veterinary medicine

I have been informed by the publisher, that my book has been published yesterday. This is about two months earlier than it was announced on Amazon. It is in German – yes, I have started writing in German again. But not to worry, I translated the preface for you:

Anyone who falls ill in Germany and therefore needs professional assistance has the choice, either to consult a doctor or a non-medical practitioner (Heilpraktiker).

– The doctor has studied and is licensed to practice medicine; the Heilpraktiker is state-recognized and has passed an official medical examination.
– The doctor is usually in a hurry, while the Heilpraktiker takes his time and empathizes with his patient.
– The doctor usually prescribes a drug burdened with side effects, while the Heilpraktiker prefers the gentle methods of alternative medicine.

So who should the sick person turn to? Heilpraktiker or doctor? Many people are confused by the existence of these parallel medical worlds. Quite a few finally decide in favor of the supposedly natural, empathetic, time-tested medicine of the Heilpraktiker. The state recognition gives them the necessary confidence to be in good hands there. The far-reaching freedoms the Heilpraktiker has by law, as well as the coverage of costs by many health insurances, are conducive to further strengthening this trust. “We Heilpraktiker are recognized and respected in politics and society,” writes Elvira Bierbach self-confidently, the publisher of a standard textbook for Heilpraktiker.

The first consultation of our model patient with the Heilpraktiker of his choice is promising. The Heilpraktiker responds to the patient with understanding, usually takes a whole hour for the initial consultation, gives explanations that seem plausible, is determined to get to the root of the problem, promises to stimulate the patient’s self-healing powers naturally, and invokes a colossal body of experience. It almost seems as if our patient’s decision to consult a Heilpraktiker was correct.

However, I have quite significant reservations about this. Heilpraktiker are perhaps recognized in politics and society, but from a medical, scientific, or ethical perspective, they are highly problematic. In this book, I will show in detail and with facts why.

The claim of government recognition undoubtedly gives the appearance that Heilpraktiker are adequately trained and medically competent. In reality, there is no regulated training, and the competence is not high. The official medical examination, which all Heilpraktiker must pass is nothing more than a test to ensure that there is no danger to the general public. The ideas of many Heilpraktiker regarding the function of the human body are often in stark contradiction with the known facts. The majority of Heilpraktiker-typical diagnostics is pure nonsense. The conditions that they diagnose are often based on little more than naive wishful thinking. The treatments that Heilpraktiker use are either disproven or not proven to be effective.

There is no question in my mind that Heilpraktiker are a danger to anyone who is seriously ill. And even if Heilpraktiker do not cause obvious harm, they almost never offer what is optimally possible. In my opinion, patients have the right to receive the most effective treatment for their condition. Consumers should not be misled about health-related issues. Only those who are well-informed will make the right decisions about their health.

My book provides this information in plain language and without mincing words. It is intended to save you from a dangerous misconception of the Heilpraktiker profession. Medical parallel worlds with the radically divergent quality standard – doctor/Heilpraktiker – are not in the interest of the patient and are simply unacceptable for an enlightened society.

The use of and interest in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for animals is often said to be increasing. But only a few reliable data exist on this subject. This survey is based on online research of 1083 German veterinary homepages for contents of veterinary SCAM performed in September and October 2017. “Veterinarian” and “Chamber of Veterinary Surgeons” were used as search items. Homepages of small animal medicine were included. They were surveyed for modes of SCAM treatments and corresponding qualifications of the offering veterinarian.

In total, 60.7 % (n = 657) of homepages showed contents of veterinary SCAM. The highest percentage was found in the Chamber of Veterinary Surgeons of Saarland (91.7 %, n = 11 out of 12). Homeopathy was cited most frequently (58 %, n = 381). Out of all homepages with relevant content, 31.4 % (n = 206) gave information about user qualifications, with continuous education programs named most frequently (52.9 %, n = 109).

The authors concluded that the given data illustrate the high number of German veterinary homepages with contents of veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine, corresponding to actual data of a high usage in veterinary and human medicine. Therefore further scientific research in this field seems reasonable. Modes of treatment and qualifications are highly diverse and despite of controversial public discussions, homeopathy was the most frequently cited treatment modality on German veterinary homepages.

