I have often written about homeopathy, not because it is a particularly popular or important therapy (only about 3.5% of Americans, for example, report having tried it) but because it is one of the clearest and most egregious examples of pseudoscience. The case against homeopathy is very strong, and it is clearly theoretically implausible and clinically proven to be nothing more than a placebo.
Proponents of homeopathy try to claim it is scientifically reasonable and even “evidence-based,” but the evidence they present is consistently deeply flawed and unconvincing. What is more, individuals and groups advocating for homeopathy often deny that they reject or discourage the practice of science-based medicine even while clearly doing just that. The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH) has gone so far as to hire a public relations consultant to facilitate misleading the public into thinking homeopathy is a safe and effective therapy and that veterinary homeopaths do not discourage the use of necessary and effective scientific medical therapies.
However, if one keeps an eye on their marketing efforts, it is easy to find clear examples of accepted members of this group engaging in practices that seem difficult to view as anything other than malpractice or fraud (though I suppose the latter requires an awareness of misleading clients, and unfortunately I do not doubt the individuals involved believe the nonsense they are selling).
A recent post on the Holistic Care for Animals Facebook page (which is described as “the Facebook presence of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.”) directed readers to a page promoting “Emergency Vet Alternatives.” This page, part of a site run by homeopathic veterinarian Will Falconer, provides some of the most egregiously dangerous advice for pet owners I have come across. Dr. Falconer promotes his “homeopathic emergency kit,” which he suggests can substitute for a visit to an emergency veterinary clinic even in the case of serious I injury and illness.
I wanted a way for you to be able to have this safety net at home and avoid the E.R. like my many patients have successfully done with my help over the years.
But I can’t be everywhere and serve thousands of clients. It’s just not practical. Even the broader category of holistic vets are not yet in every town and city.
Here’s what I’ve decided to do to “clone” myself, and give you holistic medical options when your animal is in a pinch and you need emergency help right away.
I’m building a custom homeopathic emergency kit, with remedies that will get your animal well in the common emergencies you are likely to confront. Things like:
- vomiting after eating spoiled food
- bee stings and worse, the allergic reactions to them that can shut off airways
- injuries: car accidents, tails in a car door, sprains, etc.
- bite wounds, cuts, gunshot wounds
- pain from overexertion
- splinters, fox tails, thorns
This custom kit will include remedies in various potencies, or strengths, that you won’t find without buying multiple kits elsewhere. I’ve individually chosen potencies that match the seriousness of the various emergencies you may find your animal in.
That’s right! Dr. Falconer is suggesting homeopathic remedies can “get your animal well” and possibly “avoid the E.R.” even if your pet has parvovirus, bloat, or shock or if they have been bitten by another animal, hit by a car, or shot! These are serious, often life-threatening emergencies for which there is absolutely no evidence that homeopathy has any value at all. Even with the best treatment, these emergencies can be fatal, and to suggest these things should be treated at home by an owner, with homeopathy or any other remedy, is completely irresponsible.
Dr. Falconer does promise this kit will come with some support.
To go with this excellent emergency kit, and help you use the remedies properly, a practical ebook (now at the publisher) explaining how to choose the best remedy for your animal’s emergency, how to dose, and an introduction to this amazing art and science that I practice daily, called homeopathy.
A webinar series that will visually and audibly help you learn each remedy, so you’ve got them already in mind ahead of time, and can choose the proper remedy quickly in a time of need.
Unfortunately, advice about how to use a placebo therapy to treat life-threatening medical problems, even if provided by a (*sigh*) licensed veterinarian, is not in any way safe or appropriate. Yet Dr. Falconer goes on to suggest, yet again, that his ebook and homeopathic emergency kit can substitute for real, in-person veterinary care.
Imagine: your dog or cat or horse finds herself suddenly in a crisis, and you can treat that crisis on the spot, with powerful medicine that’s got a long history of curing people and animals quickly and effectively.
In most cases, you’ll likely be able to avoid a trip to the emergency vet, and all the stress and side effects and expense that goes with that. In the worst case scenario, you’ll give a remedy on the way, and help the healing process get a great start before you arrive. You might even arrive at the E.R. and be told you can head home, everything’s well, thanks to your efforts on the spot.
This is one of those situations where all the good intentions and honest belief in his own advice cannot excuse recommendations which endanger the lives of pets. The idea of homeopathy as a primary treatment for authentic emergencies is so laughable it has been the subject of televised parody. And even the ridiculously lax and irrational laws that govern homeopathy in the U.S. specifically prohibit claims that homeopathic remedies can be used to treat “diseases that require diagnosis and treatment by a physician.” The FDA has recently warned manufacturers of over-the-counter homeopathic remedies intended for unsupervised use at home that they cannot claim these remedies are appropriate for treatment of serious illness or injury. Handing clients a bag full of homeopathic remedies and an ebook to treat such serious illness in their pets makes no more sense, and may quite possibly be illegal (though the FDA has historically paid little attention to the use of homeopathy in animals, so that would be a matter for the FDA or the courts to decide). Regardless of the legal technicalities, in my opinion such a practice cannot be reasonably viewed as sensible or ethical.
