Another Reminder of the Real Dangers of Veterinary Homeopathy

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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27 Responses to Another Reminder of the Real Dangers of Veterinary Homeopathy

  1. My question is… Is this person mentally competent ? homeopathic emergency kit ? really ?

  2. Pet Owner says:

    Who are some of the biggest perpetuators of the myths of veterinary homeopathy and the “regular vets don’t know what they are doing” agenda? Dog forum members and moderators, dog boutique owners, groomers and their forums, and breeders. . . I know all too well. I’ve fought the battle for years and until I lost a little of my reasonableness. I have been temporarily banned from a dog breed forum so the holistic crowd can promote their delusions. My suggestion: have someone monitor the “health and behavior” and “food and nutrition” sections of dog forums, but be forewarned, it’s ugly out there.

  3. v.t. says:

    And among the “15 household hazards that can cause great harm to your cat:

    4. Veterinary Medications.”

    And let’s not stop there. As usual, blame pet owners for being so heartless and cruel as to actually have their pets seen by real vets and treated with real meds. Oh, let’s do go on, there’s just so much wrong there…

    The AVH is the anti-christ of vet med. Falconer is just one of their diciples – how can they promote such blatant b.s. and get away with it?!

  4. v.t. says:

    skeptvet, the embedded link to your other article on Falconer isn’t working…it’s here: http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2013/10/when-homeopathy-becomes-truly-dangerous/

  5. Rolf Wagels says:

    Thanks again for speaking up! Seems it’s very necessary…
    Rolf

  6. Frances says:

    I have never quite understood why “herbal” remedies are somehow natural and therefore safe, even when strength and therefore dosage is extremely difficult to establish, while the same active ingredients purified and standardised becomes a “chemical” to be avoided at all costs. We have recently had dangerous outbreaks of measles in children and young adults in the UK as a result of the spurious link made between vaccination and autism – as you say, there is a sensible debate to be had about the comparative risks and benefits of vaccination (I have it regularly with my vet about the leptospirosis vaccine!), but scare-mongering just puts innumerable animals and people at greater risk as herd immunity is lost.

  7. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for catching it!

  8. v.t. says:

    @Pet Owner,

    Absolutely, and it doesn’t stop there, it’s on every pet forum imaginable. Now veterinary clinic sites are providing entire “tidbit” articles/promotion of CAVM. When I first discovered fledgling pet forums on the net many years ago, I was shocked at the disinformation that to those forums just seemed mainstream, the propagation of disinformation has just gone wild.

    @Frances,

    Perhaps it is because of the Big Pharma and Medical Establishment profit monster aspect (or the equally as silly “patent” excuse). Never mind the profit aspects, are herbs safe and effective? The proponents can never seem to look beyond their anecdotes and personal beliefs – all evidence be darned!

  9. Diane says:

    The point about online forums is especially troubling because for some bizarre reason, many pet owners consider other pet owners to be at least as knowledgeable about animal health as veterinarians. Oftentimes, more knowledgeable. E.g. If I had a dime for every time I’ve read online about how vets no nothing about nutrition except what Hills has brainwashed them to believe, and we should instead listen to some random blogger about how to feed our pets, well, I might not be rich but I’d be comfortable…

  10. Diane says:

    Skeptvet, could you possibly tell us more or link to further info about the recent rabies case?

  11. skeptvet says:

    I haven’t been able to locate any public source of information on the incident. A doctor at our practice spoke with state public health officials and was told that a 10-month old pet dog, vaccinated appropriate for rabies at 16 weeks of age, was bitten by a skunk and later tested positive for rabies. The family that owned the dog reseived post-exposure prophylaxis after two individuals were bitten.

  12. Diane says:

    Thanks. Wow, that’s sobering.

  13. v.t. says:

    Re: internet pet forums. Another thing that gets to me in a really bad way is the misinformation about vaccines in general – these people have no idea the risk they are putting others’ pets in. The feline rabies vaccine, for example, a great many ill-informed pet owners believe that “it” is good for 3 years, when in fact, Merial’s Purevax requires annual administration to be protective. The others may be 3-yr vaccines but also contain adjuvants which most feline owners want to shy away from considering the VAS potential (that’s another story, it’s not just vaccines theorized to be responsible for VAS).

