The Vets Who Make People Feel Better

Some years ago, a well meaning but utterly deluded friend gave me a book entitled Natural Remedies For Your Cat by Christopher Day. It is a slightly disturbing tome that appears to recommend homeopathic remedies for pretty much everything – from fleas to gunshot wounds.

Rational cat lovers might find this book pretty disturbing. In many ways, it is a classic homeopathy text. It sees homeopathy as verging on the panacea, has a brief disclaimer telling owners to seek veterinary help and has a chapter on feline vaccination.

A cat’s immune system is a very finely poised and delicately balanced yet powerful entity in the daily battle for life and health. (…) Deaths, severe illness and chronic mild illness have all been recorded as following closely on vaccination. (…) There is an alternative to conventional vaccination but it has not been efficacy-tested on laboratory animals. No proof of efficacy therefore exists. However, many breeders, show people, cat lovers and catteries now feel strongly that the alternative is as effective as, and, safer than, conventional vaccination.

Christopher Day is not some soft-headed amateur pet healer. Day is a fully qualified vet and paid up member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Recently, his name has been popping up a few times. A friend in the pub said she was going to see him about a troubled horse that was clearly in a lot of pain. As tactfully as possible, I suggested that he had slightly unorthodox ideas and another vet might be more appropriate. I was told that “he was a qualified vet” and that “holistic approaches appeal to me because they ultimately have the patients best interest at heart”. Apparently, they do not fob you off and they take their time. Fortunately, Christopher Day turned out to be far more expensive than ‘mainstream’ vets.

I have also been pointed towards him by a few homeopaths with the idea that a vet practicing homeopathy is somehow proof that it works. Animals do not know about the placebo effect, apparently. We shall explore this canard a little more shortly.

There is something important going on here. Day runs the ‘Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre’ in Oxfordshire. He describes himself as a ‘holistic vet’ and offers the following treatments,

Homeopathy : Herbs : Acupuncture : Moxibustion : Aromatherapy (Essential Oils) : Tissue Salts : Bach Flowers : LASER : Magnet Therapy : Chiropractic Manipulation : Nutrition : Crystals : Ultra-Sound : Physiotherapy : Positive Health : Holistic Medicine : First-Aid : Preventive Medicine

His site says that he specialises in alternative medicine but does not shun conventional medicine “per se”. Apparently, “it is our pleasure not to have to resort to it very often”.

It is difficult to imagine a medical doctor who used homeopathy using such language. Indeed, Peter Fisher, the director of the London Homeopathic Hospital, can be quite circumspect and modest when talking about the capabilities of homeopathy. It is not possible to imagine a doctor writing books like this, offering clinics like this and eschewing conventional treatment without getting into trouble with regulations. In the human medical world, such total embracing of the alternative worldview is almost exclusively the reserve of your non-medically qualified private practitioner.

Bizarrely, if a lay homeopath were to set up a practice to treat animals without a veterinary qualification, they would be breaking the law. Homeopaths may practice freely on humans, but not on cats, budgerigars and whippets. Chris Day himself tells us on his web site that,

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 was put in place to regulate the treatment of animals. Under its provisions, it is basically only veterinary surgeons who may legally diagnose, prescribe, advise on the basis of a diagnosis and perform surgery on animals.

There are exceptions to this. Various massage like ‘manipulative therapies’ are allowed but should be overseen by a vet. The RCVS web site says,

All other forms of complementary therapy in the treatment of animals, including homoeopathy, must be administered by veterinary surgeons. It is illegal, in terms of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, for lay practitioners however qualified in the human field, to treat animals. At the same time it is incumbent on veterinary surgeons offering any complementary therapy to ensure that they are adequately trained in its application.

What does it mean for a homeopathic vet to be “adequately trained in its application”? Since homeopathy is a pseudoscience and without scientific justification, rational or adequate evidence base, how can you be “adequately trained” in it? The idiocy of this position does not go unnoticed within the veterinary field and has been beautifully spoofed by the The British Veterinary Voodoo Society.

