Early in January the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) will be considering a resolution, submitted by the Connecticut VMA, to discourage veterinarians from treating their patients with homeopathic "remedies."

The proposed resolution reads:

Homeopathy Has Been Identified as an Ineffective Practice and Its Use Is Discouraged

RESOLVED, that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) affirms that —

1. Safety and efficacy of veterinary therapies should be determined by scientific investigation.

2. When sound and widely accepted scientific evidence demonstrates a given practice as ineffective or that it poses risks greater than its possible benefits, such ineffective or unsafe philosophies and therapies should be discarded.

3. In keeping with AVMA policy on Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, AVMA discourages the use of therapies identified as unsafe or ineffective, and encourages the use of the therapies based upon sound, accepted principles of science and veterinary medicine.

4. Homeopathy has been conclusively demonstrated to be ineffective.

The "logic" behind homeopathy is appealing, but the devil (as always) is in the details. Simply put, homeopathy is based on the "Law of Similars." The idea is that "like cures like," or that we can cure disease by giving patients substances that produces symptoms similar to those of the disease from which they suffer. But there is danger in this approach. For instance, do we really want to give a dog or cat suffering from severe diarrhea a substance that could worsen their dehydration and biochemical imbalances? Homeopaths "solve" this problem by diluting their solutions, usually to the point where the active ingredients are no longer detectable. Somehow, the preparations are supposed to "remember" what used to be present and still be effective.

I’m sure you can gather by my tone (and my overuse of quotation marks) that I’m fairly skeptical of homeopathy. To be fair, I don’t think homeopathy is ineffective, I just don’t think it is more effective than any placebo would be. We’ve talked before about how powerful the placebo effect is, so when human patients want to try a homeopathic remedy for chronic, non-life threatening conditions, they have my blessings. In veterinary medicine, however, placebos primarily affect an owner’s impression of how a pet is faring, rather than actually providing any relief from the patient’s condition. We do animals a disservice when we pick homeopathic treatments over scientifically-validated and patient-appropriate therapeutic protocols.

I’ve heard the stories of miraculous "cures" associated with the use of homeopathic remedies, but we must remember that association does not equal causation. The unexpected does happen in veterinary medicine, primarily because the body has remarkable abilities to heal itself, often despite rather than because of what we do.

For a detailed review of the shortcomings of homeopathy, take a look at the Connecticut VMA’s white paper in support of their proposed resolution entitled The Case Against Homeopathy.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Melpomene / via Shutterstock