I haver written about pulsed-electromagnetic field devices (PEMF) a couple of times before (1, 2). In my most recent review, I concluded:
Despite the fact that there has been interest in the potential medical applications of electricity for over 150 years, and serious scientific research investigating PEMF has been going on for over 50 years, there is surprisingly little robust evidence showing meaningful clinical benefits…PEMF devices are widely used, and this creates the impression that they have been solidly validated, but the reality is more ambiguous…There are very few clinical trials of PEMF in [veterinary] patients. The studies that have been published have not found consistent and convincing evidence of clinically meaningful benefits…The marketing claims of PEMF manufacturers and the excitement of proponents far exceed the strength of the available scientific evidence.
Unfortunately, the lack of evidence is seldom a barrier to aggressive marketing of therapies in veterinary medicine, and this is certainly true for PEMF. What is perhaps more frustrating, is that companies often support or produce small studies with significant limitations as evidence to promote particular uses. These studies are rarely followed, as they should be, by larger, better trials that could be used to justify actual clinical use.
This certainly appears to be the case for the most well-known veterinary PEMF device, the Assissi Loop. Rather than following up the tentative studies I reviewed for pain, the company has decided to generate yet more weak evidence to justify marketing their device for yet another indication, this time separation anxiety. Their marketing materials are a classic example of claims that go far beyond anything justified by the actual scientific evidence:
“The solution” is bad enough, but there had better be some pretty solid clinical research to justify “returns the anxious brain to a more balanced emotional state with long-lasting effects” and “proven to work alone without other treatments or training!” I can’t wait to see the large, robust, long-term clinical trial that shows the Assissi Loop is ready to replace all other separation anxiety therapies and vanquish the disease for ever! So where is it? What? There is no such study?
To call what the company offers as evidence for these dramatic claims underwhelming would be a dramatic understatement. An open-label study lasting six weeks in nine dogs. That’s it! No placebo control, no blinding, no peer-reviewed publication (only a conference report), and a lead investigator who also happens to be the Chief Business Officer of the company selling the product. A pilot trial like this is laden with uncontrolled bias and error, and while it might be enough to justify a real controlled study, it is not even close to sufficient evidence to support the wild marketing claims made for the product.
I would be thrilled to see a treatment with no detectable adverse effects that could improve or even cure separation anxiety in the vast majority of dogs with 15 minutes of treatment twice a day for six weeks. That would be a miracle, and I would be glad to see it. However, the evidence threshold for miracles in medicine is pretty high, and this study isn’t even close to that threshold. It seems to me inappropriate to make such dramatic promises based on such thin evidence, and it would be more useful for companies such as this to put their resources into supporting rigorous, independent testing of existing claims rather than looking for new markets to create with still more small, limited “pilot” trials.
I can’t wait to have enough money to buy this and try it with my box, Pax. Nothing else is really working for him. 🙁
The AKC FAMILYDOG March/April 2020 issue has a glowing write up using the Assisi Calmer CSA on pages 35-37. CAN’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT A new device helps dogs and their humans weather separation anxiety. by Stacey Freed Digital version is available here: https://www.akc.org/products-services/magazines/family-dog/
Margaret Gruen, a veterinary behaviorist and assistant professor at North Carolina State University in Raleight is involved with a study on separation anxiety and the new device, the Calmer Canine. Claims “a recent Harvard University study used PEMF signals to help humans with depression and anxiety. It is FDA-approved for use in humans with pain.” In a section titled “Successful Trials”, seems to only refer to an earlier trial a NCSU using 10 dogs. “Now more than 50 dogs have been studied.” They cite one case where a dog went from “855 time in one hour and after a month of treatment, he went to zero barks”. Not very clear reporting on this otherwise. I wonder if they had a control group with the device turned off? *sigh*
Wouldn’t this fall under FDA-CVM “medical devices”? (unapproved, subject to warning letters and subsequent action)
I’m curious to know if you’ve done any research on EFT Tapping for animals with anxiety. Or is this method just another placebo effect??
I forgot to ask…
I have to be honest that I’m not quite sure how the placebo effect works. I keep hearing about the “power of the placebo” and how it can help certain aliments like pain management, stress, anxiety, etc. But, it obviously cannot cure diseases. So wouldn’t placebo effect actually be a good thing in those instances??
EFT is, like Tellington Touch and Reiki, complete unscientific nonsense. The theories behind these methods involve vitalism, a belief in mystical energy forces that can only be intuitively sensed and manipulated but not objectively detected or measured. It is essentially a type of faith healing without the explicit underlying religious principles. Many of these methods have been evaluated and shown not to work under conditions that control for placebo effects, and I don’t see any evidence EFT is any different.
The short answerer to a complex issue is:
1. Placebo effects based on beliefs or expectation only affect subjective symptoms, not objective measures of disease. They don’t treat disease, but they can make you perceive your symptoms differently.
2. Many things can make a disease look like it’s responding to a treatment when it isn’t, and these other factors are involved in the effects seen with placebos in research studies and seen with ineffective therapies used in actual patients. We give the credit to the wrong thing and use that as evidence the treatment works.
I have written and contributed to several articles evaluating the placebo in animals specifically which you might find interesting:
What is a Placebo?
The Danger of the Pet Placebo
Alternative Medicine and Placebo Effects for Pets
You may wish to contact a trainer who specializes in helping dog’s with separation anxiety – called a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer. They use tried and true Classical Conditioning techniques and have helped thousands of dogs. Good luck – this can be a heartbreaking condition.
I have both clinically diagnosed major depression and general anxiety disorder as well as CPTSD. Also a background in psychology and social work with placements completed at a community mental health centre and a sexual assault centre. Nowhere in my studies or in my own personal therapy has PEMF ever once been brought up or even suggested as a potential holistic treatment or used in therapeutic interventions. Ever. This is going back to 2008 as well. I would’ve heard about it’s potential use or ongoing study if it was seen as a promising option even if just for 10% of people seeking it’s therapeutic use.
Just curious if the follow up study is robust
The study design is very good. The results are mixed, and I’m not as impressed as the authors with the outcome. I will be posting a more detailed evaluation soon!
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I am embarrassed to say that I spent 200 and some dollars to purchase one of these several years ago for my dog, who suffered from severe separation anxiety. As anyone who deals with this knows, there really is not effective treatment for a dog with a severe issue of this.
I used in a few times and the dog was neutral about it. However, once I had it on and decided to take a photo – not thinking that if this device was producing a magnetic field, the EMF of my iPhone might very well cause some interference. It must have produced a shock or uncomfortable sensation, b/c by dog clearly reacted, and and began growling and acting aggressively when I tried to take the thing off. It clearly was now associated with that painful sensation so the couple of times I tried it again, he looked uncomfortable, then acted aggressively when I would reach to remove it. Luckily that behavior change was specific to the device, and he did not change otherwise, but obviously I did not continue. Obviously not change in the separation anxiety.
Fortunately was able to do the only think I know that works – built my life around his separation anxiety – even got a job he could come along to, so his time away from mama was minimal. After further research I realized there was no scientific way this thing could be specifically targeting anything that would have a meaningful effect on what is a complex behavioral issue. I have an extensive science background and worked doing research and I still fell for this – because I think we so much want there to be a simple solution to help our beloved ‘children’. I say pass on this – to anyone. Use the $200 for a day at the spa for yourself 🙂
Thanks for the insightful review. As far as your suggestion to use the $200 for a spa day, I’d love to but can’t leave the house because of my dog’s separation anxiety. How’s that for irony?