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By Richard H Pitcairn, DVM, PhD

Veterinary Homeopathy: What is it?

About 30 years ago I became interested in homeopathic medicine. You might ask why, considering that it was a topic never discussed in veterinary school, and indeed, a word I had never heard until a full decade after graduating from veterinary school.

In brief, the story is like this:  I had practiced in Southern California on a variety of animals and then, later, as part of the university faculty at Washington State University, and was—shall we say—disappointed in the results of treatment. It was especially with the chronic disease conditions that this was apparent to me. It was not that symptoms could not be relieved—they often could—but I did not see, in all honesty, that my patient’s state of health was improved significantly.

This started me on a long search for other ways to treat animals, and after considering Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and a variety of “energetic” modalities that I came across homeopathy and was immediately attracted to it. It may be that it was similar enough to conventional allopathic treatment (the giving of pills) that made me comfortable, but I think, more accurately, that the ideas behind homeopathic philosophy made a great deal of sense to me.

What are these ideas? First and foremost is the understanding of the symptoms of disease. Whereas I had been taught that symptoms were the disease itself, what we were to “get rid of,” the homeopathic understanding is that the symptoms are expressions of the healing process and necessary if health is to be restored.

Let me give an example. If you are injured, say a cut on the arm, then what follows is an inflammatory state as shown by swelling, redness, warmth, and pain. As we know, with time this will result in the cut closing, scabbing over, and eventually completely healing with the reappearance of normal skin . This is an entirely natural process—if there were not these changes then the tissues would not heal.

It is like this: If you wanted to go down to the market it is necessary to prepare your shopping list, grab your purse or wallet, get in the car (or walk there) and enter the market. If you didn’t do these things, you would never get your groceries. In the same way if your body did not go through the steps of inflammation it would never heal. That is its method of working, and there are no shortcuts. It is simply amazing to me how the perspective about symptoms can vary so much. I was taught in veterinary school that symptoms were to be suppressed, eliminated, as much as possible, and here, with homeopathy, it is the completely opposite view—that symptoms are necessary and beneficial.

Wait, you say. My dog has symptoms and is just getting worse! Yes, that is a common experience and why we are susceptible to the erroneous conclusion that the symptoms are the disease.

Then how else can we understand this? Simply this—the symptoms persist because the healing has not occurred yet. It is like you are still driving to the market because you haven’t reached the grocery store yet.

Then what am I to do? My dog is suffering and not getting well. So this brings you to the crossroads. One way to go is to use drugs that reduce the symptoms or make them go away. The other choice is the homeopathic one—to use a medicine that actually enhances the symptom process so the healing is accomplished.

So we come to the second concept:  Healing is possible, but because of obstacles, it is not accomplished, so we can use medicines to enhance the process so that it is completed. This is the homeopathic method.

How do we do this? The basic discovery in homeopathy was that the natural progression of healing in the body can be enhanced if you use a medicine that will produce the same sort of symptoms that are already present.

Here is an example: Let’s say your dog has an allergy to chicken, and if she eats it, breaks out in red, swollen, itchy bumps. There are many homeopathic medicines, derived from plants, minerals, and animal products. One of these is the venom from the honey bee. It happens that the effect of a bee sting is very much like I described as the allergic condition in the dog. So the homeopathic treatment is like this: We give some honey bee venom to the dog having the itchy red bumps and, mirabile dictu, the bumps go away?

Wait, you say, I am not giving my dog any nasty bee venom. That would be worse than what he has now! Ah, but wait. The bee venom is extremely diluted so that a tiny, tiny little dose is given by mouth. It is so small a dose that if you were to take some yourself you would not taste anything different or have any effect from it. But, when your dog has these allergic bumps, the homeopathic preparation of  bee venom (called Apis mellifica) does have an effect and a good one. So here we see demonstrated the method of homeopathic treatment—that we use a substance that produces very similar symptoms but in a very small dose, and this has the effect of enhancing the recovery process that is already going on. Sometimes it is referred to as “like cures like,”—a simple way of expressing this idea—a similar medicine acts to cure a disease with similar symptoms.

This method—the method of homeopathic treatment—is what I have used with my patients over the last 30 years. It is a very exciting and rewarding thing to do and why I wish to share it with you. Next time I will give some examples of how homeopathy has made a significant difference in the lives of animals.

Next: Arnica The Wonder Medicine


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