Lizzie was found in an overcrowded pound in Cyprus. She was very thin weighing just 8.5kg, half her current body weight, and was dirty and terrified. She had a horrific infected leg injury – probably caused by being tied up too tightly by a rope. She was on strong antibiotics for Ehrlichia canis, a serious bacterial infection that is transmitted through tick bites.
For the first year her leg scar was not troublesome and although the skin was like tissue paper and split easily it usually healed. However, a year later, the split had grown considerably and antibiotics failed to get the infection under control. The wound increased in size and covered the scar tissue area, and became heavily granulated. After discussing the options and prognosis with a homeopathic vet (with the full backing of our conventional vet), we decided on surgery to cover the scar with skin from her abdomen.
Unfortunately two years later, the original scar tissue (not covered by the skin graft) started to split and would not heal. It became red raw, weepy and inflamed, and Lizzie developed stiffness and limited mobility in the joint. After repeated trips to the vet and many courses of antibiotics (which had no effect despite a swab to establish the most appropriate ones), we agreed that continuous antibiotics were not an effective long-term treatment plan. We had run out of conventional options except for one - surgical amputation.
We turned to our homeopathic vet, again with full backing of our conventional vet who gladly sent off Lizzie's full medical record in the hope that amputation could be avoided. He thought that amputation was extreme and there were alternatives we should try first. We provided a full history of Lizzie’s life, lifestyle, personality, habits, and answered questions about what she liked and disliked. Afterwards Lizzie was given two remedies, one to be taken each morning, the other in the evening, for a month to stimulate tissue healing, regeneration and repair. We were also given a third combination remedy should any sign of wound infection appear (to avoid using antibiotics). We didn't need to use this.
Within two weeks, the wound had scabbed over, the infection, hotness and weeping had disappeared and Lizzie had full mobility again. And best of all, she kept her leg! Galen myotherapy helped to break down the scar tissue and release the muscles and, along with proprioception work, Lizzie gained full use of her leg. Lizzie has needed no antibiotics since she took the homeopathic remedies. You can read more about Galen myotherapy in our Fire Dog Kai blog.
Lizzie’s recovery was supported by raw feeding, blood titre tests rather than vaccinations (that showed strong antibodies despite having only had one course of injections in Cyprus), and faecal worm tests rather than chemical wormers.
Sceptics of course say that it is mere coincidence that the wound healed as soon as homeopathy was prescribed and that the collective residual antibiotics finally, several months after not working and the courses had finished, removed the stubborn infection.
But we know which treatment worked: the one that gave almost instant and long-lasting results – and kept Lizzie on all four legs!
The scandal of the unpublished Australian Report which showed homeopathy IS effective
CAM4animals congratulates the Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) and welcomes Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) decision to publish their original report into the effectiveness of homeopathy. The first draft produced in 2012 was suppressed by the NHMRC in favour of one published in March 2015.
It is significant that the 2012 draft report, The Effectiveness of Homeopathy: an overview review of secondary evidence, concluded that there is “encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy” in five medical conditions.
Its existence was only established through freedom of information requests. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is currently considering charges of scientific misconduct, bias and conflict of interest against NHMRC. The Australian Senate concluded that “This is a serious research scandal of the highest degree, revealing the extent to which the review team secretly manipulated the methods well after the contractor had already collated and assessed the evidence, with none of the changes disclosed in the final report released to the public.”
Releasing the first report is a major step forward in the acceptance of homeopathic medicine and its role in integrative health care in both human and animal health.
It is of particular significance in the UK where the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has effectively banned the alternative use of homeopathy and other holistic treatments such as acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic care since they changed their position on the Veterinary Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) in 2017. These treatments can only be used alongside or after conventional treatment, NOT as stand alone, first line, alternative options.
CAM4animals undertook a detailed audit delivered to the RCVS in November 2018, which highlighted that the RCVS based its position on three fundamentally flawed and inaccurate reports, one of which was the 2015 (second) Australian Report. We consider the use of these reports to have been an inappropriate basis on which to change the RCVS position. Our analysis is now validated by the words of NHMRC CEO, Professor Anne Kelso, who clarified that NHMRC’s second Homeopathy Review published in 2015 “did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective”, despite claims to that effect in media reports and by anti-homeopathy campaigners.
In essence, the RCVS used the 2015 Australian Report to restrict certain veterinary treatments legally available in the UK and the practices of those vets who use them, unaware that the original report had found positive evidence for the use of homeopathy.
CAM4animals welcomes the honesty and transparency shown by the NHMRC and echoes Rachel Roberts, HRI Chief Executive, who said of the release:
“For over three years NHMRC have refused to release their 2012 draft report on homeopathy, despite Freedom of Information requests and even requests by members of the Australian Senate. To see this document finally seeing the light of day is a major win for transparency and public accountability in research.”
Given that the RCVS has always said it would consider evidence for the successful use of homeopathy, CAM4animals calls on it to reconsider and amend its position on homeopathy and other CAM in light of this significant development.
CAM4animals will follow the progress of this report and update with further blogs. Click here for information on the Release the First Report Campaign - and the HRI view can be found here .
The following is HRI’s assessment of the Australian report and was used as a basis to fight for the release of the original report.
These are interesting times on Facebook and Twitter. Those of us running our social media profiles watch as our supporters push back against some pretty vitriolic views of a small group of known homeopathy denialists including some vets resistant to considering other options to drugs.
One thing needs to be made clear about where CAM4animals stands. We are NOT anti-vet. Quite the opposite. We are also NOT "anti-vax". Many of us have to vaccinate in order to compete, but we are mostly anti over-vaccination (in line with WSAVA guidelines). We are devoted and sensible pet owners and farmers who want to work closely with our vets to achieve the best possible health for our animals with the minimal amount of chemical intervention.
In order to do this, we all understand that sometimes pharmaceutical products are necessary BUT, some animals may not respond to this option or have shown severe adverse effects. It is therefore useful to know that there are other options available either after you’ve tried drugs or before you go down that route because you have knowledge of your animal’s history. Responsible pet owners want to have a conversation with their vet about this and we are confident that any vet worth their salt will also want to have this conversation.
All of our supporters know that various holistic modalities can work for their animals and sometimes they don’t, just as drugs can work and sometimes, they don’t. Our supporters also know that there is a time and a place for pharmaceutical intervention; emergency care is an obvious example. But, following emergency care, and even before the vet gets there, a modality such as homeopathy can be very useful. You can address the shock of an accident while waiting for the vet and remedies are well known by homeopaths to speed up healing following surgery. This is integrated care at its best. It can also empower the vet nurse who is handling the situation either till the vet arrives or during surgery after-care. (Look out for our blogs on this topic.)
