Homeopathy is a philosophy of health and a system of therapeutic remedies that has been used for nearly two centuries.
The term "homeopathy" has its roots in one man's vision, the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). Homeopathy is a philosophy of health and a system of therapeutic remedies that has been used for nearly two centuries. Thousands of practitioners have verified its effectiveness by observing the results on patients they have treated. At the turn of the 20th Century nearly one-fourth of all U.S. physicians were homeopaths.
Today, homeopathic medicine is practiced extensively in Europe by both veterinarians and physicians, but there are currently only a few dozen U.S. veterinarians who have taken this country's course work to become certified as a veterinary homeopath.
Homeopathic medicine is perhaps the one alternative medicine that is most different from allopathic/conventional medicine. There are thus several basic principles of homeopathy that folks using it should understand. Following are some tips to help with an understanding of these basics:
Homeopathy derives from the Greek homoion (similar) and pathein (disease or suffering). The basic principle of homeopathy relies on the Latin phrase "Similia similibus curantur": "Like shall be cured by like".
Using this basic premise, the idea is to find a natural substance with actions that closely mimic the symptoms of disease. By giving the patient very small doses of the substance, her/his body will react and, through this reaction, be able to heal itself.
In this regard homeopathy differs dramatically from its counterpart, allopathic medicine, which is the orthodox, western medicine of today. Allopathy derives its meaning from the Greek words allos (different) and pathein (disease or suffering). In allopathic medicine the premise is to confront or attack the disease. We see the application of allopathic medicine when the physician uses antibiotics against a certain type of bacteria or when he uses steroids to combat joint inflammation.
Hippocrates was actually the first to coin the term "like cures like", but Hahnemann built a consistent system of therapeutics based on the principle. Hahnemann believed that substances derived from plants, animals and minerals contained vital healing properties. He further reasoned that he could identify these healing properties if he tested the substances on healthy people and observed the people's reactions. Hahnemann was thus one of the first of the true scientists — applying scientific principles of observing (and recording) phenomena in an unbiased manner.
Hahnemann (and other homeopaths since) have tested thousands of naturally occurring substances on healthy people. Typically, hundreds of people are tested to add scientific and statistical validity to the results. Practitioners observe the reactions or symptoms that occur after giving the remedy and record all these symptoms. These tests are called "provings" and the process of proving continues even today. (A recent homeopathic proving has been performed on chocolate.)
Homeopathic physicians note that with all substances or remedies tested some people respond at a low potency of dosage, and these same people often have very severe symptoms. Another small percentage of the provers show no symptoms until very high potencies are reached. The symptoms that consistently occur in most of the people are considered the most important ones for that particular remedy. These consistently seen symptoms are those that are highlighted in the various repertories and materia medica, the treatment and prescribing "bibles" of homeopathic physicians.
The aim of homeopathy is to treat the patient's complex symptom picture with a remedy whose known effects most closely resembles the symptoms of the disease. For the homeopathic doctor, symptoms encompass the whole patient — physical, mental, and emotional. For the veterinary homeopathic practitioner it can be a challenge to derive a patient's mental and emotional symptoms, but close observation often gives us a good idea for what is going on inside a critter's head.
Ideally, one remedy will perfectly match all the patient's symptoms and will work as the cure for the individual's disease. The curative remedy will be the remedy whose provings most closely match the symptoms presented by the patient. This remedy is called the disease "similimum".
According to Classical Homeopathy, each and every animal, including each human animal, has a constitutional remedy. This remedy best matches the animal's inner vital force (see below), and when the animal's constitutional remedy is correctly used, that animal has optimum ability to heal itself — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The classical homeopathic physician and veterinarian, then, always tries to find the one, constitutional remedy that best matches the whole of the animal. This is done via a lengthy process, called "Case Taking", whereby the practitioner asks a number of questions that will indicate the best overall match — patient to remedy.
Remedies work by affecting a patient's vital force. The vital force is difficult to visualize or understand in western medicine terms, but it is that inner vitality that provides a patient's inner strength, enables them to stay alive, and empowers their immune system. Some practitioners liken the vital force to the Chinese concept of Chi (or Qi), the Japanese idea of Ki, the kundalini in Indian literature, or the Orgone of Reichian theory. Others think of the vital force as a person's innate spirit or perhaps their soul.
