More Wackadoo Medicine for Dogs

I promised I’d write about the last alternative treatment that I use for my dogs: homeopathic medicine. I’m totally comfortable with someone calling this wackadoo and weirdo, because even I am not comfortable with the explanation given by proponents of the treatment. I’m fine with the first part, in which preparations are given that are believed to cause a diminished version of the very symptoms you are trying to treat. This is much like the vaccination principle in allopathic medicine, and I have no problem with it. It’s the second part that loses me, in which the preparation is so heavily diluted that in some cases, there are virtually no molecules left of the original substance. It was explained to me that it works because the energy field around the water molecules has been changed. Oh my. This is when I have to chant: “Just because we don’t understand the mechanism for something doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.”

I have not been impressed with any research into its efficacy, both of which have been done with acupuncture and chiropractic medicine. As a matter of fact, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“Claims of homeopathy’s efficacy (beyond the placebo effect) are unsupported by the collective weight of scientific and clinical evidence. Specific pharmacological effect with no active molecules is scientifically implausible and violates fundamental principles of science, including the law of mass action . . . The lack of convincing scientific evidence supporting homeopathy’s efficacy and its use of remedies lacking active ingredients have caused homeopathy to be described as pseudoscience and quackery.”

There’s only one problem here. It seems to work, at least for me and apparently, for some of my dogs. I have taken Arnica many times, including when I was badly bitten on the hand by a wolf-dog hybrid, who sunk his teeth into my hand up to his gums. It hurt like blazes, and as I continued talking with the owner my hand began to swell up. After the owner left, I called the guy I was dating and whined about the terrible bite I’d received. He was all over it: “Oh you poor thing!  I’ll take you out to dinner tonight to make it better.” After I hung up I took some Arnica. In half an hour the swelling had disappeared, and all you could see on my hand were 2 tiny slits that looked like paper cuts. When I met my date that night he laughed at me, saying “That’s the terible bite you got! HA!” and preceded to tease me relentlessly about what a wuss I was. I actually said to a girlfriend that I should’ve skipped the Arnica and gotten the sympathy. (Let me be clear here.. my hand still hurt, and I still had 2 serious punctures in it. Arnica took care of the swelling, I believe, and decreased the pain, but in no way did taking it mean I didn’t have to attend to it very, very carefully with antibiotics and careful monitoring.)

I’ve used Arnica a lot when I badly scratched my eyeball, sprained an ankle and bruised various and sundry body parts. Here’s an example of using it on my dogs: As regular readers know, Lassie is 15 and a half, and has quite a bit of arthritis in her paws and forelegs.  A few months ago her forelegs began to turn salmon colored and I  noticed she was licking them often. My vet and I agreed that her arthritis was getting more painful, and that the level of Tramadol and chinese herbs she was on was not taking care of it. I increased her chinese herbs, continued to get her acupuncture, but she still kept licking them. There’s no question that both of those treatments helped tremendously, if I take her off them she gets much worse, but I was unhappy watching her lick her paws so often, knowing that she was doing so because they hurt her. (I have arthritis in my hands too, and man can it hurt!) A CAAB asked if I’d ever tried Zeel, a homeopathic supplement made for arthritis by the same folks who make Traumeel (which I’ve used a lot successfully for sore muscles).

I figured it couldn’t hurt. If homeopathic substances are so diluted that they are barely there, how could they? I do think we need to be very careful about all health care. As I said earlier, if something has the power to do good, then it well might have the power to do harm. I never use any treatment without talking to a variety of people I trust, including my regular veterinarian. I also think some people are too quick to try “alternative medicine” because it sounds “natural” or somehow less intrusive than western medicine. Well, arsenic is natural, and it can kill you. But in addition, I think some people are too quick to use western medicine too, so this advice goes both ways. However, of all the “alternative treatments,” given the diluted nature of the medicine, it seems that if anything, homeopathic medicine may hurt your pocketbook, but it’s doubtful that it could physically hurt you or your animal if you use it as directed. (Note that I didn’t say impossible, just doubtful.)