Now individual veterinarians may not always be representative of a whole method of practice. I have no doubt homeopathy proponents could produce lots of stories of conventional veterinarians practicing in unethical and indefensible ways, and yet clearly such stories don’t fairly represent, much less invalidate, all of conventional medicine. Though the principles and evidence of homeopathy clearly mark it as ineffective pseudoscience, I am sure the majority of homeopathic veterinarians are ethical by their own standards. Then again, so is Dr. Falconer. He undoubtedly believes he has found a better way of treating his patients and that he is doing good while I and the rest of the profession who do not share his delusion are doing harm. Does this justify making the recommendations he makes?
And while many veterinary homeopaths might agree that Dr. Falconer’s recommendations regarding emergency care are inappropriate, I have not found any evidence to suggest the AVH repudiates them. After all, the AVH promoted his claims on its Facebook page. And Dr. Falconer is still listed on the AVH web site as a member and certified veterinary homeopath. The AVH describes this certification this way:
Accredited veterinarians have demonstrated a basic level of competency in theory, principles and philosophy, remedies, and prescribing in veterinary homeopathy. Currently, this certification process is the best method available to the AVH to ensure competency of homeopathic veterinarians to the public.
Plenty of caveats are given elsewhere on the page, and likely this cannot meet the legal definition of an “implied warranty” or anything, but it seems reasonable to infer that the AVH at least does object to Dr. Falconer’s practices.
The remainder of Dr. Falconer’s web site reads like a pretty typical example of the most extreme type of alternative medical practitioner. He tells a frightening story of his conversion experience from conventional to alterative practice.
I put the antibiotics away for good when my own cat Cali, in trying to have her first kittens, did so out in the wilds of Haleakala on Maui, and came dragging herself in with a horribly infected uterus, leaking a foul smelling discharge, and clearly seriously ill. I knew even antibiotics would have a hard time helping her, but I also knew I had something deeply curative to offer now: homeopathic medicine.
Cali was treated with pyrogenium 30C, a remedy made from rotten beef, and described by Dr. H.C. Allen, a brilliant homeopathic MD of the mid-1800s. He wrote, “In septic fevers, especially puerperal (pertaining to child bearing, around birth time), Pyrog has demonstrated its great value as a homeopathic dynamic antiseptic.”
After a few doses of this remedy and a couple of uterine flushes with a bit of anti-infective Chinese herb (Yunnan Paiyao), Cali made a full and remarkable recovery. It was as though she’d never been sick. I had an “Ah-ha!” moment, and tossed my antibiotics in the trash.
In my view, the treatment of a serious illness in a suffering animal with unproven and almost certainly useless homeopathic remedies is not justified by the good fortune of the cat in surviving such inappropriate treatment.
Apart from his recommendations for treating emergencies, Dr. Falconer promotes a pretty standard list of unproven or clearly false alternative medicine claims:
- He presents the usual exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of vaccination.
- He provides similarly exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of heartworm preventatives and goes further in claiming that alternative methods are effective, which is not accepted by experts on this disease or even by most proponents of alternative veterinary medicine (it is not clear specifically what alternative preventative he recommends since you have to buy another ebook from him to find out).
- He promotes raw diets despite the lack of evidence to support such claims.
- He even recommends a local practitioner of Gerson Therapy, a thoroughly discredited mélange of practices that include coffee enemas.
As I’ve often said before, reasonable people can disagree politely and substantively about the merits of alternative therapies. But even honest belief and a kind heart cannot excuse practices which clearly and needlessly endanger patients. Dr. Falconer is clear and direct in his claims that conventional medicine is often ineffective and outright harmful, yet likely believers in his methods, and even others who doubt them, will feel my criticism of his claims and actions is unkind or wrong.
I have no doubt that clients of Dr. Falconer, who genuinely believe his absurd claims and feel he has helped their pets, will make all sorts of personal attacks and insinuations about me in response to my criticism of him, as supports of Dr. Plechner and Dr. Andrew Jones and others I have criticized have done in the past.
Though it is probably pointless, I will make try to make clear ahead of time that I don’t consider myself any smarter or any better a person than Dr. Falconer. I don’t believe he is a bad person or that he deliberately misleads anyone. However, I do believe that some ideas are true and others are false, and that science is the best way to tell the difference. Science has clearly identified homeopathy as nothing more than a placebo, so it is genuinely wrong to claim it is an effective therapy for serious medical problems.
Furthermore, testimonials and other personal experiences, intuition, and faith are not reliable ways to decide if a therapy works, and they do not justify denying therapies which have been proven effective (like vaccination and antibiotics, which Dr. Falconer largely rejects) or recommending implausible, unproven, or outright bogus therapies. Good intentions notwithstanding, making such recommendations harms patients, and challenging these claims is a duty for those of us who honestly believe them to be wrong.
That said, I understand true believers in homeopathy, or in Dr. Falconer personally, will be deeply offended by my having the temerity to criticize his methods. While I do not expect to change any already made-up and solidly closed minds, I do hope some pet owners considering substituting a homeopathic emergency kit and an ebook or webinar for actual emergency veterinary care will consider the real danger for their animal companions in such a choice.