Alternative medicine for animals?

Andy Lewis from the Quackometer has got it spot on with his critique on Alternative Forms of Treatment for Animals! Animals have indeed been used as a “proof” that alternative treatments (such as homeopathy) are efficient in treating conditions because, well, animals have no idea what placebo is and therefor homeopathy cannot be placebo! I have also taken on this issue in the comments of one of my homeopathy posts.

A very interesting remark in Andy’s post is this:

Bizarrely, if a lay homeopath were to set up a practice to treat animals without a veterinary qualification, they would be breaking the law. Homeopaths may practice freely on humans, but not on cats, budgerigars and whippets.

And that may be indeed bizarre but totally true! You do not have to be a qualified medical doctor in order to be classified as a homeopath (or any other alternative practitioner for what matters). This fact alone (leaving aside for a moment the high implausibility of alternative medicine like Homeopathy) incorporates grave dangers for patients treated by such practitioners. In contrast, there seems to be some level of protection for animals in this regard!

However, as the Quackometer discusses, there is a very weird twist in this whole Alternative Vets concept:

veterinary homeopathy is a strange beast. For a start, homeopathy relies on the concepts of ‘like cures like’. A substance that causes symptoms in the well can cure the ill. And yet, homeopathic ‘provings’ are done on humans. Do these translate to animals? All animals? We know different substances can affect different species in wildly different ways. How does my cat’s response to Sepia differ to mine? I think that maybe I am taking the principle too seriously. Homeopathy also prides itself on the time spent in consultation with their customers in order to come up with a ‘holistic symptom picture’ and an ‘individualised’ remedy. It is this consultation that gives a talking-therapy-like benefit to customers, not the pill iteself. Does Christopher Day spend an hour in a field talking to a herd of cows about foot and mouth and their feelings about the disease, the stresses in their lives, and their hopes for the future, before dropping a vial of plain water in their communal trough? Maybe not.

Finally, Andy concludes with some thoughts on the issue of giving placebo to animals:

Can it be justified to use a placebo on an animal? The debate about humans being given placebos is interesting. It is a valid discussion because placebos are a function of the recipients beliefs and a placebo may well do some limited good. In animals, such complex social and ritualised beliefs can only be marginal. The function of an animal placebo is to palliate the owner’s anxieties and fears, not the animal’s. This strikes me as unequivocally morally wrong.