Alternative Medicine for Pets: What Doesn’t Work?


Veterinary medicine has come a long way from the shoot-“˜em-when-they’re-sick days. Now, when your dog or cat is ill, you can visit veterinary specialists like oncologists, dermatologists, and even dentists. In addition to these advances, there are alternative treatments available for your furry friend.

Jessica Vogelsang, DVM (otherwise known as Dr. V) is a 2002 graduate from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2006, she completed a training course in veterinary acupuncture through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Dr. Vogelsang works in San Diego, CA, and she writes about life and veterinary medicine daily at Pawcurious. “Alternative medicine is playing an ever-increasing role in veterinary medicine,” she said.

In this first of two posts on alternative medicine for pets, we’re going to take a look at therapies that should be avoided. These are the treatments that are unscientific and unproven – and that, usually, cost a pretty penny. Tomorrow we’ll look at therapies that are worth the investment.


The idea behind homeopathy is that like cures like. In other words, an allergic reaction to a bee sting can be treated with diluted bee venom. The idea is that this will stimulate the body’s natural responses to fight off the sting. Dr. V hasn’t had tremendous experience with homeopathy. “I think even a lot of practitioners that are open to alternative modalities are a little hesitant to advocate this type of treatment because so few of us have experience with it,” she said. “It is not something I recommend, though if someone wants to find a trained veterinarian they could consult the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.”

Homeopathic treatment hasn’t been proven effective – in people or animals. For one thing, the homeopathic remedies are highly diluted so only an imprint of the remedy remains. In addition, clinical trails have demonstrated homeopathic treatments to show no improvement greater than the placebo effect, and no large-scale clinical trails have been conducted on animals.



Reiki practitioners place their hands on different spots throughout the body to stimulate healing or relaxation. In a 2008 study, scientists in the UK compiled all the published data on the effectiveness of reiki. The study authors evaluated published clinical trails and determined that, “the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition.” While reiki’s success stories are anecdotal, there is evidence that physical contact – through play, patting, rubbing, etc., – releases stress in companion animals. Try giving your pet a massage at home (for free!) to experience the stress-reducing benefits of physical contact.

Animal Communication

Animal communicators claim to speak with your animal via telepathy. According to practitioners, your animal can communicate freely, usually in pictures, or you can seek answers to specific questions like, “Why do you keep peeing in my bedroom?” or “Does your leg hurt?” The communicators – who charge an average of $50 for 30 minutes – relay the answer to you. “That’s not my thing,” said Dr. V. “I think a lot of these animal “˜communicators’ go into it with their heart in the right place, but I’ve also seen some pretty kooky stuff going on. Animals are indeed good communicators, but an observant behavior specialist is often better at figuring out what the pet is trying to say than any pet telepathist.”

Images: theogeo, anomalous4