However we westerners visualize the vital force, we need to understand that it is the necessary inner element that maintains a person's outer body in healthy fashion — an ineffable inner quality that maintains homeostasis and fosters optimum health.
The homeopathic doctor views disease as a dynamic disturbance of the vital force. Viewed this way, material evidence of disease (symptoms) are considered the result of the disease rather than its cause. Once again, this is in contrast to the allopathic viewpoint which tries to reduce diagnosis to the identification of material causes such as bacteria, viruses, or disturbances in chemical balance.
For treatment, then, the homeopathic doctor tries to enhance the vital force, allowing the vital force to displace the disease with its own inner vitality. Homeopaths accomplish this by prescribing a remedy which is similar enough to the symptoms to displace them, thus allowing the vital force its potential.
Hahnemann reasoned that since a substance used as a cure could conceivably be potent enough to be harmful to the patient, he would need to dilute it enough to eliminate its toxic effects. Thus, homeopathic medicine makes extensive use of potentially toxic substances (such as mercury or arsenic) that have been homeopathically diluted well below levels that could be of harm to the patient.
Early results with simple dilution of substances, however, proved to be variable — some dilutions worked; some did not. Serendipitously, Hahnemann came upon a method of diluting and potentizing remedies. He discovered that after dilution a remedy can be potentized by shaking or succussing. Succussion is a process whereby the container holding the diluted remedy is rapped against a firm object (a felt pad in Hahnemann's time; automatically done by machine today) in a series of sharp succussions or shakes.
Dilution factors commonly used in homeopathic medicine are the centesimal system (1:100) and the decimal scale (1:10). Using the centesimal system (1:100) a medicinal substance is first diluted 1:100 in water, alcohol or milk sugar.
Hahnemann and practitioners since believe that there was a distinct difference between acute and chronic disease. Examples of acute diseases include traumatic injuries, bite wounds, insect stings, "garbage-hound-belly-itis", and some rapidly occurring infections. If the body is capable — i.e. if the vital force is strong enough in comparison to the insult of the disease — acute diseases are rapidly dealt with, and the body returns to normal.
If, however, the vital force is not potent enough to eliminate the disease, the body still tries to survive by driving the disease to an area of the body where it can be dealt with temporarily.
Hahnemann postulated that if the vital force could not (or was not allowed to) deal with acute disease, these diseased processes would be forced into more internal areas and would recur later on as chronic disease. Examples of chronic disease in humans include tumors, arthritis, arteriosclerosis, and mental or emotional problems. In animals we often see chronic disease evidenced as continuing skin irritations, arthritis, thyroid dysfunctions, behavior problems, urinary disease, chronic bowel syndrome, etc.
Poor nutrition (especially foods laden with synthetic preservatives and/or artificial colors and flavors, and foods contaminated with pesticides and herbicides), lack of exercise, stress and exposure to environmental toxins all contribute to the tendency for chronic disease. And, there is mounting speculation that allopathic treatments such as inappropriate steroid use, prolonged antibiotic therapy, vaccination, and the use of chemotherapy and/or other immune or neoplasia-suppressing drugs also contribute to a patient's likelihood for developing chronic disease.
Another of the major differences between homeopathy and allopathic medicines is the concept of palliation, suppression, and cure. Allopathic medicine typically confronts disease symptoms directly with medicines or surgery — the idea being to ease the symptoms as quickly as possible.
•Palliation: When palliation occurs, the disease symptoms will return soon after the application of the medicinal intervention is stopped. Oftentimes, as the disease progresses, more potent or more frequent medicinal applications are necessary to ease the symptoms. Perhaps the most common example of palliation is when western medicine uses cortisone to treat skin irritations. Typically the initial lesion goes away with treatment, only to recur at a later date; to be treated once again (usually with more potent cortisones); to recur; etc.