We are all familiar with the dog with arthritis who does well on Green Lipped Mussel or Omega 3. These sort of products are available on many vet surgery shelves. They are often used successfully before conventional treatment is needed, staving off the day when Metacam or similar has to be used to prolong quality of life. Similarly, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs, hydrotherapy or the bodywork therapies can be invaluable in these situations. This demonstrates well how alternative, conventional and complementary care would be used in treating one animal at different stages of the disease.
What if this drive to ridicule holistic veterinary practitioners eventually gets a hold? The result is that young vets might be turned against CAM particularly by being fed inaccurate information about the effectiveness of the Big Five - acupuncture, homeopathy, herbs, chiropractic and osteopathic care. As a result, not only have our new vets lost a whole tool-kit of options available to them to achieve the best possible outcome for their patients, but we lose the skill pool of veterinary CAM knowledge used to develop popular and commonly used products. We also stand to lose the understanding of raw feeding and the usefulness of the Big Five in integrated veterinary healthcare. This leaves the responsible animal owner not only with just pharma options, but also a complete absence of knowledge on alternatives. This is a future CAM4animals will fight hard to resist.
So, to be very clear…. CAM4animals recognises the need for pharmaceutical intervention. We also support the use of alternative healthcare, particularly because it protects the veterinary skill pool able to provide the knowledge and research needed to ensure a future for complementary and integrated healthcare.
Can we please have a halt to the ridiculing of the responsible animal owner by anti-CAM vets and their sceptic supporters. This is not helping to engender a good relationship between vets and their paying customers. We also call for a halt to the aggressive demands by anti-CAM vets for their customers to provide information and evidence of alternative medicines. There is a large body of evidence available and there are also fully trained colleagues for specialist help. Ideally, CAM should be comprehensively covered in vet and vet nurse courses. In the meantime, here are some good places for both vet and animal owner to start finding out accurate information.
Our blog here! – we are working to provide accurate and well-informed information on all forms of CAM.
AO The Association of Animal Osteopaths
ABVA The Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists
BAHVS The British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons
BAVH The British Association of Veterinary Herbalists
BVCA The British Veterinary Chiropractic Association
CMG The Canine Massage Guild
HRI The Homeopathy Research Institute HRI
MCA The McTimony Chiropractic Association
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and keep a few cattle and sheep that I started to think a bit harder about nutrition. Simplistically, I believed that cattle and sheep lived in fields and ate grass – let’s face it, a three-year-old child could tell you that! My livestock had the good fortune to be kept in this way, but not the cattle at the nearby dairy farm, where the poor creatures were on very nearly a zero grazing system (not at all uncommon). I felt strongly that this was wrong and was chatting to the herd manager one day when he asked me why I fed my dogs biscuits. Well, to say this was a lightbulb moment would be putting it mildly!
It was also interesting that my large animal vets were telling me NOT to worm my sheep and cattle, but rather to look at faecal samples for parasite eggs. On the other hand, my dog vets were telling me to deworm and flea treat them monthly. How did this make sense?
Another turning point was the opportunity to attend the Homeopathy at Wellie Level course, introducing farmers to using homeopathy as part of their stock management. This course absolutely blew my mind. I’d been interested in homeopathy for ages, largely due to hearing vets talking about what rubbish it was ~ I am rather contrary! It made so much sense to work WITH the body rather than against it, wherever possible, and I have seen astonishing results with my livestock, my dogs and myself.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had my eyes opened in these ways. It makes me very sad that my professional governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, is so un-supportive of vets who are open minded enough to explore the whole gamut of ways to help keep animals well – that’s all their guardians want, and surely the animals themselves too. I am lucky to work closely with vets who focus on the importance of real, species appropriate foods and to have my own animals treated by vets offering acupuncture, homeopathy and many of the other treatment modalities frowned upon by the RCVS.
My own experience certainly isn’t statistically significant, but losing my first dog aged nine who was absolutely riddled with cancer and having been fed on kibble, compared to losing my second dog aged just short of 17 and having been raw fed, not vaccinated (but regularly titre and worm tested) and rarely having any pharmaceutical medicines, convinces me that I have followed the right path, and I am determined to do what I can to encourage others to do likewise.
I am looking forward to popping in here from time to time to give you more Vet Nurse stories and information. Meanwhile, you can find more information here:
Morag Sutherland RVN, APDT, ABTC
Morag is a Registered Veterinary Nurse and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK) and the Association of INTO Dogs. Morag has a special interest in nutrition for dogs and horses, particularly in how it affects their behaviour. She is co-owner of Gelert Behaviour Training, which offers dog and other pet training services, as well as regular workshops, talks and events across the Midlands, including Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons, BAHVS, 2019 Annual Conference was an inspiring conference held in the stimulating setting of Stirling University and huge thanks must go to vet Dr Wendy McGrandles for organising and chairing it. It was appropriately titled Alive and Kicking as everyone’s enthusiasm for homeopathy is clearly undiminished and vets are reporting an upsurge in enquiries from owners keen to access holistic veterinary care for their animals. As ever, the conference was multinational with attendees from Japan, USA, Germany, France and The Netherlands as well as the UK. It was a great opportunity to take stock, discuss the latest techniques and principles, and strengthen our resolve to remain at the cutting edge of veterinary medicine. Homeopathic vets are, indeed, alive and kicking and will continue to contribute to the best in animal care that vets across the country provide.
As with all fields of veterinary science, it’s important to keep up to date with evolving techniques and developments. Delegates enjoyed a diverse programme including new insights in the following areas:
Some of these lectures and discussions will appear in more detail in the CAM4animals blog later in
the year, but here are some of the highlights:
Dr Lise Hansen described one of many successful case studies highlighted over the weekend. This involved a white German Shepherd Dog with such severe skin issues and extensive whole-body hair loss that euthanasia seemed to have been the only reasonable option. However, four weeks after single dose of the appropriate constitutional remedy, which was prescribed according to the dog’s temperament and physical symptoms, she returned to the clinic unrecognisable with a rapidly growing full coat of luxuriant white hair. Homeopathy used like this is so much more than an acute remedy for a particular condition. It should be noted that no external preparations were used in this case study since these are often contraindicated as they can suppress symptoms rather than cure.
Dr Shelley Epstein covered the Vijayaker Principles. These incorporate the understanding of the principles of embryology, genetics and immunology. They consider the role of suppression in illness and how deep this suppression goes within the body. They can also inform the way we approach diagnosis and prescribing in order to enable a cure.
Dr Nick Thompson gave a presentation on food and homeopathy – would Hahnemann (the founder of homeopathy) have supported raw feeding? On balance, Nick concluded that he would.
On a more sombre, but serious note, Dr David Reilly gave a thought-provoking lecture as a reminder that vets have a suicide rate of four times that of the general public and two times that of any other healthcare professional, reflecting the current concern for health and wellbeing within the veterinary sector as a whole. He covered the need to grow through challenge and to find ways of
accessing hope and positive action to stave off the negativity which can lead to depression. These considerations are useful for anyone under stress of course, and it’s important that people are generally nurtured and mutually supported.
