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Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine Right for Your Dog?

Case in point: A key principle of homeopathy is “vital force,” which is believed to be responsible for maintaining the body’s state of balanced health. To a homeopath, all symptoms a patient exhibits are a reflection of an imbalance in this vital force. As the vital force strengthens, the symptoms disappear. Understanding the role of the vital force is essential to understanding homeopathy. Additionally, since homeopathy heals from the inside out, a homeopathic vet may give your dog a remedy for an internal organ problem and, as the organ imbalance clears up, a skin condition develops. The homeopath considers this a good sign; the imbalance is working its way to the surface and eventually out of the system—the vital force is strengthening.

Homeopaths don’t treat symptoms, per se. Indeed, they believe that treating an individual symptom may drive the problem further into the system, suppressing it. Dr. Larry Bernstein, VMD, PC Hom, who has been using CAM in his Florida-based veterinary practice since 1991, specializes in homeopathic treatments. Using the example of a dog with inflammatory bowel disease, he explains how suppression works. In his experience, the conventional treatment for IBD—three to 12 months of cortisone, sulfa drugs and specialized diets—weakens the vital force. While the symptoms may lessen or disappear, often the dog will develop liver problems later. From the homeopath’s perspective, the conventional treatment of a relatively superficial problem has resulted in a more serious condition.

What conditions are ideal candidates for treatment with veterinary homeopathy? All are, according to Dr. Bernstein. Really? “Well, homeopathy won’t set a broken leg, but it will help it heal more rapidly,” he good-naturedly amends. “It’s not so much the particular condition, but how badly you’ve already beaten up the vital force,” he explains. “We end up being the ‘court of last resort’ for so many cases ... if we were the ‘court of first resort,’ while symptoms were still minor or before invasive treatments, a dog’s vital force wouldn’t be so terribly weakened.”

Chiropractic
Chiropractic treatment involves applying force to the joints to restore motion and reduce pain and muscle spasms. Dr. Kevin Haussler, DVM, DC, uses chiropractic alone or with other treatments at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where he is an assistant professor. He recommends chiropractic for animals who are generally healthy but have musculoskeletal weaknesses, arthritic conditions and back pain.

Assuming that the dog is stabilized, “most acute injuries (falling down stairs, being hit by a car) with subsequent neck stiffness and back problems tend to resolve very fast with chiropractic,” says Dr. Haussler. “Maybe only two to three treatments, and the dog will be fine.

“But most of the cases that I see are chronic arthritis problems, dogs that have spondylitis or arthritis in their back or other areas, and those conditions took eight to 10 years to develop. Obviously, [they] are not going to go away overnight. From a chiropractic perspective, it’s more of a maintenance thing.” Dr. Haussler recommends two to three treatments initially, a week or two apart, to help the animal feel better. Treatments then taper off to monthly or every other month, depending on the dog’s response.

Dr. Haussler finds chiropractic care more effective than the conventional veterinary tactic of prescribing anti-inflammatories. While anti-inflammatories lessen pain and reduce swelling, they won’t resolve stiffness or musculoskeletal imbalances. The long-term effects of not correcting the structural problem can result in less range of motion, difficulty moving, a wide variety of compensatory injuries and general discomfort for the dog. I certainly found this to be the case with Powell.

Risks and Considerations
Most veterinarians interviewed felt that there were few contraindications for CAM care. They did point out, however, that it is important to determine what’s appropriate for your dog’s specific condition.

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