•Suppression: With suppression the initial results of confronting the disease symptoms appear to be good — i.e. the visible symptoms disappear. Suppressed symptoms may, however, be driven into more critical areas, only to return at a later date as more severe disease. Examples of suppression are not so easy to prove, but homeopaths think that many of the inner, chronic diseases — diseases such as tumors, arthritis, behavior abnormalities, etc. — are really the result of a disease processes being driven into the body via the use of confrontational or western medicines.
•Cure: Cure is the ultimate objective of the homeopathic veterinarian or physician. To affect a lasting, mind-body-emotion cure, the classical homeopath uses the patient's constitutional remedy to strengthen the vital force, giving it the chance to eliminate the disease process...and to respond favorably to any future onset of disease.
Homeopathic remedies can also, of course, be used to palliate symptoms. Remedies or combinations of remedies that are specifically directed against particular disease symptoms are being used in this manner. If long-lasting, whole-body cure is the objective, it is necessary to use the one constitutional remedy that best matches all the animal's symptoms — physical, mental, and emotional.
** NOTE: Homeopaths believe that the strength of constitutional therapy is passed along to offspring, giving them a stronger vital force and thus a powerful constitutional ability to fend off disease. I personally find this a fascinating area of exploration as we continue to seek our health and well-being, As One With Nature.
•Aconite: For symptoms with sudden onset. Can be used initially in a barn, herd, or kennel outbreak, to be followed by more specific remedies.
•Arnica: For injuries – bruising, sprains, sore muscles, eye injuries, over-exertion. Also available in salves and ointments.
•Asenicum: Typical patient is anxious or restless, and may have acrid and watery discharges from the eyes or nose.
•Belladonna: For fevers, pain, and severe, paroxysmic coughing where the eyes are dilated and may be bulging.
•Byronia: Helpful for arthritis or rheumatism. Symptoms get worse with movement.
•Conium maculatum: For trembling and weakness, especially of the aged animal and when the symptoms begin in the hind legs.
•Hypericum: Reduces pain in open lacerated wounds and in injuries to areas that are rich in nerve supply.
•Lachesis: Patient is aggressive and "talkative". Symptoms/lesions tend to be on the left side; the patient has a voracious appetite for food and sex, and dislikes bright lights.
•Ledum: Used for treating puncture wounds.
•Lycopodium: Typical patient has symptoms that tend to move from one part of the body to another. The patient dislikes being alone and appears apprehensive.
•Nux vomica: Primarily used to treat digestive conditions. Is a "clearing", and strong constitutional remedy.
•Pulsatilla: Used especially for female conditions of all sorts.
•Rhus tox: The "rusty gate" remedy – for painful arthritic conditions that "squeak" when the patient first moves, but improve with continued motion.
•Ruta: A powerful remedy for sprains and dislocations. Symptoms get worse after rest.
•Silicea: For the shy, chilly patient. For treating chronic inflammatory conditions; for helping to rid the body of foreign bodies; for bone conditions.
•Sulphur/Sulfur: Typical patient is dry, dirty-coated, smelly, overweight, and stubborn. Prefers cold, and the skin may be red all over. For skin conditions. Sulfur is powerful constitutional remedy, often used to clear the system before other remedies are used.
•Thuja: For removing warts. One of the remedies to use when toxicosis or adverse reactions to drugs or other substances is suspected.
The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy: www.theavh.org
American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Assn.: www.AltVetMed.com
Biddis, K.J.; "Homeopathy in Veterinary Practice"; C.W. Daniel Co.
Day, Christopher; "Homeopathic Treatment of Small Animals"; C.W. Daniel Co.
Hamilton, Don; Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs
Hunter, Francis; "Homeopathic First Aid for Pets"; Thorsons (Harper Collins)
Macleod, George; "Cats: Homeopathic Remedies"; C.W. Daniel Co.
ibid; "Dogs: Homeopathic Remedies"; C.W. Daniel Co.
ibid; "Horses (Cattle, Goats): Homeopathic Remedies"; C.W. Daniel Co.
Pitcairn, Richard; "Natural Health for Dogs and Cats" Rodale Press
Sheaffer, C. Edgar; Homeopathy for the Herd (dairy and beef); Acres USA
Wolff, H.G.; "Your Healthy Cat"; North Atlantic Books