A big thanks must also go to our corporate sponsors:
These companies all produce top quality holistic animal care products, and each gave very informative presentations.
Lee Kane, a qualified pharmacist from Freemans Homeopathic Pharmacy, long time sponsors of the BAHVS Conferences, has developed a harmonious relationship with both the Veterinary Medicines
Directorate and the US Food and Drug Administration by approaching them in a spirit of cooperation. I would suggest that he would be an excellent ambassador to give the RCVS a balanced view of homeopathy given that he successfully runs a conventional and homeopathic pharmacy side by side.
Rowan Sanderson from raw food company Bella and Duke, spoke about ‘The Role of Lectins in Leaky Gut’ which left me wondering what on earth is safe to eat! He explained that lectins are sticky plant proteins which herbivores can digest but humans and dogs cannot. Zonulin is the gatekeeper of intestinal permeability and is implicated in coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes. Grains and lectins cause zonulin to be released which interferes with the “tight junctions” between cells that line the intestine and leads to a torrent of gut bacteria coated with lipopolysaccharides entering the bloodstream. The body then floods the bloodstream with cytokines which regulate immunity and inflammation and may eventually lead to auto immune disease if this reaction is continually repeated. Auto immune disease is the result of three key factors - genetic predisposition, intestinal permeability and sufficient stressors including grains and lectin-rich plants. Pea lectin, often found in dog food, for example, can bind to taurine which may be a factor in the development of cardiomyopathy in certain dogs. Bella and Duke is an example of grain free, low lectin food.
On a different note, Dr Ilse Pedlar talked about the recently published Poetry Anthology, Giving Voice. This is a fund-raising collaboration between BAHVS and CAM4animals with contributions from vets, doctors and supporters of complementary medicine. It’s available to buy for £10 from BAHVS and Helios Pharmacy. All profits go to CAM4animals.
Finally, all delegates were delighted that Dr Sue Armstrong is seeing animal patients once again and being part of a strong homeopathic veterinary community treating patients on the ground with a range of modalities and professional expertise at their fingertips. An update from CAM4animals was delivered as only Sue can to a receptive and appreciative audience.
Everyone went away feeling energised and enthusiastic about the future of veterinary homeopathy and CAM in general. Informed choice is crucial in healthcare and there is increasing support from a wide range of animal owners and farmers who would like access to a full range of veterinary healthcare options. CAM vets, like any other specialists, can also play a significant role in the referral sector – providing back up to primary care vets in certain circumstances.
I would love to see another conference where mainstream vets can gain more information and see the potential of CAM that would enable their individual practices to widen the service they can offer clients.
Dogs can go through life coping with underlying physical conditions and many of these go undiscovered for many years. Many of my canine physiotherapy patients originally come for behavioural therapy where we discover the behaviour problems are a result of hidden pain.
In part one we looked at behavioural signs of hidden musculoskeletal problems and how they can be misunderstood. In part two we will be looking at postural signs that can indicate an underlying problem which may be causing your dog difficulty. Most people assume that if their dog can run and jump they do not have any musculoskeletal problems. Surely if they were in pain they wouldnt do that would they?
Well yes, they would, and they do. As we discussed in part one, dogs are amazing creatures with four legs, which means they can shift weight off the bad limb/area and carry on. This is how they manage to go on for many years without anyone realising. They can do this until the other limbs suffer from the extra strain, which is when they become obviously lame. However, there are signs much earlier on, if you know what to look for.
Watch your dog in different situations and notice whether they are pointing one or more feet out to the side or in towards the opposite leg. Are their feet very close together or far apart when they stand still? Do they seem to be leaning to one side slightly and leaning more on one limb at the front or back? Do they keep their hind limbs forward under their body rather than slightly behind them when they stand? Are the nails scuffed or excessively worn or long on any of the toes? Are any of the pads worn to one side? Look at your dogs footprints when they are wet, walking in snow or sand. Are they even?
These things can all indicate under or over-use of a limb and can indicate increased or reduced weight bearing. It can also tell you if they are not picking certain feet up cleanly or if they have altered they way they stand on a particular limb.
Look at them at different times or in different positions as sometimes things are more obvious than others, for example, when they are tired.
Jake before and after a walk
Look closely at your dog from in front, behind and above. Do they have bigger muscles on one side than the other? Use your hands to feel both sides at the same time. Do they feel bigger on one side than the other? Common places to notice this are over the hindquarters and the shoulders.
Again, these observations can tell you that they are using one side more than the other. look for subtle differences to catch the early signs. See if you can feel the bony areas around and between the muscles slightly on one side more than the other.
Muscle wastage on the right limb, which is the side of the weaker hip.
Notice coat changes. These can creep in very gradually or be dramatic changes that come in quite fast. taking regular photographs of your dog can help you see if something is new or not.
Does the coat feels brittle, dry or scurfy in specific areas and different in others? Are there areas of fur that constantly stick up or out? Are there swirls or partings where the hair changes direction or lies flat or raised? Is it harder to run your fingers through the coat in certain places?
These signs can all indicate signs of strain in nearby or underlying soft tissues where circulation may be compromised or there is muscle tension. The patterns may not be where the problem is but they could tell you your dog is using their body in a way that is putting it under strain. Combined with the other observations we are looking at, they can give you extra information and clues.
Note the swirls and partings in the coat along the length of the spine.
Lying and sitting
Does your dog always lie on one side? Do they always sit on one side? Do they always get up using the same leg first? If you are training your dog do they seem ‘stubborn’ or ‘slow’ when you ask them to sit, lie or stand? Do you have difficulty getting a tidy, even sit? Do they take their time getting up or down? Do they fidget?
Maybe they cant use one or more of their limbs properly. Perhaps there is a joint problem preventing them from flexing and extending their limbs to the extent needed to sit or lie correctly or get up efficiently.
Lying with one hind limb positioned to make getting up easier. Just the paw pads are in contact with the floor for easy push off whilst sparing the more worn hip on the right side.
Filming your dog can tell you a lot. If you have a slow motion function on your phone you can use that. If not you can run normal film through one of the many slow motion apps available. Slowing it right down can help you see small signs as your dog moves. It can also be really useful to show your vet to illustrate what you are seeing as these things are rarely picked up in a vet consult room,especially if the signs are subtle.
Can your dog turn both ways easily? You can use widely spaced weave poles to check if your dog can do this. if you do agility does your dog tend to go wide one way on weaves, or both ways? Do they struggle to come round for jumps or obstacles from the right or left? Do they always turn one way during everyday activities? Look closely.
Can your dog get in and out of the car or on and off the sofa easily and cleanly or do they catch their hind limbs or pull up with their front limbs? Can they climb the stairs slowly? Many dogs run up and down to minimise the discomfort and may ‘bunny hop’ through most running and jumping exercises (using both hind limbs together to push off).
