There is a lack of data describing the state of naturopathic or complementary veterinary medicine in Germany. This survey maps the currently used treatment modalities, indications, existing qualifications, and information pathways. It records the advantages and disadvantages of these medicines as experienced by veterinarians. Demographic influences are investigated to describe the distributional impacts of using veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine.

A standardized questionnaire was used for the cross-sectional survey. It was distributed throughout Germany in a written and digital format from September 2016 to January 2018. Because of the open nature of data collection, the return rate of questionnaires could not be calculated. To establish a feasible timeframe, active data collection stopped when the previously calculated limit of 1061 questionnaires was reached.

With the included incoming questionnaires of that day, a total of 1087 questionnaires were collected. Completely blank questionnaires and those where participants did not meet the inclusion criteria were not included, leaving 870 out of 1087 questionnaires to be evaluated. A literature review and the first test run of the questionnaire identified the following treatment modalities:

  • homeopathy,
  • phytotherapy,
  • traditional Chinese medicine (TCM),
  • biophysical treatments,
  • manual treatments,
  • Bach Flower Remedies,
  • neural therapy,
  • homotoxicology,
  • organotherapy,
  • hirudotherapy.

These were included in the questionnaire. Categorical items were processed using descriptive statistics in absolute and relative numbers based on the population of completed answers provided for each item. Multiple choices were possible.

Overall 85.4% of all the questionnaire participants used naturopathy and complementary medicine. The treatments most commonly used were:

  • complex homoeopathy (70.4%, n = 478),
  • phytotherapy (60.2%, n = 409),
  • classic homoeopathy (44.3%, n = 301),
  • biophysical treatments (40.1%, n = 272).

The most common indications were:

  • orthopedic (n = 1798),
  • geriatric (n = 1428),
  • metabolic diseases (n = 1124).

Over the last five years, owner demand for naturopathy and complementary treatments was rated as growing by 57.9% of respondents (n = 457 of total 789). Veterinarians most commonly used scientific journals and publications as sources for information about naturopathic and complementary contents (60.8%, n = 479 of total 788). These were followed by advanced training acknowledged by the ATF (Academy for Veterinary Continuing Education, an organisation that certifies independent veterinary continuing education in Germany) (48.6%, n = 383). The current information about naturopathy and complementary medicine was rated as adequate or nearly adequate by many (39.5%, n = 308) of the respondents.

The most commonly named advantages in using veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine were:

  • expansion of treatment modalities (73.5%, n = 566 of total 770),
  • customer satisfaction (70.8%, n = 545),
  • lower side effects (63.2%, n = 487).

The ambiguity and unclear evidence of the mode of action and effectiveness (62.1%, n = 483) and high expectations of owners (50.5%, n = 393) were the disadvantages mentioned most frequently. Classic homoeopathy, in particular, has been named in this context (78.4%, n = 333 of total 425). Age, gender, and type of employment showed a statistically significant impact on the use of naturopathy and complementary medicine by veterinarians (p < 0.001). The university of final graduation showed a weaker but still statistically significant impact (p = 0.027). Users of veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine tended to be older, female, self-employed and a higher percentage of them completed their studies at the University of Berlin. The working environment (rural or urban space) showed no statistical impact on the veterinary naturopathy or complementary medicine profession.

The authors concluded that this is the first study to provide German data on the actual use of naturopathy and complementary medicine in small animal science. Despite a potential bias due to voluntary participation, it shows a large number of applications for various indications. Homoeopathy was mentioned most frequently as the treatment option with the most potential disadvantages. However, it is also the most frequently used treatment option in this study. The presented study, despite its restrictions, supports the need for a discussion about evidence, official regulations, and the need for acknowledged qualifications because of the widespread application of veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine. More data regarding the effectiveness and the mode of action is needed to enable veterinarians to provide evidence-based advice to pet owners.

I can only hope that the findings are seriously biased and not a true reflection of the real situation. The methodology used for recruiting participants (it is fair to assume that those vets who had no interest in SCAM did not bother to respond) strongly indicates that this might be the case. If, however, the findings were true, one would have to conclude that, for German vets, evidence-based healthcare is still an alien concept. The evidence that the preferred SCAMs are effective for the listed conditions is very weak or even negative. If the findings were true, one would need to wonder how much of veterinary SCAM use amounts to animal abuse.

5 Responses to Is veterinary naturopathy animal abuse?

  • Of course it is. If consenting adults want to use ineffective treatment I’m kinda okay with that until they start spreading the word. But doing that with animals (who can’t consent) or children (who may be able to give consent but may not get a choice) should be prosecuted as neglect and abuse.

  • I once had to take my dog to an emergency vet in a very posh area of London (just behind Sloane Square) as it was a Sunday and my regular vet was closed. There were posters all over the wall advertising homeopathy, which I thought was rather odd until I realised that it was probably driven by customer demand and highly profitable. Happily the vet I saw didn’t suggest anything like this (the dog was very sick with haemorrhagic diarrhoea).

    On another occasion I went to my own vet in London and saw a locum. My dog had a wound from a barbed wire fence that I though maybe needed stitching. She suggested putting Manouka honey on it, and also wanted to prescribe vitamin C to improve wound healing. Vitamin C in humans only improves wound healling if you have scurvey. It does nothing in dogs who make their own vitamin C. I don’t know if she was badly training or simply trying to sell me things that I didn’t need, not realising that I was a doctor.

    Our current vet, by contrast, is in Devizes in Wiltshire. Although I have seen a number of different practitioners there, they have never been anything but completely professional and have little truck with alternative ideas.

  • My experience as a practising small animal veterinary surgeon in the UK is that homeopathy plays no role in general practice- the exception being those few mad individuals who set themselves up in homeopathic/ naturopathic practices (where abuse by denial of proven effective treatments certainly occurs). Other modalities do feature though sadly- acupuncture for example and other non-substantiated treatments such as Galen therapy and there are even animal chiropractors (we have a nurse taking a course now of her own volition). LLLT is frequently used also. The use and sale of nutraceuticals is massive business too- chondroitin and glucosamine products for OA/DJD, PS-GAGS with L-tryptophan for cystitis, milk protein supplements for stress (to name but a few) are flogged by the bucket load. SAM-e is also widely “prescribed” (not a POM-V) for hepatopathies of all aetiologies- the recent paper hi lighting potentially “no safe dose” in people makes this very alarming too!

  • I fired our vet of many years for prescribing homeopathy. When I called her out on it, I was told (through the receptionist) that I shouldn’t believe everything I read on the internet. A shame since I did like her. But yeah, I didn’t like the attitude.

  • As long as homeopathy is supported by the chamber of vets (Bundestierärztekammer) I am not surprised…

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