The authors also added this: We like to thank the Karl and Veronica Carstens-Foundation for the postgraduate scholarship.

The little addendum makes it less puzzling, I think, why the paper is almost totally devoid of any critical input. Animals can obviously not give informed consent to medical treatments. Like humans, they need the most effective therapy when ill. It is hard to deny that homeopathy, for instance, does not belong in that category. Thus, veterinary SCAM is confronted with a considerable ethical problem. It is beyond me how an article about SCAM use in animals can not even mention this or other critical issues.

But at least, you might argue, the paper informs us which SCAMs are currently the most popular. Wrong! SCAM use is highly prone to changes in fashion. This paper tells us merely which SCAMs were popular several years ago! The time lag between doing the research and publishing it is something I find all too often in SCAM.

The two authors have recently published another paper. Have a look at this article:

The international use of and interest in veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine are increasing. There are diverse modes of treatment, and owners seem to be well informed. However, there is a lack of data that describes the state of naturopathic or complementary veterinary medicine in Germany. This study aims to address the issue by mapping the currently used treatment modalities, indications, existing qualifications, and information pathways. In order to map the ongoing controversy, this study records the advantages and disadvantages of these medicines as experienced by veterinarians. Demographic influences are investigated to describe distributional impacts on using veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine.

Methods: A standardised 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: homoeopathy, phytotherapy, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), biophysical treatments, manual treatments, Bach Flower Remedies, neural therapy, homotoxicology, organotherapy, and hirudotherapy which 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. Metric data were not normally distributed (Shapiro Wilk Test); hence the median, minimum, and maximum were used for description. The impact of demographic data on the implementation of veterinary naturopathy and complementary techniques was calculated using the Mann-Whitney-U-Test for metric data and the exact Fisher-Test for categorical data.

Results: Overall 85.4% (n = 679 of total 795 non-blank data sets) 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) and biophysical treatments (40.1%, n = 272). The most common indications were orthopedic (n = 1798), geriatric (n = 1428) and 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 a plurality (39.5%, n = 308) of the respondents of this question. Further, 27.7% (n = 216) of participants chose the option that they were not confident to answer this question and 91 answers were left blank. The most commonly named advantages in using veterinary naturopathy and complementary medicine were the expansion of treatment modalities (73.5%, n = 566 of total 770), customer satisfaction (70.8%, n = 545) and lower side effects (63.2%, n = 487). The ambiguity of studies, as well as the unclear evidence of 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.

Conclusion: 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.

This paper seems at first sight a bit more informative. But it suffers very similar problems: the data were outdated before they were even published, and this article too lacks critical input.

So, what purpose might these two articles serve?


Oh, sorry – they probably did manage to get the doctor’s title for one or two poor vet students who had been hoodwinked with the help of the the Karl and Veronica Carstens-Foundation into conducting some rather useless pieces of research.

In one of my last posts, I was rather dismissive of veterinary chiropractic.

Was I too harsh?

I did ask readers who disagree with my judgment to send me their evidence.

Sadly, none arrived!

Therefore, I did several further literature searches and found a recent review of the topic. It included 14 studies; 13 were equine and one was a canine study. Seven of these were cohort studies and seven were randomized controlled clinical trials. . Study quality was low (n = 4), moderate (n = 7), and high (n = 3) and included a wide array of outcome parameters with varying levels of efficacy and duration of therapeutic effects, which prevented further meta-analysis. The authors concluded that it was difficult to draw firm conclusions despite all studies reporting positive effects. Optimal technique indications and dosages need to be determined to improve the standardization of these treatment options.

This, I think, can hardly be called good evidence. But I also found this more recent paper:

Chiropractic care is a common treatment modality used in equine practice to manage back pain and stiffness but has limited evidence for treating lameness. The objective of this blinded, controlled clinical trial was to evaluate the effect of chiropractic treatment on chronic lameness and concurrent axial skeleton pain and dysfunction. Two groups of horses with multiple limb lameness (polo) or isolated hind limb lameness (Quarter Horses) were enrolled. Outcome measures included subjective and objective measures of lameness, spinal pain and stiffness, epaxial muscle hypertonicity, and mechanical nociceptive thresholds collected on days 0, 14, and 28. Chiropractic treatment was applied on days 0, 7, 14, and 21. No treatment was applied to control horses. Data was analyzed by a mixed model fit separately for each response variable (p &lt; 0.05) and was examined within each group of horses individually. Significant treatment effects were noted in subjective measures of hind limb and whole-body lameness scores and vertebral stiffness. Limited or inconsistent therapeutic effects were noted in objective lameness scores and other measures of axial skeleton pain and dysfunction. The lack of pathoanatomical diagnoses, multilimb lameness, and lack of validated outcome measures likely had negative impacts on the results.