Does your dog pull on the lead? This may be because its uncomfortable to load the hindlimbs, causing them to lean forward and be unbalanced
Leaning on the forelimbs causing pulling on the lead.
Does your dog not want to do things they used to? Have they changed their patterns? Maybe they are choosing to lie in unusual places or on unusual surfaces? Do they seem more nervous or afraid than they used to? Have they always been nervous or afraid? Have they stopped interacting with other dogs or have they always been reluctant to do so? Are they growling at the groomer now? Have they always growled at the groomer? Do they seem afraid to go for a walk or stop and refuse to walk part way through? Many so called ‘stubborn’ dogs actually are having problems doing what you want them to do.
As I said at the beginning, dogs can go for many years of their lives with a hidden condition. So if they have always struggled with handling or interactions with others then it is worth getting them checked over thoroughly. Even if they ‘have always been like that’. If there are sudden changes we tend to suspect a problem easier than if the problems have always been there but vary in degrees of severity. Remember dogs can be struggling with these issues from a very young age, even as a very young puppy. As they grow up, people then think its just how they are, as musculoskeletal issues are not considered unless dogs are older. So, its possible that a dogs life and happiness could be completely changed if a condition was discovered at a very young age, the pain was managed and the dog could feel comfortable and capable of everyday activities without painful repercussions.
I hope this gives you some pointers as to signs of hidden problems in your own dogs.
Julie Moss BSc. Hons., AdvCertVPhys, Dip.APhys.
Julie is a canine behaviourist, veterinary physiotherapist and TTouch Practitioner. She started Best Behaviour in 2005, which has since become part of her new venture, Canine Mind and Body Balance. She has a special interest in integrative veterinary care, where CAM therapies play an important role in truly holistic animal care. Her passion is working with older animals to give them back the best quality of life possible and she is committed to education and enabling people to recognise early signs of lameness in our dogs.
Where on earth do I start to summarise a weekend with the Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) conference in London?
The breadth and calibre of speakers was exceptional. There were over eighty speakers, all scientists with sound academic credentials, showcasing the high calibre cutting-edge research taking place globally. As Prof Vladimir Voeikov (Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University) said “Homeopathy does not contradict modern physics or chemistry … it has a very solid, scientific foundation.” I so wished that the President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) had been able to find the time to be there.
Presentations ran from 9am to 7pm either formally via 15 minute presentations or casually where we could speak to scientists, vets and doctors running specific research programmes advertised on their own poster stand. These poster talks were perhaps the best for me, since I could speak to the presenter about their trials and how this may be relevant to our CAM4animals followers. We hope
to have some blogs on this research in the next few months as studies are published.
Veterinary homeopathy research around the world is getting exciting. Take the Instituto Argonauta in Brazil who find that they can control liver enzymes (which increase as a result of anti-fungal medication used to solve fungal problems typical of the region) in Magellanic penguins through the use of ultra-diluted medicine. The veterinary surgeon at the Instituto’s aquatic centre used standard liver enzyme tests and showed clear and beneficial liver enzyme changes following treatment with Carduus marianus 6c. The conclusion was that the response to homeopathic treatment was similar to the allopathic treatment BUT without any of the unpleasant adverse effects. Homeopathy was easy to administer and cheaper.
There was a talk from Dr Oskan Tasinov, a microbiologist from the Medical University of Varna, Bulgaria. He showed that Ferrum phos tissue salts affects cell proliferation and gene expression. This reminded me not to underestimate these little gems. Tissue Salts were originally devised by Wilhelm Henrich Schussler in the late 1800s as a nutritional therapy. Rather than treating “like with like” (as is the case with orthodox homeopathic medicine) Schuessler Tissue Remedies treat ailments by correcting imbalances or deficiencies in the body’s cell nutrition. Tissue Salts still maintain
physical quantities of the original substances, although in minute form (6x).
Professor Leoni Bonamin, who works at the Graduation Program in Environmental and Experimental
Pathology - Universidade Paulista (UNIP), spoke about her research in homeopathy and high dilutions. She uses in vitro and physicochemical methods and her main project is the "Study of the biological effects of homeopathic remedies in vitro and correlation with their physicochemical
properties. Leoni showed how homeopathy can have a beneficial effect on resolving environmental pollution. Her research found that by using Glyphosate in 6c potency, there was a positive effect upon a Glyphosate damaged microcrustacean called Artemia salina. These brine shrimps are hugely important in economic and ecological terms. Not only does this demonstrate the efficacy of homeopathy, but has astounding potential for redressing the effects of environmental damage and furthering conservation objectives. In another field trial treating monkeys during a Yellow Fever outbreak, Prof Bonamin was able to show that Phosphorus 30c added to a natural water source can still be measured 72 hours later indicating that the remedy is still evident. She did this by using a process where Phosphorus 30c and water samples were filtered twice, diluted 1:100, succussed and added to methylene violet for spectrophotometry.
There was a strong Brazilian contingent who showed the effectiveness of homeopathy in cattle. In large extensive breeding programmes, they used various remedies in mineral salts and in the water. Talita Nader and her team used a combination of Staphysagria, Cina, Sulphur and Tick in isotherapeutic form in order to treat ticks in Brazilian cattle achieving an 80% reduction in tick infestation as a result. Other research showed lower somatic cell counts in the milk of antibiotic resistant dairy cattle in Spain when treated with remedies, indicating the potential of homeopathy to help in the fight against AMR, anti-microbial resistance.
There is no doubt that homeopathy continues to show great promise around the world. Whilst the lab-based trials were interesting, it was exciting to see actual case studies of both animals and humans. Dr Ana Valle reported on the successful use of Viscum album in the treatment of a melanoma in a dog and Dr Cideli Coelho reported on the benefits of Arnica montana and Papaver somniferum to assist in anaesthesia recovery, and as an analgesia for dogs that underwent an ovariohysterectomy. It’s this kind of information that is useful for us pet owners to know. CAM4animals will share links to the research highlighted once it is published.
Suffice to say, there were scores of impeccable research studies in both Randomised Controlled
Trials and in vitro studies delivered by the elite of scientific research and homeopathy. The energy
ran high with people meeting face to face after years of on-line friendships, new collaborations built
and new ideas for studies. Best of all for me is the sense of utter hilarity I now experience when I
see our detractors demand we show them the evidence. What a shame a representative from the
RCVS couldn’t make it.
This is a full length article, so please pop the kettle on, make a brew, sit down and enjoy!
The current situation
The fundamental right to the freedom of choice in the healthcare of our animals is currently being eroded by governing bodies in several countries including the UK by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), which published a controversial statement on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in 2017. This most recent position statement effectively bans alternative treatment unless conventional treatment is given before or alongside, thus rendering it complementary.