Three weeks after starting Lassie on Zeel, her legs are white white white. She doesn’t lick them anymore, or not very often. Placebo effect? Did she see an ad? Read an article? Got me, but you can count on me to keep giving it to her. (Did I mention I’m taking it myself now? Are my hands better? Yes.  Placebo effect on me? Maybe…. but isn’t that 1) acceptable because it’s working? 2) better than something with serious side effects? and 2) isn’t the “placebo effect” a fascinating, important biological phenomenon? Why we would dismiss it, and not pursue it, if it is so powerful? (Could it be that it’s hard to get a patent on the power of belief?)

So, I want to be very clear here. As I biologist, I can tell you that the science behind homeopathic medicine is shaky. As a person who takes care of other animals, I’m really glad it’s around. I have Arnica in my desk drawer, in the cupboard at home, and never travel without it. (Speaking of travel, my next post will be about my last trip to Africa. I really, really hope you can come!)

Meanwhile, back at the farm: It rained buckets on Saturday, perfect for the farm because I had the pasture fertilized in anticipation of the rain. It was expected Friday night, but I woke up to clear skies and dry grass. I was sorely disappointed. The sheep can’t eat grass that has been sprayed with nitrogen until the rain washes it into the soil, and I really wanted the flock back on grass and off hay. Luckily, by mid morning it poured, and today the sheep are up in the hill pasture, gobbling fresh, emerald, green grass as fast as they can.
Here’s Willie on some green grass on the front lawn, hogging the spotlight as usual from Lassie behind him, both of them waiting for me to throw the frisbee.

And here’s a welcome burst of spring color:


  1. says

    Another super post. Thank you so much for sharing!! I do not 100% understand the mechanics of homeopathy even after reading a couple of books on the subject, but I SEE the amazing results it has with my dog. Thank you!

  2. Liz F. says

    Thanks, I will give Zeel and/or Arnica a try for my dog’s arthritis.

    I have a 5.5 yr. old lab mix, Helix, who broke a leg (a piece of a bone in the right rear hock broke off actually) and tore a tendon over two years ago. Surgery and recovery were successful, however, his regular vet and ortho specialist have basically guaranteed him to have early arthritis. He started favoring his leg on few sporadic days last winter, and occasionally shows other sign of discomfort, so I am about to start long term treatment for him. I should point out that overall Helix is really well: those who know him, including vet staff, can’t tell which leg had surgery anymore, he keeps up with my 16 mo. old whirlwind of a ?border collie? mix, and we all walk 3-5 miles/day together (I wear a pedometer, a habit I got in after Helix’s recovery included gradually increasing walking distance). In the post ‘Alternative Medicine for Dogs’ I said that I am very open to alternative medicine, but that does not mean that I rely on it exclusively, or in every situation. In this case with Helix, without surgery to reattach a floating bone fragment he could have ultimately died. I would take no such risk! I thank Dr. J. Meinen and Dr. D. Sigmund for giving my dog a basically normal life. And honestly, after spending tons of money for Western medicine at its best I had to stop and see how Helix would recover before I could spend any more at the time. Ahh, if money were absolutely no object … I wish I could have done more for him after all the casts finally came off.
    But now, with the onset and management of a lifelong condition, I want to try everything I can, including all the alternative treatments that have been discussed here lately.

    Very happy that Lassie and Will have such a great person!

  3. Mary Beth says

    Not fair that you have lovely green grass in Wisc. when my poor horses in Ohio have very little grass to eat. Mud in the rest of the yard and the grass is so short that the dogs are wearing paths in it when they never had before. Usually its the other way around with Ohio sporting flowers and green pastures well before Wisc. That said, the crew had a tough time with 85 degree weather this past weekend when they are just barely shed of winter hair.
    Interesting post. I may have to talk to my doctor about the Arnica. I don’t take any pain meds and definitely no anti inflamatories, so that might be a very real help when I get bit at work. My 12 1/2 yo Lab might like it too.

  4. Bill Olsen says

    Thank you so much for your postings about alternative medicine. I encountered this blog almost by accident and I will be going back over some previous articles here. I wish I had known about arnica last week when, in the midst of a disagreement with a Dachshund over the “leave-it” command, I was reminded just how sharp those little teeth can be. The swelling was scary – and didn’t take more than 20 minutes to happen.

    I can’t help but be amused at the characterization of western medicine as being based more on scientifically proven “fact” than Chinese herbal medicine or acupuncture, for example. The arrogance of we humans amazes even my dogs.

