Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Pets
Should your pet try acupuncture, homeopathy, or herbal medicines?
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.
Risky for Your Pet?
Complementary/alternative therapies are generally regarded as benign, if administered by an experienced practitioner.
But the use of nutriceuticals or herbs can be risky. Supplements aren't approved by the FDA. There is also a risk of overdosing or creating a bad reaction between drugs.
"We worry about herbal remedies interacting with conventional medications or chemotherapy agents, which can be life-threatening. But that's not to say they're wrong. We don't have enough evidence to condone their use, but more and more I think we'll get that," Looney says.
Wynn cautions pet owners to make sure their veterinarian uses herbal medicines and supplements that come from reputable labs that have good quality controls in place.