Interest in alternative therapies is growing in both the Human and Animal Medical fields, despite the array of synthetic pharmaceuticals that are being launched on an almost daily basis. The question has to be asked however, what are these medicines and do they work?
The answer to the latter part of this question is undoubtedly yes, and they are often more efficient and less harmful than many conventional drug therapies. Some of our old herbs and remedies, which served for hundreds of years, are now enjoying a renaissance with growing ranges of natural medicines for both people and animals. However, time constraints make more conventional medicines an easy choice; the average first consultation for Alternative Medical treatment lasts about 45-60 minutes, compared with the more usual 5 or 10 minutes conventional approach. Unfortunately this often results in alternative treatments being used as a last resort, when in fact they are a valuable first line of treatment as well.
It worries me that as humans we are so quick to go to the doctor or chemist to receive medication for the littlest of things, when a gentler and more appropriate form of treatment in proportion to the severity of the symptoms will often suffice. Leaving the big guns where they belong; to fight the acute wars that could be life saving. So many drug resistances (especially antibiotics), are caused by indiscriminate use of the potent bug killers for the minutest of infections. Soon we will have the super bugs that no known antimicrobial agent is able to kill, the so called MRS (multiple resistant strain) infections in certain hospitals, in our daily environments.
As members of the medical profession it is our duty to help prevent this from happening, but at the same time, as members of the pubic it is our duty not to railroad the medical profession into using the big guns for our minimal diseases because we are not prepared to cope with the time off it will take for our bodies own immune system to sort the minor problem out.
Conventional drug therapy often holds no parallel for acute life threatening conditions and certainly has a very important part to play in modifying disease processes. Short term use of pharmaceutical drugs significantly lowers the chance of drug induced side effects. However, long term use of pharmaceutical medication in chronic inflammatory, degenerative or cancerous conditions is designed on the whole to help manage the condition and very rarely leads to cure of the disease. Over time more and more drug is required and the chances of side effects become greater. Often additional drugs are required to counter the side effects of the first ones.
On the contrary, complimentary and alternative medicines have very good reputation for modifying chronic inflammatory and degenerative disease toward either complete cure or at least slowing down the development of the disease processes without dramatic side effects. The golden rule is the earlier the condition is caught and treated , the more easily the body will be able to cure itself given the right healing trigger. There are incurable conditions for which any form of medication is a major challenge and they cannot be resolved.
Veterinary Acupuncture was discovered over 3000 years ago. By patient, detailed, meticulous observation of animals and their response to disease over a considerable period it was discovered that digital pressure, applied to certain points on the body relieved or cured the signs of disease. Later it was discovered that a better effect was produced by inserting a special needle into these points.
Although Veterinary Acupuncture and Human Acupuncture developed side by side, the traditional points used on animals bear little semblance with the human acupuncture points. The first Veterinary Schools in Europe taught Acupuncture as routine for both large and small animals until the early part of the 19th century. Modern drugs replaced this until more recently when Acupuncture has seen an upsurge in popularity.
Classical Chinese Acupuncture is based on the philosophy of Yin and Yang. This is more readily explained as two opposing forces within the body which exist in a balanced state unless disturbed by disease when one or the other becomes more dominant. This energy is also thought to be in a constant state of movement around the body along a number of energy channels or "meridians". By inserting needles at specific points on these meridians we can influence the body's response to disease, either alleviating the symptoms (e.g. pain) or curing the disease by restoring balance, and hence harmony within the channels.
Acupuncture is especially useful in muscle and bone diseases such as Paralysis, Arthritis, Hip Dysplasia, and “Back" pain, Disc Problems, Muscle/Ligament sprains/Strains, Incontinence as well as many other chronic diseasese.
Homoeopathy was developed almost 200 years ago by the patient and detailed observation of symptoms induced by various substances when administered to volunteers! I love the fact that it is a system of medicine that has been tested on people and now used on animals for healing. The symptoms, when seen in a sick animal, are treated by substances which in material dose may cause these same symptoms in a healthy individual, but now safely prepared as diluted homoeopathic remedies. This is the fundamental principle of Homoeopathy "Similia similibus curentor" "like cure like".
Homoeopathy is a true holistic approach, which means that all features of the individual animal are examined, both in sickness and when previously healthy, and that all previous illnesses and events are considered. This can require unusual questions, which may not appear relevant at the time of illness, but may lead to the correct selection of remedy. Modern methods of diagnosis and testing are also used and the net effect is to compile a detailed picture of the whole animal. A remedy is then selected to fit this picture, and not just the symptoms shown at first. The detail needed means that a long consultation is required, often taking up to an hour. In long standing illnesses further work may be required by the Veterinary Surgeon to fully evaluate the case before the correct remedy can be prescribed.
Homoeopathy regards external signs of disease (what we consider symptoms) as signs of the animal’s response to an infection or traumatic insult to the immune system. This can be likened to a jumbled index, which the clinician has to interpret. The remedies stimulate the immune response to focus on the disease signs, thus accelerating and organising the process of cure. Occasionally the patient can suffer a "getting worse to get better" response if the remedy imparts too much energy, but more often a slow gradual cure is affected. The longer a disease has existed, the longer it takes to complete the cure and often owners of pets will comment that the condition is "going in reverse" where older symptoms become apparent. This has been likened to "peeling off the layers of a rotten onion" to reach the healthy core. In the treatment of long-standing illness the results are not necessarily instantaneous. In very acute onset cases however, cure may be achieved in a matter of hours, faster than any antibiotic.
Homoeopathy is useful in the treatment of almost all illnesses, except where the animal is already on conventional immune suppressive treatment where the response to treatment may be variable. It is worth remembering that medicine can only do so much once illness has occurred; a good diet goes a long way to help in the prevention of disease.
Dr. Anuska Viljoen BVSc(hons) VetMFHom MRCVS