  5. Mary C says

    Bring on the whackadoo medicine for me and my dogs! There are so many things in this world which can’t be explained, but still seem to work. I totally agree, that we shouldn’t try things just because they are the latest fad, but there are cultures who have been using these methods and medications for centuries with positive results. I was first introduced to Traumeel when my sister was living in France (homeopathy is very big there). I whacked my self pretty good and thought for certain I would have a huge bruise. My sister insisted I rub traumeel on it and lo and behold you could hardly tell I’d smacked myself. Since then I’ve used Traumeel, Arnica and Bach essences for any number of situations for both myself and my dogs. Thanks for expressing so well, what I couldn’t.

  6. Nancy says

    Yes yes yes. I don’t know how homeopathy works (and I try not to dwell too much on it because it is, well, rather odd) but my new holistic vet is a miracle worker. My 5-year-old dog has shoulder, elbow, hip, and back OA issues and he’s literally having the time of his life.

    I only wish I hadn’t spent so much time and money trying conventional things with him up to now. (I adopted him at age 2.) My female has done well with conventional but every dog is different and I’m not too proud (or stubborn) to know this now.

  7. nan says

    thanks so much for working through the wackadoo appelation. I’d find it extraordinary if western medicine were completely right and eastern completely wrong and vice versa. Like you I think we are lucky to live in a country where we can get good access to the best of both if we are willing to research and share information as you have done. My hands, and my rough collies salmon colored forelegs are looking forward to an exploration of zeel.

  8. m says

    I know your personal position is pro-science, but at a time when antivaccinationists are threatening kids lives and swindlers are promoting enemas and colloidal silver to prevent swine flu (HuffingtonPost) you have to be more careful about endorsing “alternative” medicine. Already in some of these comments I see you being interpreted as saying scientific medicine is no better than “alternative” or “eastern” medicine. The science literacy out there is pretty bad and your words will be taken to give blanket support to all kinds of “alternative” medicine. Show me a solid scientific study that says a technique (whatever its origin or mechanism) works and is safe. Otherwise I won’t risk my health or my pet’s.
    I liked this blog and your NPR show for your explanations of the science of animal behavior and news about new research in zoology. But I don’t see you referring to any research here. I’m disappointed.

  9. Sabine says

    Homeopathic medicine already existed not under that terminology thousands and thousands of years ago as has proven to work. What more of a study do we need ? I think if we carefully balance between traditional and conventional medicine, we have a clear winner.
    Osteopathy has made my dachshund run again. I chose that path, because I did not want him to undergo major surgery before trying a less invasive way. The outcome speaks for itself:

    He’s up and running ! 😉
    As far as vaccinations go: It’s also a fact, that the pharmaceutical industry produces vaccines which are designed to last at least 6-8 years ! After basic immunization it’s therefore not really necessary to vaccinate on an annual basis.
    Same goes for humans: We don’t refresh our vaccinations on an annual basis either.

  10. says

    I was also very skeptical about homeopathic remedies, after reading about how they are created. I wondered, how can this be anything at all, if it is nothing but the “energy” of the original substance. How do we know what we are getting?

    Well, I tried Traumeel, on the advice of our holistic vet, and it worked amazingly well. I have also used Arnica, although only as a topical agent, for muscle aches, and it works very well, too.

    While in training as a massage therapist, for both people and animals, I decided to take a workshop on Healing Touch for Animals. I thought it was a massage technique, but turned out to be “energy” work, and again, I was very skeptical about the whole thing. But then, after seeing how the dogs and the horses that we worked on reacted, I became a believer.

  11. Trisha says

    In response to “m” and his or her disappointment: I regret that you are disappointed, but your comments bring up an important aspect of what I was trying to say when I first brought up “alternative” (or better, “complimentary” or “integrative” medicine). First, “scientific medicine” can be absolutely wonderful–life saving in many circumstances, able to alleviate and prevent a tremendous amount of suffering. However, it is not perfect. As someone trained in science, I can tell you that all “science” is not equal. Some biomedical studies, even published ones, simply aren’t very good. Allopathic medicine is usually the application of many of those studies, some of which are good, some aren’t. And of course, all doctors are not equal. As a dear friend of mine said not too long ago, “We can’t put 100% of our faith in these people, because they are, uh, people.”

