Dr. Christina Chambreau is a veterinary homeopath about whom I’ve written before (1,2) because she is both an advocate for magical, pseudoscientific nonsense and against science-based medicine. I have also written about the dangerous advice alternative practitioners, especially homeopaths, often give about the prevention and treatment of heartworm disease, a potentially fatal parasitic infection (3). I recently came across an article which brings these two subjects together, and reminds us why no one who believes in homeopathy should ever be trusted with the healthcare of your pet no matter how much they protest that they are really believers in science or scientific medicine.
Scientific Heartworm Prevention and Treatment
As is the case with vaccines, it is ironic that alternative practitioners try to sow fear and mistrust about the very therapies that have been so successful at preventing and treating a disease which so-called “natural,” pre-scientific practices like homeopathy and herbal medicine were never able to successfully control. They are, of course, correct on the basic point that these agents can have side-effects. Nothing with any effect at all is without side-effects in medicine. That is just the reality of tinkering with systems as complex as living beings. However, the frequency and severity of the risks are consistently less than alternative vets claim, and they ignore the very substantial benefits that offset these.
The best source of science-based information concerning prevention and treatment of heartworm disease is the American Heartworm Society (AHS). Yes, this organization has ties and sponsorship from companies that produce heartworm medications (as one small part of their often multi-billion dollar business) as well as companies that provide heartworm testing and unrelated veterinary products. Does that mean there is some potential for bias? Of course. Does that mean that none of the controlled scientific research done by or referred to by the AHS in making its recommendations is valid and it should all be ignored in favor of the haphazard personal experiences of a few alternative vets? Of course not!
Financial bias can have a subtle influence on both scientific data and the opinions of individuals. But there is nothing unique about the relationship between the AHS and pharmaceutical companies or other industries. Disclosure helps doctors and pet owners be aware of the risks of such relationships, but it is not an excuse to ignore good quality scientific evidence, which contains mechanisms to limit the influence of financial bias. And the alternative veterinary community has exactly the same sort of sponsorships and other financial arrangements with herbal medicine companies, homeopathy manufacturers, makers of other products used in alternative medicine, and schools teaching alternative therapies. These folks are no less under the influence of financial and other forms of bias than anyone else, they simply choose to claim they are and that their opinions and experiences are somehow more reliable than scientific research.
The AHS guidelines for preventing and treating heartworm disease have proven to be very successful at maximizing benefits and minimizing risk, and they are continuously updated and improved as new research is done. The opinions, experiences, and faith of “holistic” vets in pseudoscientific nonsense like homeopathy or unproven hypotheses like herbal remedies are not a trustworthy substitute for science-based guidelines.
Chambreau on Science-based Methods
Of course, in order to promote her own alternative to scientific medicine, Dr. Chambreau has to begin by attacking conventional practices, as alternative vets so often do.
The drugs adversely affect many dogs. Any symptoms can become worse (weakened vital force produces many symptoms).
And her evidence for this is?
Over the years at holistic and homeopathic conferences, various veterinarians have reported problems with each of the preventatives.
[I] have seen few problems. One was a Boston Terrier who tried to re-landscape the yard, moving heavy boulders until we stopped the preventative.
From the AHVMA conferences, many holistic veterinarians feel that dogs do fine [without preventatives]. We all agree that the drug companies are suggesting doses too high and too often.
Hmmm. So despite the scientific research that shows the incidence of adverse effects form heartworm preventatives to be extremely low, a few CAVM vets at a conference think they’ve seen problems, including the obvious side-effect of dogs pushing rocks around because of the toxic meds they were taking. What could be more convincing evidence?
Chambreau on Preventing Heartworm Disease
Keep you dog as healthy as possible using homeopathic principles. A healthy dog will kill those migrating larvae…The solution is to make your dog as healthy as possible by vaccinating the least, feeding the best diet (probably a raw meat…and treat the energy problem…Homeopathy is great for this. A healthy dog will be very unlikely to be ill from heartworms.
In high mosquito hours of the day stay in or use an herbal repellent.
Your dog could become infected…yet not be ill from the infection at all…. A healthy body should tolerate a low level of parasites. Therefore, many clients choose to use no preventative and I support them in that choice.
If you are very afraid of your dog getting heartworms, give the preventative
carefully. Observing your dog will give you clues that you need to try one of the other preventatives or use none at all….Learn how to ask yes/no questions of the universe B dowsing, pendulum, intuition, applied kinesiology talks of checking with nature for all your decisions in life and teaching a yes/no finger method)….You can certainly do energy healing after giving a preventative such as Reiki or Healing Touch which you can learn top [sic] do yourself or go to a practitioner.
Ok, so the best option is to use magic and untested alternative dietary strategies to keep your dog health, and then just don’t worry about it. Your dog might not get heartworms, and if he or she does, all the magic will make it just a minor problem. This is ignorant and dangerous nonsense, of course. There is no evidence raw diets help ward off parasites, homeopathy is completely useless voodoo, and “energy medicine” is just religion masquerading as healthcare. Heartworm disease, on the other hand, is a serious and often fatal malady that can easily kill your pet if appropriate prevention and treatment are not used. This kind of willful blindness to facts and wishful thinking substituting for medical advice is deeply unethical.
As for herbal mosquito repellants, this is at least a suggestion that could be effective if particular remedies were tested to see if they effectively repel fleas, but so far there is no such evidence, so it’s just more wishful thinking. None of the suggestions Dr. Chambreau makes for heartworm prevention have any basis in reality except the use of conventional preventatives, which she presents with unjustified fear-mongering and then suggests be accompanied by several varieties of quackery: Dowsing is superstitious nonsense, Reiki is more faith healing, and applied kinesiology is a delusion or a scam.
Dr. Chambreau on Heartworm Treatment
Treatment of heartworm disease is risky. While the medications used to kill heartworms do have some potential risks, the benefits of treating the disease far outweigh these. And the most significant risk is from the death of the heartworms themselves, which is going to apply to any therapy that is effective, “natural” or not. However, Dr. Chambreau leaps into recommendations that are pure fantasy with no hesitation, as usual.
Herbs and homeopathic treatment for adult heartworms are about 75% effective.
Most dogs seem to recover from heartworm infection without the conventional drugs and without serious heart problems. There is, of course, a risk that your dog has an energy weakness for heart problems and if infected, will have serious problems. A healthy dog will usually have no heart problems and the worms will die in a year or so on their own.
So despite the overwhelming evidence that homeopathy is nothing but a placebo, she claims a high success rate for it as a heartworm treatment. She also suggests herbal remedies are effective, and while this is more plausible, it has not yet been demonstrated that any herbal treatments are as safe or effective as conventional treatment. Of course, she makes the even more ridiculous claim that a healthy dog won’t need treatment, and then tries to weasel out of responsibility for any dogs who suffer from heartworm infestation by claiming they have an “energy weakness for heart problems,” which is a meaningless bit of misdirection to justify the failure of ineffective or unproven treatments.
The sort of nonsense Dr. Chambreau recommends is often dismissed even by skeptics as fundamentally harmless because homeopathy, Reiki, and many other such interventions don’t actually do anything at all, so they can’t directly harm patients. But the danger of telling pet owners to avoid safe and effective preventatives and treatments for serious disease is great, and substituting magic and wishful thinking for medicine is both dangerous and unethical. It is hard to understand why vets who put pets in unnecessary danger in this way can get away with doing so, but the best those of us committed to science-based medicine can do about it is expose their bad advice for what it is and hope pet owners will be skeptical and wary of this kind of quackery.