I recently complained about a vet promoting quackery in the Bay of Plenty Times. In response to my complaint, the editor agreed to publish a response I wrote, regarding what we owe our pets. Now that it’s been up for a little while, I’m also publishing it here on my blog.
The Bay of Plenty Times recently published an opinion piece by veterinarian Liza Schneider about avoiding and treating cat abscesses. Liza Schneider runs the Holistic Vets clinic in Tauranga, and is the president of a special interest group of New Zealand vets focused on “complementary veterinary medicine”.
At the end of her article, she said “complementary therapies like homeopathy, herbal medicine, ozonated gel, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and others can help aid healing tremendously.”
The claimed efficacy of homeopathy is in stark contrast with evidence-based practice. As the UK’s Royal Council of Veterinary Surgeons said in a statement last year, “Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles.”
Like children, our pets rely on us to make healthcare choices for them. Just as pets cannot talk to us about their symptoms, they are unable to discuss treatment options, make an informed decision of their own, or consent to treatment. These important decisions are left to their carer, and their vet is the carer’s guide to making this decision.
When we welcome a pet into our homes, we take on a responsibility to care for them. When their health becomes an issue, they have no choice but to rely on us to make the best decision in their stead. We must be their advocate.
If we choose poorly, their health may suffer. In my view treatments like homeopathy, which are not supported by robust evidence, will at best cost you money and do nothing, but at worst they may delay effective treatment.
Though we are fully capable of making informed decisions about our own healthcare that might involve trying treatments that are not backed by good evidence, I strongly believe that we have a duty to our pets not to experiment on them in this way.
This responsibility also applies to veterinarians. When a vet says things that are not soundly based on scientific evidence, such as “homeopathy… can help healing tremendously”, I believe they are failing in that responsibility.
The New Zealand Veterinary Association has a policy on the use of “complementary and alternative treatments” that requires, among other things, that vets must say if a treatment they are advocating is not supported by evidence:
“Clients must be made aware of the likely effectiveness of a given treatment according to recognised peer-reviewed veterinary medical publications, notwithstanding the individual beliefs of the veterinarian. They must also be told the degree to which tests, treatments or remedies have been evaluated and the degree of certainty and predictability that exists about their efficacy and safety.”
I sincerely hope that your vet fulfils this responsibility in their practice.