    A frequent criticism of complimentary medicine is that any advocacy or attention to it supports harmful, bogus fads like (in my opinion) promoting enemas. But, alas, I don’t think any of us are served by dividing medicine any more into “science-based western medicine” and “everything else, including harmful fads.” It is true that the world would be much simpler if everything was black and white, but I don’t think that reflects reality. I could write for hours about the pain and suffering that has been caused by “science-based” western medicine in my family, but I won’t, knowing that it will be perceived as trashing traditional medicine. I have no interest in doing that, but I have a substantial interest in educating myself about different perspectives about health, and thoughtfully choosing alternatives that make sense to me and have a low risk and a high potential gain.

    Right now I am seeing a Yoga practioneer ( who knows more about the structure and function of the body than anyone I have worked with in twenty years, including several highly respected physicians, chiropractors, certified massage therapists, certified physical therapists etc etc. Would I go to him first if I injured myself? It depends on the injury, pure and simple. It seems that currently, if one wants to be one’s own health advocate, life is much more complicated than simply going to a good doctor and doing what he or she says. It’s not simple, it’s not black and white, but then, how much of life really is?

  12. says

    You need Ledum for the bite (which was a puncture wound) and Ledum is for puncture wounds. Also Hypericum. Both these remedies are anti-tetanus – so you can take them instead of the shot.

  13. Trisha says

    Thanks for the information about Ledum, good to know. However, I would never myself skip getting a tetanus shot or suggest it for others. That’s a case in which I’d worry that harm could be done, so I’m pretty conservative when it comes to things like Tetanus. (And hey, locking up my jaw would be a fate worse than death, even if I did live through it!)


  14. m says

    Agreed, all science is not equal. But, as you point out, all non-science-based medicine is also not equal. I think it can be hard for folks without science training to judge between what is at-least-not-harmful alternative medicine and “fads.” Heck, I have some science training, but not in biomedicine, so its awfully hard for me to tell. I would always check with a good traditional vet, and err way on the side of treatments that have been shown not to be harmful (which I think is your point).

    This site focuses on people, but its a good example of what can go wrong when people don’t think critically about alternative treatments:

    By the way, sorry to only post when complaining! I do really love your blog and value your advice. Your got some sweet dogs and sheep!

  15. Mary Lou says

    Just saw this thread … I’ve used Arnica for my Snoopy who suddenly started limping on one of her hind legs, no visible injury, the vet found nothing … gave her Rimadyl IIRC, which didnt help. So, I used Arnica (which I had previously used myself for my sporadic muscle spasms in my back). Worked like a charm, 3 doses, 12 hours apart, no more limp.

  16. says

    Hi Dr. Patricia, I stumbled across your blog this morning, looking for who knows what? I never missed your public television show on Saturdays when I lived in Galena, IL, and especially after my standard poodle puppy moved in. It was like encountering a long lost friend. And your blog is first rate! Informative without being preachy. Entertaining without trying too hard. Lovely job.

    Regarding the benefits of homeopathy for pets, we have had great success with remedies for acute conditions. My remedy kit is the first place I turn for nausea, vomiting, sprains, stings and the like. Treating chronic conditions, not so much.

    Small nitpick: Traumeel and Zeel are homotoxicology products, i.e., a combination of homeopathic ingredients no self respecting homeopath would approve. The classical homeopath will prescribe only one remedy at a time.

    Woo woo or otherwise, whatever works.

  17. Joan says

    Traumeel was prescribed to me for muscle injury by my totally conventional doctor in Austria when I lived there. Bought it at the regular drug store/apothecary. It’s a German company and Germany has a looooong history of homeopathic medicine.

    I recently started giving Zeel/Traumeel combination (in pill form) to my two 6-year old corgis for sprains (one in the front legs, the other on the back). Both have osteoarthritis and sprains happen. Well, the pups must have read the package insert because they were feeling 100% better in just a few hours – limping is gone and no apparent side effects. We will go for a month (under care of holistic vet) and then do a wash out and check to see if it is still needed.

    Holistic vet said the combo works well together. She also mentioned that in humans, the success rate for relief is apparently only 50% but animals seem to really respond well.

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