Great! So, we finally have an RCT of chiropractic for horses. Unfortunately, the study is less than convincing:

  • It included just 20 polo horses plus 18 horses active in ridden or competitive work all suffering from lameness.
  • The authors state that ‘horses were numerically randomized to treatment and control groups’; yet I am not sure what this means.
  • Treatment consisted of high-velocity, low-amplitude, manually applied thrusts to sites of perceived pain or stiffness with the axial and appendicular articulations. Treatment was applied on days 0, 7, 14, and 21 by a single examiner. The control group received no treatment and was restrained quietly for 15 min to simulate the time required for chiropractic treatment. In other words, no placebo controls were used.
  • The validity of the many outcome measures is unknown.
  • The statistical analyses seem odd to me.
  • No correction for multiple statistical tests was done.
  • Most of the outcomes show no significant effect.
  • Overall, there were some small positive treatment effects based on subjective assessment of lameness, but no measurable treatment effects on objective measures of limb lameness.
  • The polo horses began their competition season at the beginning of the study which would have confounded the outcomes.

What does all this tell us about veterinary chiropractic?

Not a lot.

All we can safely say, I think, is that veterinary chiropractic is not evidence-based and that claims to the contrary are certainly ill-informed and most probably of a promotional nature.

The McTimoney College of Chiropractic just announced that it has established a new four-year program in veterinary chiropractic for college students:

It means that those without a prior degree can undertake the training and education necessary to enter this coveted career. To date, animal chiropractors were required to have a prior qualification in human chiropractic or a degree in the relevant sciences.

Applications for the new program are being accepted from September 2023. Students will attend Abingdon-based University, Oxford, and a variety of practical locations, enabling the development of academic knowledge and the application of practical skills together . Modules include anatomy and physiology, veterinary science, practice and professionalism, and clinical skills, with a research dissertation running over the four-year course.

University director Christina Cunliffe said the new program was an exciting step in the development of chiropractic care for animals.

“Building on our decades of experience graduating confident, competent, and highly-skilled animal chiropractors, now is the time to open up this exciting career opportunity to college students.”

For the past 50 years, McTimoney College of Chiropractic has been training and educating human chiropractors to the highest regulatory standards. Over the past 20 years, animal chiropractic has developed to meet the requirements for this gentle, holistic treatment in the veterinary world.

Prospective students are invited to a Open House at McTimoney College of Chiropractic in Abingdon on February 16.

McTimoney Chiropractic for Animals identifies areas of stiffness, asymmetry, and poor range of motion within the skeletal system, particularly the spine and pelvis. This affects the muscles that surround these structures, as well as the nerve impulses that pass from the central nervous system to the periphery of the body. The adjustments are very light and fast, stimulating an instant response in the affected soft tissues and joints, promoting relaxation of muscle spasms, improving nerve function, and helping the skeletal structure regain better symmetry and movement again.

In many cases, animals suffer from underlying conditions such as arthritic changes or degenerative diseases that force them to compensate in their posture and movement in an attempt to remain comfortable. However, these offsets become increasingly entrenched and can be painful or uncomfortable, requiring chiropractic care to provide some relief. In other cases, the animals are working hard or competing and as such accumulate tension and asymmetries due to the demands of their work. Once again, chiropractic care helps relieve pain and promote performance, whether it’s faster speeds over hurdles for racehorses and events, better jumping style in showjumpers, or more extravagant movements for dressage stars.

Two recent graduates of the school’s Master of Animal Handling (Chiropractic) program did not hesitate to recommend the university. Natalie McQuiggan said that she had wanted to do McTimoney Chiropractic from a very young age, “but the process of doing it always seemed really daunting.

