Integrative Pet Vet column: Homeopathy — love it or hate it, but what is it?
Integrative Pet Vet
Whether you love homeopathy or view it with skepticism depends on your experience with it and your understanding of its history and how it is thought to work. This discussion will not attempt to defend or degenerate homeopathic medicine but rather to provide background information. The goal is to provide brief information that forms the basis of an informed discussion and deeper exploration.
Homeopathic medicine has often been confused with holistic or complementary medicine. While homeopathy can be a part of the holistic approach, homeopathy and holistic have different meanings. Homeopathic medicine is a distinct discipline with an interesting history, proposed mechanism of action, and health care application.
Historically, the concept of homeopathy arose from the work and insights of Dr. Hahnemann, a German physician that lived and worked around 1800. He developed the concepts that would form the basis of homeopathy because of dissatisfaction with the medical approaches in common use at that time. These approaches included the use of arsenic, mercury, purging, bloodletting and administration of stimulants and narcotics. Infectious disease was common and frequently fatal. Surgeries were often fatal and performed without anesthesia.
The rationale for the homeopathic approach was based on the idea that “like cures like.” In other words Dr. Hahnemann believed that minute concentrations of a toxin could cure the symptoms caused by a much larger dose of that toxin. This theory was similar to the emerging practice of vaccination, where small doses of a germ were given by inoculation to prevent the disease.
Dr. Hahnemann worked to study and validate the homeopathy by developing a uniform process for creating a homeopathic medicine and then evaluating the effects on people. The preparation process involves dilution and succussion. One interesting component of studying the effect of the homeopathic medicine was to administer homeopathic medicines to healthy volunteers and have them record the details of their experience. This process became known as a proving. Once the pattern of the effects of the homeopathic medicine was recognized, homeopathic medicines were matched to the illness pattern of the patient with the belief that the homeopathic medicine, when given at the appropriate potency, would move the disease out of the body consistent with the idea that “like cures like.”
Over time, the observations of patients provided more details about the health effects of individual homeopathic medicines and more homeopathic medicines became available. This growing number of homeopathic medicines combined with an increased understanding of their effects led to the need for a systematic way to select the correct homeopathic medicine. This became known as repertorization.
The use of homeopathic medicines in patients lead to multiple approaches that include the classical and clinical methods. Classical homeopathy involves the selection of a homeopathic medicine by repertorizing, giving the selected homeopathic medicine, and then monitoring the effect. For some, this approach focuses on giving one homeopathic medicine at a time and monitoring. This process has complications because of the number of homeopathic medicines available and because there are many different potencies (strength) for each. The clinical approach focuses, in part, on selecting homeopathic medicines based on diagnosis of the illness and removal of toxins. Homeopathic medicines are often used in combinations.
Regardless of the approach, proper selection of the homeopathic medicine(s) is critical along with the appropriate potency. Ideally the potency is chosen based on the severity of the illness, but consideration must also be given to the vitality of the patient. Avoiding a healing crisis in a debilitated patient can be essential. Recognition of the response to homeopathic medicines can be challenging initially because changes can be subtle and evolve over time depending on the potency of the homeopathic medicine and the severity of the problem. Lack of response generally relates to incorrect homeopathic medicine selection, wrong potency, insufficient dosing, and when patients have complex disease patterns that require multiple homeopathic medicines used in a logical sequence.
Homeopathy can be challenging to use optimally. If you have questions about the use of homeopathic medicines in your pet, contact a veterinary homeopath.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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