The biggest danger of homeopathy is not, of course, the remedies themselves, which are nothing more than placebos in most cases. The real danger is that many homeopaths have the delusion that their therapies can replace real medical care, and they sometimes convince others of this. There are many examples of this leading to unnecessary suffering and even death. (1, 2) Of course, many homeopaths deny that they reject or discourage conventional therapies, and some claim their methods are scientifically validated, though these claims don’t stand up under close scrutiny. However, the mainstream representatives of veterinary homeopathy regularly promote the myth that homeopathy can replace real medical care even in the case of serious illness. The Academy of Veterinary homeopathy often goes even farther, as seen recently on its Facebook page, promoting the claim that conventional veterinary treatment is not only ineffective but actually the cause of much disease.
The AVH recently promoted a series of web articles entitled Stop Killing Your Pet. When I followed the link, this turned out to come from Dr. Will Falconer, the same veterinarian I recently discussed regarding his claims that his advice and “homeopathic emergency kit” can replace conventional emergency medical care. In this series of articles, he hits on a number of popular, and mostly unfounded, beliefs about the dangers of conventional methods for preventing infectious disease and infestation with common parasites.
The Top Five Ways to Healthy Pets
Here are the five things that will have the greatest impact in keeping your animal vital, healthy, and living a long, joyful life with you.
(doing the opposite has been the biggest predictor of illness and dying too soon that I’ve seen in my 30+ years of practice)
1. Stop Vaccinating Them.
2. Feed Them What Their Ancestors Ate.
3. Stop Using Pesticides to Kill Fleas.
4. Stop Using Poisons for Heartworm Prevention.
5. Give Them Raw Bones (for the whitest teeth and freshest breath ever).
Dr. Falconer goes into more detail about several of these recommendations. His page discussing vaccination is chock full of misleading oversimplification. He claims that initial vaccination generates lifelong immunity and so only one vaccine is ever needed to protect your pet. This is likely true for some vaccines and some individuals, and most certainly not true for others. Vaccines are given as a series to puppies and kittens because some have varying levels of antibodies gotten from their mothers through nursing, and these antibodies can temporarily block the effect of vaccination. Exactly how much of this maternal immunity a given pet has, and for how long, can’t be determined, so the series of vaccines given to young animals ensures that the majority will develop effective protection against common and serious diseases.
This issue of duration of immunity and booster vaccination is much more complicated. Immunity from vaccination is probably lifelong for some diseases, lasts from a few to many years for others, and can fail to develop even with an appropriate series of puppy or kitten vaccinations in some animals. In our local area, we recently had a dog infected with rabies who had received an appropriate puppy vaccination but not a booster at one year, and who clearly did not get lifelong effective immunity from that first vaccine. How many vaccines are needed is a complex and often uncertain issue for any individual pet, and simplistic claims that one vaccination provides lifelong immunity for every pet and every vaccine are dangerously wrong.
Of course, the reason this issue is of interest to CA proponents like Dr. Falconer is that they want to discourage vaccination because they believe it to be actively harmful. In this series of articles, he claims vaccines are responsible for all kinds of chronic diseases, from allergies, to autoimmune anemia, to cancer. Once again, this is an argument that builds a misleading web of deception on top of a tiny core of truth. Like all medical therapies, vaccines have risks. We know about some of these (such as acute allergic reactions, vaccine-associated fibrosarcomas). We suspect some others, though the evidence is weak and inconsistent (some autoimmune disease). And there are many that are pure fantasy (such as the catch-all “vaccinosis,” a meaningless term used to blame any and every disease imaginable on vaccination).
Balancing the potential risks of vaccination against the benefits can only happen with an accurate understanding of both. Dr. Falconer and the AVH routinely exaggerate the risks, including blaming many diseases on vaccines for which there is zero evidence of a connection, and they fail to acknowledge the dramatic benefits, including prevention of serious, sometimes deadly diseases which are common when vaccines are not available or not used.
Adding to the distorted picture created by this misrepresentation of the risks and benefits of vaccines, these homeopaths recommend (and sell) all kinds of alternatives which have no demonstrated benefit. This includes supposed “immune boosters” (a term which Dr. Mark Crislip has eloquently shown to be egregiously nonsensical pseudoscience) which have never been tested to verify any protective benefits against the disease pet owners are being told not to vaccinate against. Homeopathic nosodes are also recommended, despite the fact that these are as magically inert as most other homeopathic remedies and have never been shown to prevent serious disease. This trifecta of exaggerating the risks and underrating the benefits of vaccines along with selling unproven or completely ineffective alternatives is the perfect strategy for bringing back all kinds of infectious diseases that have been brought under control by vaccination.
Dr. Falconer’s claims about pet nutrition are equally erroneous and misleading. He falls into the myth that our canine companions are really just wolves in funny outfits and that the best way to keep them healthy is to feed them what wolves eat. This is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds, as I have discussed many times before.
The same tired and vapid reasoning is applied to the issue of flea and tick preventatives and heartworm prevention. Risks are implied or exaggerated well beyond anything established by any kind of scientific evidence, based mostly on the mythology that conventional parasite controls contain “chemicals” and “toxins” while supposed “natural” alternatives (which haven’t actually been proven to do anything) are somehow magically safe and effective. Once again, the risks are misrepresented or exaggerated, the benefits are ignored, and unproven or completely useless alternatives are suggested with no evidence to show they are of any use at all, much less better than existing preventatives.
The bottom line is that there is a quasi-religious mentality at work here that makes belief sufficient evidence in itself for any claim regardless of the absence of supporting scientific evidence, or even evidence disproving the claim. Homeopathy works not because it’s been shown to in good quality research studies but because the people using and selling think it does. “Chemicals” are bad (despite the fact this term is arbitrarily and capriciously applied to some substances and not others), whereas “natural” things (again, arbitrarily defined) are good; you know, like radium, botulism, rattlesnake venom, and the plague. And the gold standard of proof is the opinion of people who have “tried it for themselves,” despite the overwhelming historical and experimental evidence that this is an unreliable way to prove or disprove medical claims.
It is important that pet owners consider the underlying point of view when deciding whether or not to believe the claims made by these homeopaths. It is, of course, everyone’s right to reject the determination of science and follow recommendations based on faith, intuition, anecdote, and other less trustworthy kinds of evidence. But at least pet owners should be able to make such a choice fully informed, and not be misled into thinking there is any scientific legitimacy to these claims. Homeopathy is not a scientific medical practice. It is a faith-based belief system inconsistent with established science. Veterinarians who practice it have chosen to reject the mainstream use of science as the foundation for medicine, and as examples like the AVH and Dr. Falconer illustrate, they often recommend pet owners reject conventional medicine as unnecessary, or even actively harmful. Such a perspective, in my opinion and based on the evaluation of scientific investigation, threatens the health of our animal companions.