“But from the start, the staff and teachers were lovely and welcoming, and queries were answered promptly. I have really enjoyed my two years in the Master of Animal Handling (Chiropractic) program and would recommend anyone thinking of doing it to just do it.”

Pollyanna Fitzgerald said the university offered a supportive and welcoming learning environment, allowing her to grow and develop as a student and future professional. “There is always someone to talk to and offer encouragement when needed. As a student I have learned a lot and have been encouraged to believe in myself and it has been a wonderful place to learn.”

A free webinar, McTimoney’s Animal Chiropractic as a Careeron January 24 at 7:30 p.m. (GMT), is open to those who wish to learn more about the McTimoney technique and its application, and the training paths available to those interested in becoming a McTimoney Animal Chiropractor.


I think this announcement is puzzling on several levels:

  1. I was unable to find an ‘Abingdon-based University, Oxford’; could it be this institution that is a college and not a university?
  2. Christina Cunliffe seems to be (or has been?) affiliated with the McTimoney College of Chiropractic which is a bit odd, in my opinion.
  3. The college does not have ‘decades of experience’; it was founded only in 2001.
  4. Most importantly, I am unable to find a jot of good evidence that veterinary chiropractic is effective for any condition (see also here, here, and here). In case anyone is aware of any, please let me know. I’d be delighted to revise my judgment.

If I am right, the new course could be a fine example of quackademia where students are ripped off and taught to later rip off the owners of animals after the academically trained quacks have mistreated them.

Animals cannot consent to the treatments they are given when ill. This renders the promotion and use of SCAM in animals a tricky issue. This systematic review assessed the evidence for the clinical efficacy of 24 so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) used in cats, dogs, and horses.

A bibliographic search, restricted to studies in cats, dogs, and horses, was performed on Web of Science Core Collection, CABI, and PubMed. Relevant articles were assessed for scientific quality, and information was extracted on study characteristics, species, type of treatment, indication, and treatment effects.

Of 982 unique publications screened, 42 were eligible for inclusion, representing 9 different SCAM therapies, which were

  • aromatherapy,
  • gold therapy,
  • homeopathy,
  • leeches (hirudotherapy),
  • mesotherapy,
  • mud,
  • neural therapy,
  • sound (music) therapy,
  • vibration therapy.

For 15 predefined therapies, no study was identified. The risk of bias was assessed as high in 17 studies, moderate to high in 10, moderate in 10, low to moderate in four, and low in one study. In those studies where the risk of bias was low to moderate, there was considerable heterogeneity in reported treatment effects.

The authors concluded that the present systematic review has revealed significant gaps in scientific knowledge regarding the effects of a number of “miscellaneous” SCAM methods used in cats, dogs, and horses. For the majority of the therapies, no relevant scientific articles were retrieved. For nine therapies, some research documentation was available. However, due to small sample sizes, a lack of control groups, and other methodological limitations, few articles with a low risk of bias were identified. Where beneficial results were reported, they were not replicated in other independent studies. Many of the articles were in the lower levels of the evidence pyramid, emphasising the need for more high-quality research using precise methodologies to evaluate the potential therapeutic effects of these therapies. Of the publications that met the inclusion criteria, the majority did not have any scientific documentation of sufficient quality to draw any conclusion regarding their effect. Several of our observations may be translated into lessons on how to improve the scientific support for SCAM therapies. Crucial efforts include (a) a focus on the evaluation of therapies with an explanatory model for a mechanism of action accepted by the scientific community at large, (b) the use of appropriate control animals and treatments, preferably in randomized controlled trials, (c) high-quality observational studies with emphasis on control for confounding factors, (d) sufficient statistical power; to achieve this, large-scale multicenter trials may be needed, (e) blinded evaluations, and (f) replication studies of therapies that have shown promising results in single studies.

What the authors revealed in relation to homeopathy was particularly interesting, in my view. The included studies, with moderate risk of bias, such as homeopathic hypotensive treatment in dogs with early, stage two heart failure and the study on cats with hyperthyroidism, showed no differences between treated and non-treated animals. An RCT with osteoarthritic dogs showed a difference in three of the six variables (veterinary-assessed mobility, two force plate variables, an owner-assessed chronic pain index, and pain and movement visually analogous scales).

