Two New Campaigns in the UK to Protect Patients & Clients from Veterinary Homeopathy

A couple of years ago, I was very involved in an effort to get the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to publically acknowledge that homeopathy has been proven to have no value beyond placebo effects and to discourage its use in animals. This was modeled on the successful effort of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) to institute a similar statement. Despite the overwhelming evidence, support from some veterinary groups, and even the acknowledgement of the AVMA’s own Council on Research that there is no evidence to support the use of homeopathy, the AVMA caved to political expediency and monetary interests, and the resolution was defeated.

Since then, there have been a number of positive developments in the struggle against this dangerous superstition. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing the exception to safe drug regulations that homeopathy has by historical accident, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has expressed concerns about the inherent fraud in advertising an ineffective medical treatment. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has published an extensive and rigorous review which concluded, like the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee review before it, that homeopathy doesn’t work. The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) appears poised to ban use of homeopathy under the national healthcare system.

Several systematic reviews, written by avowed advocates for homeopathy, have failed to find any reliable evidence for benefits in veterinary patients despite decades of use and research (e.g 1, 2). And recently the power of the evidence and the recognition of the danger to veterinary patients has led to two different campaigns in the U.K. to limit the veterinary use of homeopathy.

The first is an open letter to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and a petition asking for a ban on the veterinary use of homeopathy. The letter begins by reminding the RCVS of the evidence that homeopathy has no real clinical effects, and then makes the following case:

…we believe the use of homeopathic remedies by veterinary surgeons is potentially dangerous for several reasons.

The biggest danger of homeopathy is not that the remedies are ineffective, but that some homeopaths are of the opinion that their therapies can substitute for genuine medical treatment. This is at best misleading, and at worst may lead to unnecessary suffering and death…Members of the public put their trust in veterinary surgeons because they assume that their medical knowledge and training was gained during an accredited degree at an accredited university. They do not assume that they will be offered the veterinary surgeon’s personal beliefs in therapies that have absolutely no basis in science

We would argue that permitting veterinary surgeons to prescribe homeopathic remedies is severely contrary to the public and animal health interest.  In our opinion, homeopaths should not be able to use their membership of the RCVS to promote either the validity of the treatment or the fee for it. 

The health of animals is totally in the hands of the humans charged with their care, so it would appear to be unethical to withhold mainstream medicine and inflict alternatives on creatures that have no choice in the matter.

To summarise, we believe the RCVS should not allow members to prescribe homeopathy because:

  • it is an animal welfare issue

  • it devalues conventional treatments

  • it devalues conventional qualifications

  • it undermines public confidence in mainstream medicine

  • it would differentiate veterinary surgeons from unlicensed healers

  • the veterinary profession would take a lead, forging the way for our human medical counterparts to do the same.

This effort includes a public petition supporting the campaign, and I urge everyone to SIGN HERE.

The second independent effort, also in the U.K., is the Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine. This campaign also begins by acknowledging the indisputable scientific evidence that homeopathy is useless and petitioning the RCVS to change policy. However, rather than a ban, the Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine has a more limited set of objectives in its petition:

I ask that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS):

  1. Produces a public position statement on homeopathy

EXAMPLE: The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has reviewed the evidence concerning homeopathy and concluded that it is ineffective in animals.

Homeopathic remedies have not been, and are not, subject to the same testing of efficacy, safety and quality as conventional medical products.

It has been demonstrated that some people respond to homeopathic treatment because of their belief in it (the so-called ‘placebo’ effect), and the College recognises that people who have benefited in this way may wish to try homeopathy on their animals.

Animals cannot respond to treatment because of their belief in a treatment, so they cannot benefit from the placebo effect. 

In addition, there is proven existence of the ‘caregiver placebo effect’, where an owner (or indeed a veterinary surgeon) believes that the animal is responding to treatment when in fact they are not.

For the above reasons, the College considers it unethical to use homeopathy as a first line treatment in animals, or in place of treatment based on proven medicines and rational scientific principles.

2. Requires veterinary surgeons who prescribe homeopathic remedies to get owners to sign a consent form, prepared by the College, giving the College’s views on the ineffectiveness of homeopathy.

3. Enforces the requirement that veterinary surgeons abide by the Advertising Standards Authority regulations concerning the advertising of medical treatments.

4. Requires that advertising or promotion of homeopathy by a veterinary surgeon is accompanied by an abbreviated version of the RCVS position statement.

EXAMPLE: The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has reviewed the evidence concerning homeopathy and concluded that it is ineffective in animals. It should not be used as a first line treatment, or in place of treatment based on proven medicines and rational scientific principles.

The Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine is also focusing its efforts more narrowly, on veterinarians licensed in the U.K. under the RCVS.

Both of these efforts reflect a growing awareness that homeopathy is not only medically useless but actively dangerous and deceptive and that it is unethical to offer it to veterinary patients. The only reason that such a practice has persisted into the era of scientific medicine is through the power of belief over reason and the political and economic forces that prevent sensible regulation to prevent selling unproven or ineffective therapies to patients. While I am cautious in my expectations for these campaigns, I am thrilled to see others taking up the cause, and I absolutely support these efforts. If they are successful, perhaps the AVMA will finally be sufficiently embarrassed by the prospective of the U.S. being the last major developed nation to protect veterinary patients from this superstition and will again consider taking a stand.