The problems of allowing “adequately trained” homeopaths to have free reign on animals is that homeopathic thinking is diametrically opposed to accepted standards of care. Homeopathy is not a complementary therapy that works alongside real medicine. It is, and always has been, strictly alternative. Homeopathy is a ‘complete system of medicine’ that is in opposition to the principles of science-based thinking about health. One of the characteristics of homeopaths is to denigrate real medicine. It is how they differentiate themselves and how they appeal to people who feel they have been let down by conventional care.

The latest handbook for homeopathic vets, the Textbook of Veterinary Homeopathy (Saxton, J. & Gregory, P. Beaconsfield Publishers, Beaconsfield, Bucks UK. 2005) has this to say about mixing homeopathy with conventional treatments…

There is little doubt that most orthodox drugs impede the action of homeopathic remedies. This is not surprising when one considers that the action of most of these medicines is in direct contradiction to that of homeopathy; anything which suppresses a reaction of the body will act counter to homeopathy, and considering the subtle energetic nature of homeopathic medicine it is only logical that such powerful drugs as corticosteroids or NSAIDs will antidote its effects.

and,

Perhaps the most important issue here is to be aware that any orthodox Medication may interfere with the action of a homeopathic remedy and to take account of this in prescribing these medicines. Ideally, all orthodox medication should be stopped prior to commencing treatment with homeopathy.

This book was written by two vets, John Saxton and Peter Gregory, who are members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and Fellows of the Faculty of Homeopaths.

So, at least, homeopathy is a big no go for the amateur vet. The Animal Society of Homeopaths would be an illegal organisation. But, veterinary homeopathy is a strange beast. For a start, homeopathy relies on the concepts of ‘like cures like’. A substance that causes symptoms in the well can cure the ill. And yet, homeopathic ‘provings’ are done on humans. Do these translate to animals? All animals? We know different substances can affect different species in wildly different ways. How does my cat’s response to Sepia differ to mine? I think that maybe I am taking the principle too seriously. Homeopathy also prides itself on the time spent in consultation with their customers in order to come up with a ‘holistic symptom picture’ and an ‘individualised’ remedy. It is this consultation that gives a talking-therapy-like benefit to customers, not the pill iteself. Does Christopher Day spend an hour in a field talking to a herd of cows about foot and mouth and their feelings about the disease, the stresses in their lives, and their hopes for the future, before dropping a vial of plain water in their communal trough? Maybe not.

As far as I can see, Christopher Day is a genuine character who believes that homeopathy is a useful way of treating sick animals. It is my opinion that this is a deeply misguided belief as homeopathy is nothing but a pre-scientific magical belief system based on totally implausible premises and with an evidence-base that is far too weak to suggest that anything real is going on. In such circumstances, one would expect that a regulatory authority would have something to say about this, in order to protect the welfare of animals, prevent owners from wasting money and to protect the professional image of veterinary surgeons.

So, who is regulating animal homeopathy? Day is a member of three organisations. He is a member of the RCVS – he has to be in order to practice. He is a Fellow of the Faculty of Homeopaths, the club reserved for medically trained homeopaths (both doctors and vets) and so can carry the designation VetFFHom. Indeed, he is listed as the Veterinary Dean of the Faculty of Homeopaths. Day is also a member BAHVS, the British Association of Homeopathic veterinary Surgeons. Indeed, Day was for 25 years the Secretary of the BAHVS. Out of all these organisations, who is making sure homeopathy is being practiced responsibly and in the best interest of the welfare of animals?

The Faculty of Homeopaths, although quite outspoken about the excesses of non medically qualified human treating homeopaths, appears to welcome vets into their fold without question. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons appears to wash its hands and not want to interfere. We cannot expect BAHVS to take a meaningful role as their officers, like Day, hold the very beliefs that ought to be questioned. I see little evidence that suggests that anyone wants to tackle the inconvenient problem that homeopathy is a useless placebo therapy.