The results on homeopathy are supported by another systematic review of 18 RCTs, representing four species (including two dog studies) and 11 indications. The authors excluded generalized conclusions about the effect of certain homeopathic remedies or the effect of individualized homeopathy on a given medical condition in animals. In addition, a meta-analysis of nine homeopathy trials with a high risk of bias, and two studies with a lower risk of bias, concluded that there is very limited evidence that clinical intervention in animals using homeopathic remedies can be distinguished from similar placebo interventions.

In essence, this review confirms what I have been pointing out numerous times: SCAM for animals is not evidence-based, and this includes in particular homeopathy. It follows that its use in animals as an alternative to treatments with proven effectiveness borders on animal abuse.


Acupuncture for animals has a long history in China. In the West, it was introduced in the 1970s when acupuncture became popular for humans. A recent article sums up our current knowledge on the subject. Here is an excerpt:

Acupuncture is used mainly for functional problems such as those involving noninfectious inflammation, paralysis, or pain. For small animals, acupuncture has been used for treating arthritis, hip dysplasia, lick granuloma, feline asthma, diarrhea, and certain reproductive problems. For larger animals, acupuncture has been used for treating downer cow syndrome, facial nerve paralysis, allergic dermatitis, respiratory problems, nonsurgical colic, and certain reproductive disorders.Acupuncture has also been used on competitive animals. There are veterinarians who use acupuncture along with herbs to treat muscle injuries in dogs and cats. Veterinarians charge around $85 for each acupuncture session.[8]Veterinary acupuncture has also recently been used on more exotic animals, such as chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)[9] and an alligator with scoliosis,[10] though this is still quite rare.

In 2001, a review found insufficient evidence to support equine acupuncture. The review found uniformly negative results in the highest quality studies.[11] In 2006, a systematic review of veterinary acupuncture found “no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals”, citing trials with, on average, low methodological quality or trials that are in need of independent replication.[1] In 2009, a review on canine arthritis found “weak or no evidence in support of” various treatments, including acupuncture.[12]

To put it in a nutshell: acupuncture for animals is not evidence-based.

How can I be so sure?

Because ref 1 in the text above refers to our paper. Here is its abstract:

Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.

This evidence is in sharp contrast to the misinformation published by the ‘IVAS’ (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society). Under the heading “For Which Conditions is Acupuncture Indicated?“, they propagate the following myth:

Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury
  • Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea
  • Selected reproductive problems

For large animals, acupuncture is again commonly used for functional problems. Some of the general conditions where it might be applied are the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems such as sore backs or downer cow syndrome
  • Neurological problems such as facial paralysis
  • Skin problems such as allergic dermatitis
  • Respiratory problems such as heaves and “bleeders”
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nonsurgical colic
  • Selected reproductive problems

In addition, regular acupuncture treatment can treat minor sports injuries as they occur and help to keep muscles and tendons resistant to injury. World-class professional and amateur athletes often use acupuncture as a routine part of their training. If your animals are involved in any athletic endeavor, such as racing, jumping, or showing, acupuncture can help them keep in top physical condition.

And what is the conclusion?

Perhaps this?

Never trust the promotional rubbish produced by SCAM organizations.

We are all prone to fall victim to the ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy. It describes the erroneous assumption that something that happened after an event was cased by that event. The fallacy is essentially due to confusing correlation with causation:

  • the sun does not rise because the rooster has crowed;
  • yellow colouring of the 2nd and 3rd finger of a smoker is not the cause of lung cancer;
  • some children developing autism after vaccinations does not mean that autism is caused by vaccination.

As I said, we are all prone to this sort of thing, even though we know better. Scientists, journal editors and reviewers of medical papers, however, should not allow themselves to be fooled by overt cases of the ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy. And if they do, they have lost all credibility – just like the individuals involved in a recent paper on animal homeopathy.

Pododermatitis in penguins usually occurs after changes in normal activity that result from being held captive. It is also called ‘bumlefoot’ (which fails to reflect the seriousness of the condition) and amounts to one of most frequent and important clinical complications in penguins kept in captivity or in rehabilitation centres.

This veterinary case study reports the use of oral homeopathic treatment on acute and chronic pododermatitis in five Magellanic penguins in a zoological park setting. During treatment, the patients remained in the penguins’ living area, and the effect of the treatment on the progression of their lesions was assessed visually once weekly. The treatment consisted of a combination of Arnica montana and Calcarea carbonica.