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10 Responses to Two New Campaigns in the UK to Protect Patients & Clients from Veterinary Homeopathy

  1. Art Malernee dvm says:

    I am thrilled to see others taking up the cause, and I absolutely support these efforts. If they are successful, perhaps the AVMA will finally be sufficiently embarrassed by the prospective of the U.S. being the last major developed nation to protect veterinary patients from this superstition and will again consider taking a stand.>>>

    If the Avma was not embarrassed enough about its promotion that vet check ups are as important as water to pets I doubt if they are that embarrassed that Avma members sell medicine with nothing in the bottle but water. The last vote by those who control the Avma was 90 % . Im surprised 10% of the Avma vet members like me could even work there way up the Avma local to national association to even have a say in a homeopathic vote.

  2. Beccy Higman says:

    Thanks for this, despite living in the UK I hadn’t come across either campaign.

  3. Mary Anne Whitonis says:

    I find this very interesting given the fact that almost every night on the evening news you will hear of a “breakthrough” that doctors have come up with to fight cancer. They will tout it as something brand spanking new that they invented that will only target the cancer cells and not the healthy cells. My Asian friends who are holistic doctors will say to me, “My ancestors have been using those very things for over 4,000 years and they claim it is something new and they invented it???”

  4. Mary Anne Whitonis says:

    Integrated medicine is the best approach. A respectable physician who practices holistic medicine as well as traditional western medicine. It does not have to be one or the other. They can compliment one another. It is what I do with my dogs and they are living well past their target ages for their breeds. And, they are all rescue dogs so God only knows what they were exposed to and experienced in their past. There are rip-offs in every line of work, etc. but please do not say that all holistic medicine is a rip-off because it truly works. My one dog died at 12 and it was because of cushings. On the vetoryl high dose it allowed the tumor to go from micro to macro and caused him a great deal of neurological issues, etc. and increased seizure problems. Once I saw a holistic doctor and added some herbalogy into the mix he went from 60mg twice a day, to 60mg and 30mg, and than 30 mg and 30 mg and than one 30mg. It did not cure him of cushings but I believe it gave him a better quality of life and it may have made the disease easier on his system if I had introduced it earlier in the diagnosis. In the end, it was the thromboembolisms that did him in with this disease. But, boy, if I could have prevents the vetoryl from allowing the tumor to go from micro to macro what better quality of life that boy could have had the last 1-1/2 of his lifetime. I used to be a skeptic but I am not one now. However, I do not just go to any goofy person but only to reputable well-respected people in their medical fields for this kind of help.

  5. Mary Anne Whitonis says:

    I also believe that if there were more Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners available in the veterinary field it would help the 77% of us who are seeking alternatives to traditional drugs and treatment. It would give us a starting point and someone to bounce things off of instead of groping around in the dark like I had to do for myself. It was downright scary. A person has to have an undergrad degree in a science to pursue a graduate degree or doctorate in traditional Chinese medicine. It is legitimate and is not a bunch of nonsense at all. The people that just try to sell their wares are the dangerous ones out there.

  6. Mary Anne Whitonis says:

    I also find it interesting that although veterinary medicine feels the way it does about holistic medicine that many are now incorporating the practice of acupuncture into their practices. This was not a western practice. This came from Eastern medicine. And many doctors I know have told me repeatedly that they have seen some remarkable improvements neurologically with the use of acupuncture in many of their client’s animals, dogs and cats.

  7. skeptvet says:

    First of all, you’re mistaking the media’s coverage of science and the advertising of quacks like Dr. Oz for real science and medical research. Claims of miracle cures are the stuff of snake oil salespeople, not real scientists. And when you suggest that mainstream medicine is trying to take credit for such miracle cures that the ancient Chinese already knew about, you ignore the fact that the credit is being taken by alternative medicine advocates and that none of these supposed cures have actually been shown to work. Lots of false assumptions here, not facts.

  8. skeptvet says:

    All this amounts to is that you believe this stuff works. That’s fine, but you’ve given no reason for anyone else to believe. The unprecedented success of scientific medicine is based on evidence, not faith.

  9. skeptvet says:

    Ok, once again you’re making stuff up. I guarantee, 77% of pet owners are not seeking alternative medicine. The best evidence in human medicine suggests that even if use the broadest definition of alternative medicine, including massage, yoga, supplements, but excluding prayer, only about 35% of American use alt med. If you stick to the classis alternative therapies, such as homeopathy and acupuncture, you’re talking about less than 5%. Lying about the popularity of CAM is a sign of a pretty weak argument.

    And yes, TCM theory is a bunch of mystical, unscientific nonsense. Anyone who is claiming to diagnosis “Excess Qi” or “Insufficient Splenic Heat” is deceiving people and not helping their health.

  10. skeptvet says:

    While the popularity of acupuncture is less than you imply, even if it were widely used this would say nothing about whether or not it works. Science is not a popularity contest, and anecdotes simply don’t prove anything.

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