Of course, we hear that customer choice is what justifies the use of voodoo and homeopathy on animals. It would be wrong to restrict choice, when paying customers, like my friend in the pub, believe it helps their pets and farm animals. The big difference between animals and humans though is who is making the choice. The animals have no say and are silent in the matter. Choice can be such a weasel word and we should be suspicious when politicians use it. We usually do not want a choice of schools. We want our local school to be of a high standard so that we can send our kids their with confidence. We do not want a choice of hospitals. We would rather the closest and most convenient one for ourselves and our families was up to scratch. Choices like these is used to hide inequalities and injustices by people who will usually gain financially, socially or politically.

Giving people a choice between quackery and proper care for their animals hides a huge injustice. It adds no choice to owners since there are false options involved which actually detract from the animal owner’s empowerment. The owner may well feel better for providing ‘holistic’ care to their animal. They may well feel superior and ‘caring more’ than leaving their animal to a standard vet, who may not be able to do too much. But, this is at the expense of the animal who may find it hard to tell us that the magic homeopathy water was ineffective. The owner, full of fresh expectations of improvement in their animal, interprets any sign to justify the expense of their ‘alternative approach’. The usual thinking biases kick in such as post hoc reasoning after regression to the mean, wishful thinking and selection biases. Meanwhile, an animal may still be suffering.

Can it be justified to use a placebo on an animal? The debate about humans being given placebos is interesting. It is a valid discussion because placebos are a function of the recipients beliefs and a placebo may well do some limited good. In animals, such complex social and ritualised beliefs can only be marginal. The function of an animal placebo is to palliate the owner’s anxieties and fears, not the animal’s. This strikes me as unequivocally morally wrong.

18 comments for “The Vets Who Make People Feel Better

  1. stavros
    March 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Spot on Andy! I have recently taken on the homeopathy on animals issue in one of my posts but I hadn’t really though about the human-to-animal mapping implied by Alternative Vets that you mention!

    I have linked to this post as well.

  2. Skeptico
    March 22, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Ah yes, I wrote about The British Veterinary Voodoo Society in 2005. A homoeopathic veterinary surgeon submitted a formal complaint to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons alleging unethical conduct and conduct disgraceful in a professional respect, claiming the vets involved in the voodoo vets site made “derogatory remarks” about veterinary homoeopaths – and demanded the voodoo vets website be taken down.

    Hum… homeopaths demanding all criticism of homeopathy be removed – remind you of anything?

  3. Bob Calder
    March 26, 2008 at 12:49 am

    If homeo-vet is to take hold, it needs to be cheaper than standard care. Thus, I expect that it will take hold in less well-regulated places than GB.

  4. Le Canard Noir
    March 26, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Bob, the evidence I have seen suggests that homeopathic vets may be more expensive than real vets. It looks like people may be willing to pay a premium for the ‘holistic’ services offered. Undoubtedly, people feel better served by a vet who takes longer and that time must be paid for. This is the point of my article. As for regulation in the UK, I see very little to hinder homeopathic veterinary practices. The regulatory body does not appear to think there may be a problem.

  5. Anonymous
    May 28, 2008 at 4:53 am

    I love the bit about the vet earnestly exploring the…stresses, hopes and dreams…of the cows! Great stuff. Cyn

  6. ktribe808
    November 16, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    I am a biologist, college instructor and have a life-long interest in phytochemistry. I also run a private animal sanctuary. I have used homeopathy with my animal charges many times, often AFTER mainstream vets have given up and have claimed nothing more could be done. To claim homeopathy does not work because one can not precisely say how is like saying the only part of the light spectrum to exist is the portion that can be viewed with the human eye.Check out any PDR and one quickly discovers that the majority of medications work but no one knows why. I believe the main reason why homeopathy is viewed so negatively is because this form of healing makes health accessible to ALL, instead of only those can afford treatment.

    • Jon W
      February 5, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      Absolute guff, and it is blatantly more expensive guff if you want to be treated to it.