After treatment, the appearance of the lesions had noticeably improved: in the majority of penguins there was no longer evidence of infection or edema in the feet. The rate of recovery depended on the initial severity of the lesion. Those penguins that still showed signs of infection nevertheless exhibited a clear diminution of the size and thickness of the lesions. Homeopathic treatment did not cause any side effects.

The authors concluded that homeopathy offers a useful treatment option for pododermatitis in captive penguins, with easy administration and without side effects.

So, the homeopathic treatment happened before the recovery and, according to the ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ fallacy, the recovery must have been caused by the therapy!

I know, this is a tempting conclusion for a lay person, but it is also an unjustified one, and the people responsible for this paper are not lay people. Pododermitis does often disappear by itself, particularly if the hygenic conditions under which the penguins had been kept are improved. In any case, it is a potentially life-threatening condition (a bit like an infected bed sore in an immobilised human patient) that can be treated, and one should certainly not let a homeopath deal with it.

I think that the researchers who wrote the article, the journal editor who accepted it for publication, and the referees who reviewed the paper should all bow their heads in shame and go on a basic science course (perhaps a course in medical ethics as well) before they are let anywhere near research again.

If you think that the papers published on SCAM for humans are bad, you should have a look at those in the veterinary sector. Take for instance this article from the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) Journal:

Evidence demonstrates that acupuncture and herbal medicine are useful and effective for the treatment of seizures. In the perspective of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), seizures in dogs and cats can be classified into 6 patterns:

  1. Obstruction by WindPhlegm,
  2. Internal Profusion of Phlegm-Fire,
  3. Stagnation of Blood,
  4. Liver Blood Deficiency,
  5. Liver/Kidney Yin Deficiency,
  6. Yin Deficiency with Blood Deficiency.

This article focuses on how to differentiate and treat these patterns using herbal medicine and acupuncture. An overview of clinical trials is provided, and case examples are also included.

The authors from the ‘Equine Acupuncture Center/University of Florida, USA, concluded that the combination of TCVM and Western medicine (WM) can be an effective therapeutic approach to control seizures and epilepsy. WM is effective for initial control of severe seizures and in identification of the cause of the disease. TCVM can be effectively used for the treatment of milder cases and to help control seizures in those patients that fail to respond to WM. 

Having done some research into acupuncture for animals myself, I was particularly interested in this aspect of the paper – interested and disappointed, I have to admit. The sad truth is that, despite the opimistic conclusions of the authors, there is no sound evidence. As no good evidence has emerged since, our own systematic review of 2006 (which was not cited by the authors of the above article) still holds true:

Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.

The AHVMA-article becomes wholly farcical, once we see the heading the AHVMA-journal has given it:


The AHVMA-journal is the official publication of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, according to their own statement, is the mindful leader elevating the veterinary professional through innovation, education, and advocacy of integrative medicine.

One stated objective of the AHVMA is to advance and educate in the science and art of holistic veterinary medicine. If their new ‘scientific review’ is anything to go by, they seem to have a most bizarre view about science. The question that occurred to me while reading the paper was this: are they not promoting animal abuse, a term defined as any use or treatment of animals that seems unnecessarily cruel, regardless of whether the act is against the law?


If you thought that lousy research in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is confined to human medicine, you were wrong. The papers published in veterinary medicine is just one of many examples to suggest that it is, in fact, even worse. Take, for instance, this study of homeopathy.

This Indian study was conducted to evaluate the ameliorative potential of homeopathic drugs in combination (Sulfur 30C, Thuja 30C, Graphites 30C, and Psorinum 30C) in 16 dogs affected with oral papillomatosis which had not undergone any previous treatment. Papillomas are benign epithelial tumours caused by infection with species-specific DNA papilloma-viruses. They tend to disappear within 6-12 months.

Dogs affected with oral papillomatosiswere randomly divided into two groups, namely, homeopathic treatment group (n=8) and placebo control group (n=8). The homeopathic combination of drugs and placebo drug (distilled water) was administered orally twice daily for 15 days. The 4 homeopathy drugs were used in the 30C potency and given orally at 2 drops per 5 kg body weight. The clinical evaluation in both groups of dogs was performed by the same investigator throughout the period of study (12 months). All  dogs were clinically scored for oral lesions on days 0, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, and 150 after initiation of treatment.

