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Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Pets

Should your pet try acupuncture, homeopathy, or herbal medicines?

Herbal/Botanical Medicine continued...

Veterinarian Susan Wynn, DVM, of Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Sandy Springs, Ga., has been in practice for 23 years and says she uses herbal remedies to treat various pet maladies. She uses plants like devil's claw, and turmeric, all of which come in various ingestible forms and can be used to reduce inflammation or manage bowel disorders like colitis. 

"Herbs can be considered in any situation," Wynn says, but "I don't use them much if there's a safe and well-proven conventional drug." If an arthritic dog, for example, doesn't respond to a conventional treatment, she might try an herbal formula.

Unlike nutraceuticals, which are isolated compounds of a natural substance, herbs offer a more natural complex of chemicals and have a broader physiological effect, says Wynn, who devotes most of her practice to complementary/alternative therapies and nutrition.

Randomized, controlled trials of selected herbal remedies have been published, and some positive effects have been reported. But because herbs are not regulated in the same way as approved drugs, practitioners must be sure that suppliers adhere to stringent standards of authenticity and preparation. 



Homeopathy is a complementary/alternative therapy developed more than 200 years ago for use in people.

The theory behind the practice is that "like cures like" -- that symptoms of disease can be treated with preparations, in low concentrations, that cause the same symptoms. The preparations are codified according to the malady.

Veterinarian Shelley Epstein, VMD, CVH, of Wilmington Animal Hospital in Wilmington, Del., is a certified homeopath who uses homeopathic remedies for acute and chronic conditions ranging from ear infection to epilepsy to asthma to cystitis. She works alongside more conventional practitioners and understands that homeopathy won't treat advanced cancer, for example.

But Epstein says she believes homeopathy has a place in acute situations. For instance, she says that if a dog that's been hit by a car is brought to her office, she might give him aconite as a calming agent and arnica for bruising and contusions.

Epstein routinely treats ear and skin infections with  homeopathic therapies, as well as epilepsy. She says she weaned a dog off his seizure medication with arsenicum, a homeopathic remedy.

At the North American Veterinary Conference next January, Epstein will present findings of a study of homeopathic remedies for nasal aspergillosis, a painful canine fungal infection that is typically treated with an anti-fungal medication infused into the sinuses. This conventional therapy is expensive and may need to be repeated in order to resolve symptoms.

Epstein says she treated a dog with aurum metallicum, a gold derivative, and within two weeks the dog had improved. In six months, she says, the dog no longer shows symptoms of the fungal infection.

Why did the treatment work? Epstein doesn't know.

"We don't care how it works. To know all these details may help resolve some of the controversies in homeopathy, like what dilution do you use. But the bottom line is, you can be a successful homeopath without knowing how it works," she says.

The scientific literature on veterinary homeopathy is limited, although one study concluded that arsenic, a commonly used preparation, was highly toxic in three separate cases because of improper use.

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