A call to ban veterinary surgeons from prescribing homeopathy as a treatment for animals
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The following is an open letter to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to ask them to blacklist homeopathy from the treatments veterinary surgeons are allowed to offer animals and their owners. We believe that the current position of allowing veterinary surgeons to prescribe homeopathic treatments, which have been proven not to work, is both an animal welfare issue and fails to meet the standard required for scientific veterinary practice. This is a disservice to the animals and their owners.
An open letter to the RCVS regarding veterinary homeopathy:
Many systematic reviews and meta-analyses have proved conclusively that homeopathic treatments have no effect beyond the placebo effect, the Cochrane review in 2010 being a notable one (1),(2),(3). The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that the NHS should not waste public money and risk lives by funding homeopathic treatments which have been clearly proven to have no effect beyond the placebo effect. (4)
It could be argued that as homeopathy has no effect beyond placebo, the use of it is not a cause for concern. However we believe the use of homeopathic remedies by veterinary surgeons is potentially dangerous for several reasons.
The biggest danger of homeopathy is not that the remedies are ineffective, but that some homeopaths are of the opinion that their therapies can substitute for genuine medical treatment. This is at best misleading, and at worst may lead to unnecessary suffering and death.
At what level of significance does homeopathy become a concern to the profession? If veterinary homeopaths wish to believe that their treatments have quickened the resolution of ringworm on a dog then no one would begrudge them that. However, substituting effective and appropriate treatment with homeopathy for more serious diseases such as hyperthyroidism in a cat could result in a personal tragedy for the owner of a much loved companion animal. Similarly, it would be devastating for a family dairy farm that went out of business because the homeopathic treatments failed to control a mastitis problem.
We believe homeopaths are acting with good intentions. We have no doubt that the majority of them are very sincere in their beliefs, but if they are not capable of assessing the evidence for themselves then it must fall to a third party to prevent them from promoting these beliefs on the public who, rightfully, put their faith in the medical knowledge that the letters MRCVS after a name implies. Members of the public put their trust in veterinary surgeons because they assume that their medical knowledge and training was gained during an accredited degree at an accredited university. They do not assume that they will be offered the veterinary surgeon's personal beliefs in therapies that have absolutely no basis in science.
We are not advocating that that every single treatment administered by veterinary surgeons must have a proven and extensive evidence base. Indeed, it is possible that almost half of the treatments provided by the NHS are of unknown efficacy (5). However, there is normally a logical clinical reasoning behind many of our mainstream treatments as opposed to homeopathic remedies which have been shown to have no rational basis in medicine whatsoever.
We would argue that permitting veterinary surgeons to prescribe homeopathic remedies is severely contrary to the public and animal health interest. In our opinion, homeopaths should not be able to use their membership of the RCVS to promote either the validity of the treatment or the fee for it. Where do we draw the line for what members of the RCVS are allowed to offer clients? If we genuinely believe it will help, can we offer crystal healing, reiki or psychic healing? All recommended under our professional opinions as members of the RCVS? Can we use our standing as veterinary surgeons to charge fees for and add legitimacy to these 'services'? So why do homeopaths with their equally unproven evidence base somehow come under exemption from this? Is it appropriate for an RCVS approved practice to be allowed to offer homeopathy as a service?
Given the current RCVS promotion of evidence based medicine there seems to be a contradiction when encouraging vets to gain accredited and rigorous postgraduate qualifications, yet also permitting homeopaths to place their various homeopathic 'qualifications' along side their MRCVS suffix. Although within the veterinary profession we understand the difference between various certificates and diplomas, many members of the general public will simply be impressed by the number of 'letters after the name'. Allowing the VetMFHom to be alongside MRCVS bestows upon it a status it does not deserve. We firmly believe being a MRCVS should differentiate us from all the various unlicensed healers. Should they wish to, adult humans have the right to decide that they want to ignore scientific wisdom and elect for unproven or dangerous alternatives. The health of animals is totally in the hands of the humans charged with their care, so it would appear to be unethical to withhold mainstream medicine and inflict alternatives on creatures that have no choice in the matter.
We are aware that an open letter of the same sentiment was written to the RCVS back in 2006. However, with the recent decision by the government to hold a consultation into 'blacklisting' homeopathy on the NHS, would it not be wonderful for the veterinary profession to show its commitment to evidence based medicine by leading the way in taking a definitive, firm stance on this matter?
To summarise, we believe the RCVS should not allow members to prescribe homeopathy because:
- it is an animal welfare issue
- it undermines public confidence in mainstream medicine
- it would further differentiate veterinary surgeons from unlicensed healers
- it devalues conventional treatments
- it devalues conventional qualifications
- it would allow the veterinary profession to take the lead, forging the way for our human medical counterparts to do the same.
1) Ernst, E. (2010). "Homeopathy: What does the "best" evidence tell us?". Medical Journal of Australia 192 (8): 458–460.
2) Milazzo, S; Russell, N; Ernst, E (2006), "Efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer treatment", European Journal of Cancer 42
(3): 282–9 3) Shang, Aijing; Huwiler-Müntener, Karin; Nartey, Linda; Jüni, Peter; Dörig, Stephan; Sterne, Jonathan AC; Pewsner, Daniel; Egger, Matthias (2005), "Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy", The Lancet 366(9487): 726–732
4) Evidence check: Homeopathy, House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, 20 October 2009, parliament.uk 5) Clinical Evidence. How much do we know?http://clinicalevidence.bmj.com/ceweb/about/knowledge.jsp
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