This article will demonstrate that alternative veterinary modalities used exclusively may, in certain circumstances, be in the best interests of the animal. They may also be useful as an integrated part of the animal’s overall veterinary healthcare package. Unfortunately, the RCVS’s view on CAM casts a wide shadow on treatment protocols and can limit vets from referring animals on for CAM treatments. Many CAM modalities can be offered as successful first line treatment, giving a valuable alternative to the purely pharmaceutical drug approach, which may bring with it the risk of unwanted side effects and antibiotic resistance.
To this end, the RCVS 2017 statement will be discussed and critically analysed, followed by the response of CAM4animals, a consumer group representing a wide range of animal owners, farmers, and CAM vets and practitioners. The article will conclude by suggesting a possible way forward to benefit all concerned, particularly our animals.
It is important to state that all vets, including those who use CAM and holistic approaches, are governed by their professional codes of conduct and the welfare of the animal must be paramount in whatever treatment is selected. In no way does this article seek to dismiss conventional treatments as a first line option or in emergency situations.
The ongoing discussion around the RCVS statement
On November 2nd 2017 the RCVS issued a new position statement on CAM, including homeopathy. It states:
“Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles. In order to protect animal welfare, we regard such treatments as being complementary rather than alternative to treatments for which there is a recognised evidence base or which are based in sound scientific principles. It is vital to protect the welfare of animals committed to the care of the veterinary profession and the public’s confidence in the profession that any treatments not underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles do not delay or replace those that do.”
Anyone who is familiar with homeopathic research would take issue with this statement, starting with the first line: “Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use.” This is unquestionably incorrect. Research studies continue to be published in peer reviewed journals, demonstrating the effective use of homeopathic remedies in animals. A prime example of animal research can be found in the following study where homeopathy was used to replace antibiotics in a case of E. coli in piglets with highly successful results (Camerlink et al., 2010).
The Italian Homeopathic data base of veterinary research studies (Marino, F.V.) features a collection of studies on pets and/or livestock animals treated with homeopathic medicines. The source is mostly PubMed (The US National Library of Medicine) and many have positive findings, with several demanding more research. There are also extensive studies listed here: Americans for Homeopathy Choice (2019). These sites are simply a sample of specific veterinary research: there are many more. It is difficult to imagine how the RCVS can dismiss such evidence, or at least fail to research it further. In addition, there are many high-quality research trials on humans via these data bases: (CORE-Hom) and (Bell, I. 2018).
Similarly, I question “Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles.” Homeopathy has its own, very strict set of principles which I outlined in an earlier article ‘Clarification of the Basic Homeopathic Principles’ (Hpathy.com: 2017).
In short, homeopathy is not based on the same principles as conventional medicine in that it treats the whole individual rather than singular symptoms and is hard to test using the randomised controlled trials (RCT’s) by which conventional medicine is typically gauged. However, there is on-going revolutionary research giving insight into how homeopathy might work as evidenced by the New Horizons in Water Science Conference at The Royal Society of Medicine in 2018. Eminent scientists (with no homeopathic bias) including Nobel Laureates, were assembled from around the world. They met to discuss the latest in their findings and revealed that current research is bridging the gap between mainstream science and the cutting-edge science surrounding the homeopathic mechanism of action and Ultra High Dilutions.
The RCVS considers that there is a lack of scientific rationale for homeopathy, thus it needs to be complementary rather than alternative. The words “lack of evidence base” in reference to homeopathy are touted frequently despite the fact many trials have been undertaken, as detailed above. In addition, it is difficult to quantify the vast number of cases treated which are evidenced empirically. What has to be taken into account, are the paradigmatic differences in the two systems of medicine. Systematic reviews, meta -analysis, RCT’s and controlled studies rarely do justice to homeopathic treatment because homeopathy treats the patient and not the disease.
It is imperative to understand that some things do not always make scientific sense in the first instance. However, knowing that they do exist, such as the phenomenon that is gravity, means it can be acceptable for them to be outside the realm of what science can currently explain. Another example is the action of aspirin, which was widely used, and its effectiveness lauded many years before its action was understood. (Walach, 2001). In addition, it is worth considering that both Louis Pasteur and Galileo were initially ridiculed and discredited, yet their theories were eventually embraced and changed science as we once knew it.
The RCVS statement goes on to say: “It is vital to protect the welfare of animals committed to the care of the veterinary profession.” Absolutely. This is why those of us involved in holistic medicine integrate it into our practices; we are not limited to one approach, we have the benefit of education and experience in many different therapies. This optimises rather than threatens animal welfare. The response to the global antibiotic resistance crisis is a good example. The College of Medicine and Integrated Health (2018) stated that “GPs who are trained in complementary medicine including homeopathy, prescribe less antibiotics than GPs without integrative medicine training.” This statement is applicable to those vets who also have the advantage of extensive training in both systems of medicine. This should be embraced and applauded by critics. Indeed, banning the use of homeopathy as a first line treatment under RCVS’s new guidelines is counterintuitive given the dangers surrounding antibiotic use, particularly where further research is being encouraged into homeopathy and herbs: (IAHV: 2017) and (NIHM: 2018).
My advice would be: if homeopathy or other CAM modalities work, is safe and prescribed by qualified vets or doctors, then use it. Veterinary medicine also has to deal with resistant superorganisms, adverse drug reactions, and the problems caused by polypharmacy. Alternative methods of treatment should be widely researched and, where proven to be effective, incorporated into treatment regimes. Likewise, it goes without saying that a purely conventional approach should be subjected to the same scrutiny in terms of research and results.
The RCVS’ rationale and The Faculty of Homeopathy’s response
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, animal owners and keepers are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that their animals’ welfare needs are met. One of those basic welfare needs is protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
The RCVS states: “We consider that this welfare need is best served by the use of treatments underpinned by sound scientific principles, and would recommend that both vets and animal owners have this uppermost in their minds when considering treatment.”
The Faculty of Homeopathy’s statement in response to the RCVS can be read in full here. Their response reflects the concerns of their members and pet owners who embrace holistic health modalities. They point out that the RCVS states it expects veterinary surgeons to offer “treatments underpinned by a recognised evidence base.”
The Faculty states: “The evidence base for many conventional medicines used in veterinary practice as well as human medicine is inconclusive. If the RCVS were to apply the same evidential criteria used for homeopathy to all treatments, there would be far fewer clinical options available to the profession.”
There is growing interest in homeopathy from animal owners as they see conventional medicines regularly failing or producing adverse side-effects. This is especially true in livestock farming where there is a drive to reduce the dependence on antibiotics in the light of concerns about antimicrobial resistance, AMR. At such a time, it is contradictory that the RCVS fails to engage with vets who are best placed to offer advice on the appropriate use of homeopathy.
It is clear that by adopting their position in relation to homeopathy and other complementary therapies, the RCVS is limiting the clinical freedom the veterinary profession has always enjoyed. Moreover, in allowing a vocal minority to influence a policy stance, the RCVS has set a dangerous precedent where similar groups could not only influence and further restrict clinical freedom in the future, but also stifle innovation, research and the development of new treatments. This presents a far greater threat to animal welfare than homeopathy could ever do.
