MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

A recent article in LE PARISIEN entitled “L’homéopathie vétérinaire, c’est sans effet… mais pas sans risque” – Veterinary homeopathy is without effect … but not without risk, tells it like it is. Here are a few excerpts that I translated for you.

More than 77% of French people have tried homeopathy in their lifetime. But have you ever given it to your pet? Harmless in most cases, its use can be dangerous when it replaces a treatment whose effectiveness is scientifically proven … from a safety point of view, the tiny granules are indeed irreproachable: their use does not induce any drug interaction or undesirable side effects, nor does it run the risk of overdosing or addiction … homeopathic preparations owe their harmlessness to their lack of proper effects. “Neither in human medicine nor in veterinary medicine, at the current stage, clinical studies of all levels do not provide sufficient scientific evidence to support the therapeutic efficacy of homeopathic preparations”, stated the French Veterinary Academy in May 2021. These conclusions are in line with those of the French Academies of Medicine and Pharmacy, the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and all the international scientific bodies that have given their opinion on the subject.

Therefore, when homeopathy delays diagnosis or is used in place of proven effective treatments, its use represents a “loss of opportunity” for your pet. The greatest danger of homeopathy is not that the remedies are ineffective, but that some homeopaths believe that their therapies can be used as a substitute for genuine medical treatment,” summarizes a petition to the UK veterinary regulatory body signed by more than 1,000 British veterinarians. At best, this claim is misleading and, at worst, it can lead to unnecessary suffering and death.”

But how can we explain the number of testimonies from pet owners who say that “it works”? “I am very satisfied with the Kalium Bichromicum granules for my cat with an eye ulcer, which is healing very well”… These improvements, real or supposed, can be explained by “contextual effects”, among which the famous placebo effect (which is not specific to humans), your subjective interpretation of his symptoms, or the natural history of the disease.

When these contextual effects are ignored or misunderstood, the spontaneous resolution or reduction of the disease can be wrongly attributed to homeopathy, and thus maintain the illusion of its effectiveness. This confusion is all the more likely because homeopathy owes much of its popularity to its use to treat “everyday ailments”: nausea, allergies, fatigue, bruises, nervousness, etc., which tend to get better on their own with time, or which have a fluctuating expression…

In April 2019, the association published an open letter addressed to the National Council of the Order of Veterinarians, calling on it to take a position on the compatibility of homeopathy with the “ethical and scientific requirements” of the profession. The organization, whose official function is to guarantee the quality of the service rendered to the public by the 20,000 veterinarians practicing in France, issued its conclusions last October. It invited veterinary training centers to remove homeopathy from their curricula, under penalty of having their accreditation withdrawn, and thus their ability to deliver training credits.

In my view, this is a remarkably good and informative text. How often do homeopathy fans claim IT WORKS FOR ANIMALS AND THUS CANNOT BE A PLACEBO! The truth is that, as we have so often discussed on this blog, homeopathy does not work beyond placebo for animals. This renders veterinary homeopathy:

  • a waste of money,
  • potentially dangerous,
  • in the worst cases a form of animal abuse.

My advice is that, as soon as a vet recommends homeopathy, you look for the exit.

12 Responses to Veterinary homeopathy is without effect … but not without risk.

  • I wonder if verterinary homeopathy in France differs from veterinary homeopathy in the UK in the same ways that people homeopthy differs.

    As far as I perceive, in France, homeopathy tends more to lower-potency (Decimal) and to multi-formulations, rather than the high-potency single remedy approach that is more common in Britain.

    • The specifics of vet homeopathy have varied considerably throughout its history but it has never been a valid form of treatment. Back in the day, as an alternative to the barbaric bleedings, purgings and blisterings of ‘heroic medicine’ I’m sure it saved lives. But its use now is mere conceit on the part of owner and practitioner who impose their lifestyle choices on an innocent animal. And yes, it can cause great harm through neglect although you will never get an owner or a practitioner to admit it, there is a firm ‘conspiracy of silence’ and such cases are hand-waved away.
      Have a read of “No Way to Treat a Friend” by me and Alex Gough for examples of harm and more info on vet alternative medicine and the harm it causes. (Hope it’s ok to plug the book, Prof. Ernst, please remove if you prefer).
      Cheers.

      • I did read the book – very good! I recommend it.

      • I looked up the book, it looks v.good – although I have such an arsenal of anti-woo literature, I am not sure whether to add this!! You might like to be aware that one reviewer (not a critical thinker 🙁 ) has a go at your co-author in their review – there may be a record which needs straightening there.

  • On the other hand, in my experience acupuncture worked for my cat. A couple of judiciously placed claws in my leg improved his nutritional level almost immediately.

    • The existence of many different schools of thought in homeopathy is but one of the giveaways that it’s all nonsense. It certainly isn’t a coherent, unified set of ideas (and nor, of course, are any of the ideas plausible or backed by credible evidence).

      I just wondered if the differences between French and British approaches to homeopathic prescribing are the same for animals as for humans.

      • To your question about possible use of lower dilutions in France vs U.K., short answer: I don’t know. But it makes no real biological difference. Sceptics tend to point to the high dilutions that are safely beyond the ‘Avogadro limit’ so we can confidently assert that there’s nothing in them. However, even quite low dilutions are very unlikely to have medicinal effects. Most of their starting materials don’t have much biological potency; even a 6X dilution is 1 in a million; then the actual amount taken, either dried onto a sugar pill or as a liquid drop is really tiny compared with typical bodyweights.

        So, while there are differences in homeopathic philosophy, there are no differences in their lack of effect.

