label the treatment ineffective and not recommended. Despite the resolution, “We were very pleasantly surprised by our reception on a personal level, very pleased with the discussion, also about other complementary treatments.” Representatives of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association //link “American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association” to http://www.ahvma.org/ //were also on hand at the meeting.
Acceptance in the veterinary community, Swartz says, “depends on where you are. I think a lot of that is client-driven. Or veterinarians are seeing and realizing that conventional therapy is not working, and that it might be helpful for their own clients. If you’re in a more alternative-minded area, where there are more naturopathic practitioners in the human field, food co-ops and organic growers, the veterinarians are going to tend to think more about alternative therapies. Veterinarians and MDs are all trying to do what’s best for their patients.”
She estimates that acceptance likely ranges from 0 to 100 percent, “depending on where you are.” And, while the relationship between conventional veterinarians and homeopathy veterinarians might seem “adversarial,” she thinks that might be “because we see each others’ cases that aren’t going well.”
The resolution is now making its way through the normal AVMA channels for review and consideration.
“The whole discussion has been wonderful for homeopathy in general, opening a whole new avenue of discussion with our colleagues,” Swartz says, adding that “most veterinarians don’t really know what homeopathy is.”
Researchers are working to scientifically prove that homeopathy works, but Swartz says she knows it does, “having seen things happen and having good outcomes. But a lot of people are interested in proving it. What we’re finding now in research related to particle physics is that there are tiny, tiny little particles [of the element that remain in the water or alcohol] – nanoparticles – that we have not been able to measure. I think there’s something coming down the pike on that.”
In the meantime, animal owners continue to seek out Swartz’ expertise, and she, along with other certified veterinary homeopaths, continues to put homeopathy to work on behalf of those people’s pets and other animals.