The RCVS statement has taken away its members’ freedom to choose what is the best course of treatment for an ill animal. The RCVS has also applied a blanket ban to the use of all alternative therapies even where there are successful trials. This blinkered approach is not just applicable to the RCVS. For instance, acupuncture for humans has become the latest casualty. NICE has failed to include it as a recommended treatment for urinary incontinence (British Acupuncture Council, 2019) even though they were alerted to a high-quality study demonstrating its effectiveness.
The response to the RCVS from CAM4animals
CAM4animals was formed because of a widespread concern that the RCVS Statement is a ban on all alternative modalities reducing both the clinical freedom of vets and customer choice in veterinary healthcare. Initially, CAM4animals launched a Care2 petition to allow members of the public to show their support for holistic vets and this achieved well over 21,500 signatures within a year.
Following on from this, an Animal Owners Charter was devised in order to further support holistic health choices and ensure informed choice (and consent) for all proposed treatment plans for their animals. Much of the Charter should be common practice since it is included in the RCVS Code of Conduct. Nevertheless, there are animal owners who have not experienced this, hence the need for the Charter.
CAM4animals audit reveals shaky foundations for RCVS position statement
CAM4animals acknowledges that CAM, including homeopathy, should be rigorously examined, as should all forms of veterinary medicine. However, it became evident that CAM in general, and homeopathy in particular, were not given adequate consideration in the discussion and development of the RCVS statement.
After much lobbying, CAM4animals received the documents used by the RCVS on which they based their statement. CAM4animals conducted an in-depth audit of the RCVS documents and found that they were factually weak, scientifically flawed and narrow in scope. In summary they found the following:
In addition, CAM4animals is concerned that RCVS Council members have been seemingly influenced by non-veterinary organisations which promote science scepticism regarding CAM in general and homeopathy in particular. The result is that RCVS’s own members are now placed in the vulnerable position of being formally disciplined and having to provide evidence to support the use of treatments they are legally and professionally qualified to practice and which have supporting evidence from their professional bodies. Evidence the RCVS appears to have chosen to disregard.
The RCVS denies that there has been any change to their position and yet repeatedly states that only treatments backed by sound, scientific evidence can be given. Although their statement is clearly biased towards making this relevant to CAM and homeopathy in particular, it is logical that this evidence requirement should apply to all treatments. Yet we know that many treatments offered by conventional vets have not been backed up with specific research on their application to a broad spectrum of species, but vets are able to choose to use such treatments without fear of censure from the RCVS. The RCVS has placed the onus on the vet to provide the evidence to support his/her use of an alternative treatment. The RCVS do not see their role as researchers which may go some way to explain why they did not examine homeopathy and other CAM adequately when considering their latest position statement. The implications of publishing the statement without engaging with all relevant stakeholders and gathering all the evidence in support of these treatments is consequently jeopardising animal welfare and compromising the position of their holistic veterinary colleagues.
What is particularly significant and disturbing is the fact that the RCVS report was based on flawed studies. These are outlined below and shown in more depth here.
Science & Technology Committee EC2 Report, 2010
This is a non-scientific report compiled by a committee of 14 MPs, only four of whom considered it and only three ratified it with the remaining one abstaining concerned by the “balance of witnesses”. One of the four is an associate of Sense About Science which actively campaigns against CAM. An independent critique by Earl Baldwin of Bewdley concluded that the report was “an unreliable source of evidence about homeopathy.” His view is of particular significance given his familiarity with S&T Committee procedures and his involvement in the 1999-2000 S&T Committee on CAM. As a result, the 2010 report caused sufficient concern for 70 MPs to sign an Early Day motion. It was subsequently dismissed by the Department of Health.
The Lancet Report, Shang et al., 2005
This report was incorporated into evidence for the S&TC EC2 Report above. Its findings are clearly unreliable and outdated. It has been superseded by at least 41 published placebo-controlled randomised trials, which would have been suitable for inclusion but were ignored. Read more on this here.
NHMRC, The Australian Report, 2013
This report shows evidence of deliberate bias and misreporting. As a result, it is currently under investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman for “scientific misconduct”. I recommend further reading here.
EASAC Statement on Homeopathy, 2017
This is based on the flawed EC2 Report and the biased NHMRC Report above. It includes second-hand scientific analysis and excludes quality evidence from a wider body of homeopathic research supporting its efficacy. Read more here.
Given all the post publication stakeholder responses to the statement and CAM4animals findings -particularly the flawed reports and the influence of non-veterinary organisations which promote science scepticism - everyone should be gravely concerned about how these documents were used as the ‘evidence’ on which the RCVS Council decided to change a well-balanced and long held policy statement.
In addition, I feel there is a vast amount of confusion around homeopathy as evidenced by the chaotic analysis of a study which concluded that homeopathy only appears to work because of ‘perceptual errors’: (RCVS: 2017) which stated (my emphasis):
“Therefore, animals with conditions that could be treated by an approved veterinary medicine are going without effective treatments in favour of ineffective homeopathic products. Furthermore, not all homeopathic products are neutral in their effect and are sometimes administered in highly concentrated forms that can potentially harm patients. Although homeopaths report that their remedies are effective when used in their practice, efficacy beyond placebo is not apparent in well-controlled clinical trials that eliminate biases and other non-specific effects.”
I am seriously not sure how homeopathy can be referred to as “placebo” and “ineffective” and then, in complete contrast, “all homeopathic products are not neutral in their effect and sometimes administered in highly concentrated forms that can potentially harm patients” in the same paragraph. This nonsensical account of homeopathy goes to show the ignorance with which it is frequently faced. There is a knock-on and compounding effect with one poorly written paper being incorporated into the next and so on. Furthermore, there is a frequent lack of understanding by critics of this very complex therapy which requires much in-depth study and practice.
The Austrian model - one to take on board
In contrast, the Vets Österreichische tierärztekammer (Austrian Veterinary Chamber) released their position statement in January 2019 stressing the importance of integrative medicine and CAM. The modalities they embrace are homeopathy, chiropractic, osteopathy, phytotherapy, acupuncture (and TCM) and osteopathy. They do NOT rule them out as alternative therapies and insist on respectful, unbiased communication and education within the profession regarding all forms of CAM. It is suggested by CAM4animals that this would be a good example to follow. I believe this method of working should be adopted globally.
Detractors: social media and sceptic organisations
This article would be incomplete without briefly discussing the effect that certain social media figures and sceptic organisations are having on CAM therapies in the veterinary field. You may have heard of the Good Thinking Society and The Nightingale Collaboration which actively campaign against alternative practices such as chiropractic and homeopathy. Vet Danny Chambers promoted their views and went on to start a petition in 2016 to ban vets from using homeopathy: “A call to ban veterinary surgeons from prescribing homeopathy as a treatment for animals.