    And titers in lieu of vaccinations, don’t get me started on titers!

  14. v.t. says:

    Skeptvet, is the dog you referenced in your article and the pup you referenced in your comment post, the same dog? If so, the 10-month-old pup having received his first rabies vaccination at 16 weeks of age, would not have required his first annual until 1 year of age – so there wasn’t much the owners could have done short of immediate post-exposure vaccination that may or may not have made a difference (or kept the pup out of an environment risk for skunk exposure).

    We had an incident too, last summer. The owners had no proof of up-to-date vaccination, the dog tangled with a coon, tested positive for rabies, 7 family members had to have post-exposure prophylaxis and it took weeks to determine if anyone in the neighborhood had been exposed to the dog, since he was unattended outdoors, friendly with neighbors and strangers. So sad and so totally preventable.

  15. skeptvet says:

    Right, the dog was appropriately vaccinated as a puppy but had not yet had the 1-year booster. From the point of vaccination guidelines, this is an illustration of why such a booster should be given, so it was intended to refute the “One shot and immune for life” nonsense Dr. Falconer promotes.

  16. v.t. says:

    Thanks for clarifying.

    I wonder how many rabies cases Falconer ever saw. Or parvo. Or distemper. Or…

  17. Tom says:

    “which are nothing more than placebos in most cases.”

    Which are nothing more than placebos in ALL cases.

  18. skeptvet says:

    Well, to be fair some low-dilution remedies below 30C could potentially have actual compounds in them which could have biological effects, for good or ill, though still diluted enough so as to be unlikley to do much. And improperly made homeopathic solutions, particularly when made from toxins or infectious material, could have dangerous compounds in them. But in reality, you are correct.

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  23. Nicolas says:

    Wow, this guy seems to be an expert in everything related to veterinary medicine, nutrition science, immunology and everything under the sun. I’m sorry, but even though I have immunized my dogs for what is appropriate for them and their lifestyle, booster shots for adult dogs are not effective. Why not promote titers to actually detect if the antigen is still present? To conclude, there is actually evidence that even with a negative titer, a dog can still maintain immunity. This is a very poorly written diatribe, homeopathy aside (I’m not a big believer) and no, where I live I will not vaccinate my dog for heartworms even though my vet recommended it (I changed my vet after that). And, my dogs are on a raw diet and are thriving. The breeder has 12 rottweilers, some of which have lived to be 15. I would rather feed my dog raw food (I have done my research and know his dietary requirements), than feed it from a $20 bag of who knows what that is absorbed who knows how. Incredulity doesn’t make for good science, sorry.

  24. Nicolas says:

    @ Diane

    Vets know as much about nutrition as your family MD, which is close to nothing. Sorry.

  25. skeptvet says:

    And your evidence for this rather dramatic and sweeping opinion is?

    Have a look at this:

    What do Veterinarians Know About Nutrition?

  26. skeptvet says:

    “booster shots for adult dogs are not effective”
    Big, vague generalization that doesn’t match the facts. Some booster shots induce a anamnestic response and raise titers and others do not, depending on the disease, the vaccine, the individual animal, and lots of other factors. So the reality is a lot more complex than this simplistic claim.

    “Why not promote titers to actually detect if the antigen is still present?”
    Titers measure antibody, not antigen. And have you read my article on titers, because there is a place for them, but they are not a simple substitute for all vaccinations. If you want to argue for or against a specific approach to vaccinations, you should first know the facts.

    “I will not vaccinate my dog for heartworms even though my vet recommended”
    There is no vaccine for heartworm. You may be thinking of a long-lasting injectable heartworm preventative medication, but it has nothing to do with vaccination.

    “I have done my research and know his dietary requirements”
    Really? So you now more about canine nutrition than all of the board-certified veterinary nutritionists who don’t accept the claims for raw diets? And yet you think I claim to know too much about too many things?!

    “Incredulity doesn’t make for good science”
    Neither does credulity. Science is about evidence, and that is the only thing that distinguishes true hypotheses from false hypotheses. Not belief, not anecdotes, not any of the things you are offering here.

  27. R says:

    At that other site they are talking about the dangers of fluoride in the drinking water.
    Should I be paranoid about tap water now? Just how many things can I worry about….
    My 15 year old dog has been drinking tap water all his life and he’s holding up well.

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