  7. Le Canard Noir
    November 16, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    In my experience biologists and college instructors are still perfectly capable of self-delusion. And until you are able to show some data that supports your beliefs, I will have to conclude that you are too.

  8. One day
    March 14, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Homeopathy comes in different formats: Just because the names changed there is more than a dozen names its managed to down graged something that can kill as well as heal. The lastes of many names is Torsion Fields.. Torsion Field therapy main stream science refused to believe it exsists so like homeopathy the less well educated think its a joke. Whereas the CIA, MoD and KGB have been experimenting for too many years. Playing mind games..
    Its known as stealth technologies weapon system. Much of this technology is mesured on reverse polarity or phasing. Where most of modern technology should be mesured. Einstein knew all about it.

    • Jon W
      February 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      “Graged”? “Lastes”? “Torsion Fields”? That comment reads like something from The Men Who Stare At Goats put through an Alex Jones filter.

  9. Emlyn
    February 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    @One day: can I have some of what you’ve been smoking?

  10. Juris
    April 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I am vet and I have studied during my PhD years scientific research. Some time ago I was totally sure that “homeopathy just could work”, because of because!
    Then, when I first realized, that such a statement might be wrong, and tried to find an answer. Yes – it looks, that it works, but why then there does not seem to be any scientific evidence. Some homeopathy advocates told me that “it is difficult to prove homeopathy, since it “works in different way”.

    I thought it is wrong, because, of what I studied, I learned, that proving should be possible, even if we are unable to explain the mode of action.

    Again, by my big surprise – I found a big collection of nice publications. Not some – but really hundreds of them. So it is not my intention now to point to all of them, better just I want to point to one booklet, which was quite a surprise for me:

    http://www.pe-medica.si/PDF/Homeopathy%20the%20scientific%20proofs%20of%20efficacy.pdf
    (Or check the web for “Homeopathy: the scientific proofs of efficacy”, if link does not work.)

    Finally, and especially to those, who still say “There is no proof, that homeopathy works”. Anyone can say anything what he thinks is right.
    But – do you know, what makes people so lazy to just “make some clicks” (OK – sometimes register on some scientific sites), first check, if there are really no proof “that homeopathy works”, and only then make a public statement.

    On Chris Day – yes, he is one of the most skilled veterinary homeopaths, I have ever heard of. Give him my warm regards next time you meet him, please.

  11. Maureen Reilly
    January 30, 2014 at 1:20 am

    I am not going to get into a debate about whether or not homeopathy works. However I would like to make the following points in response to the article:
    1) Chris Day is not more expensive than conventional vets. In my experience his services are considerably cheaper. If you have evidence this is not the case please provide figures.
    2) He is very clear in his advice that conventional treatment, prescribed by your own vet should be continued alongside homeopathic remedies.
    3) He will only see animals on referral from their own vet so it is not accurate to suggest that pet owners have to make a choice between allopathic or homeopathic treatment. Both continue alongside each other.

    Given the above points, if people choose to give Chris Day their money surely that is their choice. Given that conventional treatment will still continue, this cannot do any harm. Don’t allow your prejudices to lead you to make misleading and inaccurate statements.

  12. C.A.T Briedah
    January 30, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I seem to have missed this when it was posted a few tears ago so I would like to throw my tuppence worth in now given that Maureen has resurrected it.

    As one of the “rational cat lovers” LCN refers to I can say categorically that this CatQuack is talking out of his Feline Rectum 10C.

    He says that many breeders, show exhibitors and catteries accept alternatives to vaccination. This is just palpable (reiki/reflexological???) nonsense.

    I breed cats. Any breeder who sells cats without vaccinations is an irresponsible cat farmer who should be totally shunned. At a bare minimum cats should have something like Purevax at around 10/11 and 12/13 weeks (two sets of injections) – and no, I do not work for Merial or any other Feline Big Pharma. A responsible breeder will also microchip at the second injection. Then the vaccination record is tied to the microchip number.