This had a mere 3,335 supporters. In contrast, the petition adopted by CAM4animals has almost 22,000 supporters, including animal owners, farmers, vets and CAM practitioners. From 2016 - 2017, The Good Thinking Society promoted Mr Chambers’ view on homeopathy and his position onto the RCVS Council. He worked with the now President of the RCVS to release the statement on CAM in November 2017. This situation, with reference to CAM detractors and their negative effect on veterinary practice as a whole, will be covered in more depth in my next blog in this series for CAM4animals.
The British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) in response to Mr Chambers’ petition issued a statement.
“The whole premise of this campaign is based on the blatant misrepresentation that homeopathic medicines are ‘only water’. This is plainly not true. A global initiative of over 100 researchers from a multiplicity of disciplines (GIRI- Groupe International de Recherche sur l’Infenitésimal: http://giri-society.org/ ) has been studying solutions described as ‘ultra-dilutionse’ for 30 years. They have observed unequivocal evidence of their bioactivity. PubMed alone contains more than 100 papers. Recently, researchers have proven existence of nanoparticles in such solutions.” Since this response was made, considerable developments have been made in relation to such cutting-edge science, see here: (Salter, C: Dec 2018).
Once again, the very fact the petition by Danny Chambers exists, shows how little research these uninformed and sceptical disparagers have done. Chambers stated after the RCVS published its statement, ‘‘I recognise that the majority of veterinary homeopaths are acting with the best of intentions, but unfortunately being well-intentioned but deluded is no substitute for being right, especially when the consequences could lead to unnecessary suffering and even death.’ (Chambers, D, cited by Fearon, R: BMJ.)
When you consider iatrogenic disease (adverse effects of drugs), this statement is not only erroneous in the light of the evidence above, but also short sighted and almost laughable; the irony does not escape me. As with all vets, no homeopathic/holistic vet would intentionally harm an animal. They would simply choose the best method of treatment out of the many options available to them, giving them a greater choice than those limited to one approach - an approach which may come with a host of potential problems and adverse effects.
As was pointed out by the Veterinary Record, “A spokesman for the BAHVS said the (RCVS) council had been ‘seduced’ into a ‘precedent setting restriction on the clinical freedoms the profession has always enjoyed.” The RCVS was now in a position where it could be accused of “putting profits before probity” and “corporations before conscience”, said the spokesman (No evidence for homeopathy, says RCVS, 2017 (Fearon, R. BMJ,: no date)
It is important to note that these claims of suffering and poor practice by anti-CAM campaigners are widely bandied about, but in fact no cases of poor practice by CAM practitioners have actually been brought to the RCVS. All vets are bound by Codes of Professional Conduct. If cases of poor veterinary practice - whether through conventional treatments, lack of treatment, maltreatment or even, in the highly unlikely event, by CAM treatments - are identified, then vets or their clients should bring these to the attention of the RCVS and let them be addressed by their disciplinary procedure.
Subsequent to the RCVS statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) stated that vets using homeopathy are not putting animals at risk. They were responding to a parliamentary question tabled on 28 March 2018 by David Tredinnick MP, who had taken up the cause of vets unhappy at the RCVS position statement. In his written answer the Secretary of State, George Eustice MP, was unequivocal: “The Department does not have any evidence that shows that homeopathic vets are a risk to animal welfare by using homeopathy as an alternative treatment to conventional medicine options.”
Peter Gregory, veterinary dean of the Faculty of Homeopathy, said: “This drives a coach and horses through the Royal College’s reasoning for adopting its anti-homeopathy stance. The argument that homeopathy endangers animal health is spurious, unsubstantiated and wrong.” He continued: “Growing numbers of pet owners and farmers are seeking a more holistic approach to animal health and have found homeopathy can help to achieve this. In light of the Secretary of State’s statement, I call on the Royal College to look again at its position on the use of complementary medicines in veterinary practice.” . Thus, the division of opinion is still evident, and all are looking for justice to be done, for the sake of the animals and those treating them.
The way forward
The following are suggested as a way forward by CAM4animals:
By implementing the above, I feel all the RCVS objectives would be achieved. We would be putting the animal first by enabling a wider range of treatments to be available at the discretion of a qualified vet.
CAM4animals considers that integrating expertly chosen holistic modalities as first line treatments where appropriate (frequently obviating the need for potentially harmful drugs) into veterinary practice would enhance overall animal care. I share this view. Where alternative homeopathic and other holistic treatments have been seen to be effective, it is, in my opinion, unjust and unreasonable that conventional medicine should always take precedence.
The statement from the RCVS, to make conventional medicine the first line of treatment, has been critically analysed here and contested. However, it is appropriate to re-iterate this article does not seek to dismiss conventional treatments as first line or emergency treatment options.
In summing up, I suggest that there should be an overall recognition of the benefits of alternative medicine and that it should be integrated into general veterinary care to be used as first line treatment where appropriate. In addition to homeopathy, this includes chiropractic treatment, osteopathy, acupuncture, herbs, massage and other therapies which have been proven to be effective both empirically and in controlled trials. As shown here, all these therapies are currently seen as complementary under the new RCVS statement and cannot be used in the first instance.
I would strongly suggest that observation and judgment must always take precedence over statistical analysis alone, and that the benchmark for so called standards is changed to include those which have already been proven to be effective.
Clinical evidence in the form of numerous studies, RCTs, Real World Trials and those documented empirically, has been referenced within this article. These demonstrate that the homeopathic approach improves the health of animals and successfully treats a wide range of clinical conditions in veterinary medicine beyond the placebo effect.
In delving further into the RCVS statement and its supporting evidence, there has clearly been little attempt to present a balanced, unbiased view of CAM. The RCVS Council avoided communication with the College’s own CAM qualified members. It ignored positive studies in homeopathy and totally excluded consideration of all other forms of holistic modalities. Instead, to the detriment of animal welfare, they chose to lean on the side of denialism.
If you haven’t already done so, please sign the CAM4animals charter
Other homeopathic veterinary research sites
Gill Graham, BSc (Hons), BA (Hons), DHMHS
Gill is a busy practicing homeopath and author of many articles for various natural health publications and homeopathic journals; she also sits on various editorial panels. She has a strong sense of duty to educate a wide cross section of people on recent developments and research in CAM therapies and is a tireless advocate for an integrative approach to healthcare and the right to freedom of choice in medicine. She would like to see patients’ options in healthcare naturally expand to include alternative and complementary modalities.
If your initial response is an immediate “no” then keep reading because I may change your mind!
When I mention canine physiotherapy to people I often see their eyes glaze over, or a look of confusion appear on their face. I mean how on earth do you get a dog to do physiotherapy and why would it ever help them?