        • However, even quite low dilutions are very unlikely to have medicinal effects. Most of their starting materials don’t have much biological potency; even a 6X dilution is 1 in a million; then the actual amount taken, either dried onto a sugar pill or as a liquid drop is really tiny compared with typical bodyweights.

          This is probably true in the UK and in the EU, but that’s because homeopathic preparations (at least for people) are regulated to be too low in potency to have a pharmaceutical effect. So they are actually regulated to be ineffective!
          This is a really good idea. In the USA, there are many preparations sold as homeopathic that have 1X or MT (mother tincture) ingredients, so they’re actually herbal or “natural” remedies. For example, ginkgo biloba tablets and Zicam, which is zinc tablets that are being sold as a cold remedy.
          This serves to confuse people about homeopathy, e.g. Zicam has enough zinc to shorten a cold; according to the Q&A, each tablet has 11mg of zinc. So these are expensive zinc tablets.
          So if people hear that homeopathy is bogus and just a placebo, and they’ve been using something like Zicam, they have good reason to disbelieve that.

    • That’s catupuncture…..

  • “To your question about possible use of lower dilutions in France vs U.K., short answer: I don’t know. But it makes no real biological difference”.

    Certainly it makes no biological difference. I just wondered if anyone knew whether the approach was consistent, between human and animal prescribing – consistently different from the more ‘classical’ approach in the UK.

  • Dear Professor Ernst,

    The rigor and scope of your work on so-called alternative medicine make it a high quality achievement, and is a standard for the critical evaluation of these practices.

    Indeed, you are probably unaware that you have played a major and perhaps even decisive role, with a few other “mentors”, in inspiring a handful of French veterinarians to reflect on pseudosciences in veterinary medicine. Inspired by you, we gathered and reflected collectively on the intrusion of this practice into our profession, and we created a society: “Les Zétérinaires” (from the french words “zététique” – zetetics, and “vétérinaire” -veterinary: “Zeterinarians”).

    Axelle Playoust-Braure’s article in Le Parisien is, as you said, a remarkably rich and informative piece on the subject of homeopathy in veterinary medicine and its harmful consequences, an issue we wish to expose. Precisely, this article published in a journal for the general public is based on an interview with our president Dr. Vet. Franck Poudrai and transcribes the course of the very first action initiated by Les Zétérinaires on homeopathy, a topic that you know like the back of your hand :

    – Through a rigorously argued open letter in April 2019, we challenged the National Council of the Order of Veterinarians (CNOV) on the compatibility of homeopathy with the “ethical and scientific principles” of the requirements of our profession ;
    – As expected, knowing full well that its field of competence covered questions relating to ethics and the regulations of the professional practice of veterinarians, but not to settle scientific controversies, the CNOV had to seek the opinion of the French Veterinary Academy (AVF) on this issue ;
    – A richly documented and meticulously crafted report was submitted by the AVF to support a scientific position statement in June 2021, then allowing the CNOV to report on its conclusions last October in order to respond to our initial inquiry.

    This is why we were very honored to read a translation of certain “chosen pieces” written by your pen and on your own blog. Thank you very much Professor.

    In return, please allow us to provide you with some additional documented information on the timing and methodology of this action on veterinary homeopathy, and to introduce you to our association. We want to believe that homeopathy will henceforth be eclipsed and disappear into the past. It seems now behind us in France for veterinary medicine, at least from the point of view of our academic and ethical bodies. However, how many other scientifically dubious practices are also worth questioning? It seems that new ones are born almost every week…

    Our association is still young and many works are in progress or planned, which only await the help of minds available to lead them and the time to bring them to fruition. On our website you will find the diversity of our articles published to date, of which here are some examples below.

    Yours faithfully,

    Dr. Vet. Gil Manuel, secretary
    « Les Zétérinaires : démarche scientifique, esprit critique et médecine factuelle »

    Open letter from Les Zétérinaires:
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/04/24/homeopathie-communique-de-presse-du-23-04-2019/

    Report & position statement of the French Veterinary Academy:
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2021/06/18/communique-suite-avis-de-lacademie-veterinaire-de-france/

    National Council of the Order of Veterinarians findings:
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2021/12/02/communique-du-conseil-national-de-lordre-des-veterinaires/

    Translation of a major narrative review published in two parts : Lees et al. 2017:
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/05/09/comparaison-entre-medicaments-veterinaires-et-homeopathie-veterinaire-partie-1/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/06/13/comparaison-entre-medicaments-veterinaires-et-homeopathie-veterinaire-partie-2/

    Some editorial/humorous publications and translations of good works from other sources (examples):

    In relation to homeopathy
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/05/05/est-il-acceptable-de-prescrire-un-placebo/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/06/21/scepticisme-et-homeopathie/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/07/02/les-veterinaires-la-derniere-ligne-de-defense-de-lhomeopathie/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/06/27/pourquoi-l-homeopathie-a-t-elle-toujours-des-adeptes/

    In relation to other so-called CAM
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/06/03/de-la-necessite-devaluer-les-traitements-alternatifs-en-elevage/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2021/07/12/la-phytotherapie-nexiste-pas/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2020/04/14/acupuncture-et-fourbure-chez-les-chevaux-lca/

    And other issues of concern such as vaccination
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2020/02/27/vaccination-hesitation-vaccinale-en-pratique-veterinaire/

    Some pedagogical works:
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/05/26/loi-de-brandolini-par-lexemple/
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/04/28/cest-quoi-un-petit-p/

    Some intellectual defense tools:
    https://www.zeterinaires.fr/nofakemed/2019/11/27/les-arguments-douteux-recapitulatif/

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