    Some breeders do not vaccinate younger kittens for Feline Leukaemia Virus – this will be recorded in the Health Care Card that should accompany a new kitten. The new owner should be advised of this and arrange a vaccination within three months. (Unfortunately there are shades of the Jabbophobes “too many, too young” mantra in this but as long as it gets done then all well and good).

    I also show cats. All cats attending a TICA, GCCF or FIFE/FB show have to show their vaccination record before they are allowed entry. All show applications are explicit with respect to this. Some shows do not “vet in” but the vaccination record is still mandatory.

    I have not used a boarding cattery for many years but when I did a vaccination record was mandatory. I know a number of boarding cattery owners and this is a golden rule for them. I also just checked a few online and the same applies.

    If a breeder, exhibitor or cattery accepts alternatives to proper veterinary care they are morons who are demonstrating zero interest in their pets health and wellbeing – indeed they are jeopardising their lives.

    Vets can prevent illness and cure it. Catquackery can do neither.

    The CatQuack is talking Testes 100c (available from Ainsworths and Boiron).

    (Apologies for the rant LCN but this rubbish gets my, errrr, goat- albeit properly vaccinated and with full traceabilty).

    • C.A.T Briedah
      January 30, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      “A few tears ago” was not a lament for unvaccinated dead moggies but a typo confusing Y with T on a Crapple keyboard.

  13. R.
    May 15, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I could not let your egotistical, self-righteous little rant go without passing comment.

    This kind of character assassination and slander against anyone warrants suspicion and begs the question; why anyone would go to so much trouble to publicly discredit a reputable and internationally-renowned veterinary practitioner?

    I have been using homeopathic remedies for the best part of 50 years on myself, my children, all of my animals – horses, cows, donkeys, dogs, cats, wildlife including birds, possums, raccoons and many others with 100% success. There have been far too many instances of successful healing where conventional medicine had no impact.

    I have had the privilege of having my animals treated successfully by Chris and also learning a great deal from his extensive knowledge and experience. I’ve never had to resort to symptomatic illness treatments such as antibiotics, because I’ve learned through my experience with homeopathy to treat the underlying causes of the illness – not the symptoms.

    I work in Africa and the Middle East in some of the poorest countries in the world, and have seen homeopathic treatments save the lives of children and successfully treat malaria, and a range of other life-threatening diseases on a regular basis over the years.

    The thing that the detractors of homeopathy seem to hate and fear the most is that the use of homeopathy and herbal treatments puts the healing firmly back into the hands of the people – you become your own doctor – God forbid! Yes, Andy, like people have been doing successfully for thousands of years before the pharmaceutical industry hijacked the medical profession and people’s health – even the right to give birth in the most natural way possible – at home!

    Now THIS is what I call quackery! Imagine, people able to heal themselves of their ailments! I don’t think Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom created a species whose wellbeing would be solely reliant on a complicated academic system of training (7 years) to become a doctor and then place that system in charge of human health! This is the real joke.

    The pharmaceutical industry spends billions on hideously gruesome and cruel animal experimentation, (the like of which can only be accurately described as pure evil and sadism), advertising to convince people they need drugs to survive, and that it is unsafe to give birth in your own home! And you don’t think this is quackery.

    My friend, you need to get your head out of your proverbial bottom and wake up and smell the roses – literally! Roses and other flowers and plants offer the key to healing on an extraordinary level and scale. And all you can do is spend your time flamboyantly displaying an extremely ignorant and shallow view that is based on nothing it seems, but some sort of childish, petulant vendetta against an excellent veterinary practitioner.

    Andy, I suggest that instead of ranting about an issue you about which you clearly know very little and of which you have no personal experience, why not take on the pharmaceutical industry and their prescription of Ritalin for ADHD? Or all of those pills the MDs hand out for depression/anxiety and a range of other emotional problems that beset this society?

    You are fighting a very silly and losing battle in your attempt to convince anyone that homeopathy doesn’t work. What a waste of time. Do something useful with your life, like save lives, sto wasting everyone’s time and shut up mouthing off until you’ve got something substantial to say.

Leave a Reply