Well you would be surprised how many dogs out there actually really need it and would benefit from it. The problem is that, because it is so misunderstood, it constantly gets overlooked as a viable treatment for dogs. In addition to that, lameness and musculoskeletal conditions in dogs often go undiscovered until there are very obvious and visible signs of pain. Both vets and owners alike can struggle with the idea that many dogs are coping with various levels of disability without it ever being noticed. I mean surely you would see it if a dog was lame – right? Or surely it would be picked up at the annual vet check?
Wrong! Many dogs have a subtle lameness that is invisible to the untrained eye in most situations. They appear very active and even extremely fit and healthy from the outside. They don’t hold a limb up or fall over and they don’t cry out in pain. They will chase a ball all day and seem to never be tired. They may even compete in sports and win! However this doesn’t mean they have no pain or difficulty.
They also can be missed at the vet health check. A 10 minute vaccination appointment is not adequate to see subtle lameness. In fact, even half an hour in a standard vet consulting room can also reveal nothing. The dog is in a state of high arousal, the room is small, they might be scared. All these things mean you struggle to ‘see’ the signs in that environment.
So what are the signs……..?
The vast majority of my behaviour cases over the last couple of years have had pain as a cause or contributing factor without anyone realising, despite annual vet health checks. Now you might be thinking that your dog does not have a behavioural problem and isn’t limping and therefore they have no need of physio. Hopefully that is true, but my experience tells me there is every chance it isn’t, because the behavioural signs can be misinterpreted. Let me explain.
“He has always been like that” is an expression I hear over and over again from an owner, when I broach the subject of their dog’s behaviour being a clue to a deeper physical problem. For example, the dog that has always barked hysterically when it is playing. Its just having fun – right? Well maybe not. It may be that, via that very behaviour, the dog is displaying signs of not coping due to a physical problem. From the owners perspective it is just something the dog has “always done” and is just “who he is”.
What is very possible is that the dog has “always been like that” because, for example, they have ‘always’ had a luxating patella (kneecap), or mild hip dysplasia, or arthritic joints. They bark hysterically when they play because they are in pain and/or feel unbalanced or unsafe. It doesn’t necessarily mean they would refuse to play. If they are very driven to pursue a behaviour they will often work through a great amount of discomfort to do so. They will also work very hard to please us when we ask them to do something, despite their own discomfort, and this is why it is possible to not ‘see’ considerable pain suffered by them, because they don’t react like we would.
So often dogs like Jake are labelled as ‘nasty’, ‘aggressive’, ‘grumpy’ or ‘dominant’. It is assumed they are purposefully exhibiting these behaviours because they are trying to ‘control’ people or their environment and in a way that is true, but the motivation is not what people assume. They are trying to control things, but not in a domineering or belligerent way. They are trying to control the people and things around them to protect themselves, so they don’t get hurt or feel unsafe. When they growl they are trying to convey their level of concern and worry to you about the situation they are currently in. How else could they tell you they don’t want you to do something they fear?
I was fairly certain as soon as I heard about Jake that he had a pain issue and my advice was to check for physical problems. After x-rays it became apparent that his hips were in shockingly bad shape, especially his right one. It was no wonder he had been ‘misbehaving’ and amazing how active he was. So how was that missed when it was so advanced as a physical problem?
It’s actually really understandable.
Dogs are truly amazing creatures when it comes to compensating for a pain issue. Often you only clearly see the clinical signs of lameness when they have been struggling for a while. They have four legs and so, unlike us, they can shift their weight and movement to the ‘good’ legs and keep going fairly well. Sometimes for many years! Jake had likely had the problem from being a very young dog, so really you have to applaud the fact that he never did anyone serious harm and was so eager to get up and go every day.
He had been guarding the top of the stairs probably because he had been told to go down them by the previous owner. Going down stairs would be painful for him and made worse by the fact that his previous owner might have got frustrated with him ‘not obeying’ the command to go down them because he was being ‘stubborn’. Then he is forced into a painful situation with an angry human close behind him hurrying him up!
He was guarding the sofa for the same reason. When he was told to get off immediately it meant getting to his feet and jumping down. Again, this would be painful and with the angry human assuming he was stubbornly refusing, and getting more and more insistent, it was a doubly uncomfortable situation.
He growled and was unpredictable because, depending on how bad the pain in his hips was that day, he would be less willing to have his hips or back roughly stroked in play or affection because it hurt. That didn’t mean he didn’t like the person trying to be affectionate with him. You may love your partner but if you have a severe migraine and they playfully ruffle your hair or ask you to get up and help them with something, you are likely to not be very friendly if you refuse and they insist you do it and try to pull you out of the chair!
Jake now lives with me because I understand him and as a physio and behaviourist I can see when he has a good day or bad day. He still gets a lot out of life and his pain is carefully managed now, as is his exercise. To see him doing the zoomies around the garden most people wouldn’t be aware he has any issues, (and its not something I encourage him to do, given his problems!). However, there are other more subtle signs if you know what to look for.
So, how as a physio have I helped Jake?
His pain is managed. I know his signs of fatigue so don’t let him over-do it. I have removed exercise that worsens his condition and replaced it with enjoyable alternatives. His weight is managed. He is on a very good quality, non-processed diet. I include certain things in his everyday life that improve his balance and the way he uses his limbs. His bed is a suitable one in a suitable place and I address the secondary signs of compensation in various places on his body if and when he allows it. This last part is the part where physiotherapy can make all the difference as it is often not the offending injury site that causes the most pain but the part they are now using more instead. For Jake that is his front limbs and shoulders and neck.
Most importantly, I appreciate he will have bad days, that he has a level of distrust and worry about some things and in those situations I let him be and allow him to decide how he wants to go about something. I also give him time to do it.
After reading this you may now be wondering if your dog has a problem but still don’t really see how physio can help them. It's a much larger subject than most people think, with more possibilities for your dog than you ever imagined. It's much more than just repeating endless exercises, stretches and massage. Physiotherapy treatment is now very sophisticated with up to date techniques that you and your dog can actually enjoy. In fact, your dog should always leave in better shape than they came in, whether they have a problem or not. I would say every dog could benefit from an annual physio assessment as they age, or even before, to catch problems early and prevent them from completely falling down one day when they have run out of good legs to hide it from you!
Do you now feel your dog may have a problem and don’t know what to do next? Contact a veterinary physiotherapist for help and ask them about an assessment for your dog. This will require a referral from your vet to give them permission and they will relay their discoveries back to your vet so they can decide how to help you. We are good at spotting even the smallest clues (especially if we are also TTouch trained) and helping your dog without stressing them out.
Julie is a canine behaviourist, veterinary physiotherapist and TTouch Practitioner. She started Best Behaviour in 2005, which has since become part of her new venture, Canine Mind and Body Balance. She has a special interest in integrative veterinary care, where CAM therapies play an important role in truly holistic animal care. Her passion is working with older animals to give them back the best quality of life possible and she is committed to education and enabling people to recognise early signs of lameness in our dogs.