Therapies to Soothe all Four Legs–From the NY Times

There was a scary article yesterday in the New York Times talking about the popularity of a variety of CAM therapies for racehorses. It is a laundry list of nonsense complete with outrageous prices and weak rationalizations. I also thought it nicely complemented my last post, illustrating some of the “empirical” competition we poor vets mired in mere science have to face.

Of course, there are the usual players, acupuncture and chiropractic. The acupuncturist quoted recites the usual rationalization for unscientific therapies of all kinds, “We would like what’s best for the horse, however we get there isn’t the point.” In other words, “We are willing to try anything and decide it works based on uncontrolled observations.” The chiropractor quoted suggests “balance” is needed between mainstream and alternative therapies. The way the article is written makes this sound almost like a voice of caution and moderation, as if chiropractic and acupuncture were themselves mainstream. Of course, they may very well be in comparison with some of the other “alterative’ therapies mentioned.

As always, the “equine telepaths” used as “psychic diagnosticians” win the prize for most ridiculous and embarrassing “therapy.” One of them manages to say with (presumably) a straight face, “I speak with them telepathically…I can do that from anywhere in the world, it doesn’t matter where I am…Usually by the time they get to me, their skepticism is tempered by their need.” The last sentence is particular revealing. When people are desperate, they suspend critical thinking in favor of wishful thinking. I’ve talked before about the risks of such “last resort” use of CAM. It is understandable, but it doesn’t really help people or their animals.

I was also a bit concerned about the hyperbaric therapy mentioned. I admit I don’t know much about hyperbaric medicine generally, though there are certainly some legitimate uses of it. However, I find no evidence to suggest that it has been demonstrated safe and effective for “healing wear and tear on…muscles” as the article suggests. And there are real risks for oxygen toxicity (see also) which can seriously damage an animal’s lungs, so such a therapy is not risk free, though it appears such side effects are uncommon in properly administered and monitored hyperbaric treatment.

Finally, the article had some interesting information about the cost of such therapies. Half an hour in a hyperbaric chamber, for example, will set your horse back about $300. This is cheap, though, compared to the $500 for an in-person consult with an “animal communicator.” I shudder to think what the reaction would be if I charged $500 for a consultation! Apparently, I could have  just skipped 4 years of vet school and the six-figure debt that went with it and learned to communicate telepathically with horses instead.

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7 Responses to Therapies to Soothe all Four Legs–From the NY Times

  1. Marie says:

    Wow, you can LEARN to communicate telepathically with horses?!?! Where can I learn this? Because I got laid off in February and could really use the money.

    I have a Master’s in plain old human Communication, but everyone knows how bogus that is.


  2. Alison says:

    Ah, cold reading …

    A friend of mine had an encounter with a ‘horse communicator’ at a riding club demo. When it was her horse’s turn for a session with the psychic, my friend was careful to give only “yes” or “no” answers to the psychic’s pronouncements – and in no time at all the psychic declared that she could not tell the owner anything because the horse was refusing to speak to her. Only one anecdote, but it convinced my friend that the information comes out of the owner’s mouth, not the horse’s mind.

  3. hyperbaric treatment seems to be moving into mainstream vet medicine.


    art malernee dvm

  4. skeptvet says:


    Perhaps. There are certainly indications in humans with reasonable evidence to support them. I am struck, though, by the fact that the site you linked to seems to rely on animal model laboratory studies from the 60s and 70s and the insurance approval lists, including those from Russia and China, for support. This suggests there aren’t any good clinical studies in veterinary patients for most of the indications they list, which is a cause for a little skepticism.

    The Cochrane review for hyperbaric treatment of MS was unusually definitive, stating there is no evidence for benefit and no further research is warranted.

    Most of the other Cochrane reviews concerning hyperbaric therapy are either inconclusive or weakly negative. As I said, there is a lot I don’t know about it, and it certainly could have benefit for a variety of conditions, but in the absence of solid clinical trial evidence to this effect, I think it should be viewed as essentially experimental. Anyone who pushes it as a proven therapy is practicing alternative medicine.

  5. I think it should be viewed as essentially experimental. Anyone who pushes it as a proven therapy is practicing alternative medicine.>>>

    I agree it should be viewed as essentially experimental medical care. The vets with the chambers might disagree on calling it alternative medicine.
    FDA definition of fraud quoted in Sept/Oct 93 NCAHF Bulletin Board: The deceptive promotion, advertisement, distribution or sale of articles, intended for human or animal use, that are represented as being effective to diagnose, prevent, cure, treat or mitigate disease (or other conditions), or provide a beneficial effect on health, but which have not been scientifically proven safe and effective for such purposes. Such practices may be deliberate, or done without adequate knowledge or understanding of the article. (Quoted from a letter from M L Frazier – Director, State Information Branch 6/18/93).

    art malernee dvm
    fla lic 1820

  6. Rita says:

    “CAM therapies for racehorses. “…..but the best therapy for racehorses would be not to race them, so avoiding ulcers, bleeding lungs, hundreds of deaths on the course, thousands of slaughtered animals who don’t make the grade or have minor injuries…….. (sources: American Association of Equine Practitioners, Racehorse Death Watch, Guardian newspaper)……

  7. v.t. says:

    I got a chuckle at the horse owner denouncing energy healing simply because the performer was rough on the horse, and called the performer a quack. Yet, she believes in placing a pebble of quartz on the windowsills of her horses’ stalls.

    Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Figueroa, you ARE indeed “kooky or something”.

    I’m surprised they aren’t totally embarrassed with their interview for the article. It’s people like them who make it easy for quacks.

    I only have one thing to say about the telepath: criminal.

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