The homeopathic treatment group showed early recovery with a significant reduction in oral lesions reflected by a clinical score in comparison to placebo-treated group. Oral papillomatous lesions regressed in the homeopathic group between 7 and 15 days, whereas regression of papilloma in the placebo group occurred between 90 and 150 days. The homeopathic treated group was observed for 12 months post-treatment period and no recurrence of oral papilloma was observed.

The authors concluded that the result of this investigation proves that the combination of homeopathic drugs (Sulfur 30+Thuja 30+Graphites 30+Psorinum 30) offers an attractive, non-invasive and most economical way of treating COP. A combination of homeopathic drugs is a novel approach for treating canine oral papilloma and further studies are needed to elucidate the use of homeopathic combination as a veterinary oncological therapeutics and to explore the mechanism of action of these homeopathic drugs in ameliorating oral papilloma.

The graph says it all. Very rarely is any medical treatment as effective as to produce such impressive results.

So, are we witnessing a scientific sensation?

Is this the breakthrough homeopaths have been waiting for?

Should the Nobel committee be informed?

Perhaps not!

A group size of 8 is underwhelming, to say the least. It is not sufficient to generate a reliable result. The results, even if true, ‘prove‘ nothing other than the authors’ ignorance of research methodology.

Low-level laser therapy has been used clinically to treat musculoskeletal pain; however, there is limited evidence available to support its use. The current Cochrance review fails to be positive: there are insufficient data to draw firm conclusions on the clinical effect of LLLT for low‐back pain. So, perhaps studies on animals generate clearer answers?

The objective of this study was to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of low-level laser therapy and chiropractic care in treating thoracolumbar pain in competitive western performance horses. The subjects included 61 Quarter Horses actively involved in national western performance competitions judged to have back pain. A randomized, clinical trial was conducted by assigning affected horses to either:

  • laser therapy,
  • chiropractic,
  • or combined laser and chiropractic treatment groups.

Low-level laser therapy was applied topically to local sites of back pain. The laser probe contained four 810-nm laser diodes spaced 15-mm apart in a square array that produced a total optical output power of 3 watts. Chiropractic treatment was applied to areas of pain and stiffness within the thoracolumbar and sacral regions. A single application of a high velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA) manual thrust was applied to affected vertebral segments using a reinforced hypothenar contact and a body-centered, body-drop technique. The HVLA thrusts were directed dorsolateral to ventromedial (at a 45° angle to the horizontal plane) with a segmental contact near the spinous process with the goal of increasing extension and lateral bending within the adjacent vertebral segments. If horses did not tolerate the applied chiropractic treatment, then truncal stretching, spinal mobilization, and the use of a springloaded, mechanical-force instrument were used as more conservative forms of manual therapy in these acute back pain patients.

Outcome parameters included a visual analog scale (VAS) of perceived back pain and dysfunction and detailed spinal examinations evaluating pain, muscle tone, and stiffness. Mechanical nociceptive thresholds were measured along the dorsal trunk and values were compared before and after treatment. Repeated measures with post-hoc analysis were used to assess treatment group differences.

Low-level laser therapy, as applied in this study, produced significant reductions in back pain, epaxial muscle hypertonicity, and trunk stiffness. Combined laser therapy and chiropractic care produced similar reductions, with additional significant decreases in the severity of epaxial muscle hypertonicity and trunk stiffness. Chiropractic treatment by itself did not produce any significant changes in back pain, muscle hypertonicity, or trunk stiffness; however, there were improvements in trunk and pelvic flexion reflexes.

The authors concluded that the combination of laser therapy and chiropractic care seemed to provide additive effects in treating back pain and trunk stiffness that were not present with chiropractic treatment alone. The results of this study support the concept that a multimodal approach of laser therapy and chiropractic care is beneficial in treating back pain in horses involved in active competition.

Let me play the devil’s advocate and offer a different conclusion:

These results show that horses are not that different from humans when it comes to responding to treatments. One placebo has a small effect; two placebos generate a little more effects.

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