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The English government cracks down on alternative pet remedies

One cannot play charades forever.

European veterinary groups have long been more skeptical about “alternative” veterinary practices than their American counterparts. For example, the European Board of Veterinary Specialties refuses to grant continuing education credits for non-scientific endeavors attempting to masquerade as a way to improve one’s clinical knowledge, and the practice of veterinary homeopathy is forbidden in Sweden.

Now comes good news (for pets, and pet owners), out of the UK. In an effort to improve animal health and welfare, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) has targeted “alternative” remedies, which, of course, pose both real and potential dangers to pets. The VMD is the body responsible for the authorization of veterinary medicinal products in the United Kingdom.

Specifically, the VMD is targeting a number of unauthorized products that lack scientific proof of effectiveness, including:

  • homeopathic “nosodes” (substances that are the homeopathic equivalent of vaccination, with the notable exception being that they don’t work)
  • various herbal products
  • “neutraceuticals,” the cleverly coined combination of “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical,” which really aren’t either, a fact which, of course, hasn’t dented their popularity, nor dampened their claims (including improved mental ability in pets)
  • Herbal deworming products, which may claim to irritate the bowel and make it less inviting for parasites (an absurd claim)

Giving a pet an ineffective remedy invites direct harm, if a sick animal is treated with an ineffective remedy, as well as indirect harm, if an effective therapy is avoided in favor of the heavily advertised ineffective one.

Director of Operations of the VMD, John FitzGerald, said, “Animal owners have a right to know if a product does what it claims. The products claim to treat diseases which can cause serious welfare problems and in some circumstances kill animals if not properly treated. So in some cases owners are giving remedies to their pets which don’t treat the problem.” British Veterinary Association President Harvey Locke, in support of the VMD, noted, “As veterinary surgeons we rely on the use of safe, effective and quality medicines for the health and welfare of animals under our care – and there must always be sound scientific evidence to back up medicinal claims made by the manufacturer of any product.”

The VMD intends to contact manufacturers of “alternative” products to make sure that they are safe, and provide the claimed benefits. If they don’t (which they won’t), the VMD will make the manufacturers rebrand the products so that consumers will know that the products are not medicinal.

Now one might legitimately ask, “Why don’t the US veterinary authorities and organizations take some action such as this?” Well, in my opinion, veterinary authorities are more interested in getting animals to be treated by veterinarians than they are in the particular remedies that are being used. So far, in the US, it’s been a triumph of economics over science. How long that stance holds up, particularly in light of the legitimate strides at curbing non-scientific practices in other countries, remains to be seen.

Posted in: Politics and Regulation, Veterinary medicine

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20 thoughts on “The English government cracks down on alternative pet remedies

  1. Mojo says:

    It would be nice if they extended this approach to medicines for people.

  2. Draal says:

    This is the kind of BS that is going on in my town.
    www dot annarbor.com/pets/ann-arbor-veterinarian-uses-acupuncture-to-address-health-issues-with-companion-animals/

  3. daijiyobu says:

    This helps knock the legs out from the homeopathy proponents’ claim that ‘homeopathy must work because it works in animals and animals can’t experience placebo.’

    Simpler answer: it doesn’t work.

    Maybe will start protecting babies next.

    I hope we’re moving UP in terms of importance.

    Though that’s rather strange: not to knock animals, but usually people are first in importance.

    -r.c.

  4. S.C. former shruggie says:

    This is terrific. While medical schools are integrating dark ages medicine that doesn’t work with the real stuff, British vets are weeding out the magic rubbish.

    I wish this could be done with human medicine.

    What do you think made the difference? How did reason trump politics and CAM lobbyists in vetrinary medicine?

  5. Epinephrine says:

    It’s simutaneously encouraging and discouraging.

    I’m trying hard to get these issues addressed with the human versions, but maybe the fact that we’re willing to protect consumers’ pets will be enough to knock some sense into someone.

  6. Mighty Amoeba says:

    There are two vets close to me, one which does homeopathic nonsense and a good one. The receptionist was amused when she asked how I heard about them and I told her, “you’re the vet that isn’t crazy.”

    Also: I cannot begin to imagine how you would acupuncture a cat without getting claw-punctured yourself.

  7. Draal – I have been very happy with the vets at Easthaven Animal Hospital. No acupuncture, no homeopathy, experienced vets. I don’t live in A2 anymore, but I still make the drive for them.

  8. Draal says:

    Michele, I’ll check them out. My current vet is at Canton Center Vet Clinic, from when I lived in Canton. Didn’t have a problem there.
    What originally got me ticked was when I went to a dog product show last summer in Canton. I passed a booth for doggie acupuncture (a few stalls down from a chiropractor- why he was there… donno). The acupuncturist had a stuffed animal dog that looked like a pin cushion. The product show also had tons of booths selling “all natural”, “organic”, “antioxidant” dog food (tons of free samples though!). Just talking with these people was just amusing and frustrating. Woo woo galore!
    Something more recently that got my attention was and ad in the Ann Arbor newspaper for a new Chinese acupuncturist for pets (she wasn’t even a vet.). bleh!

  9. Enkidu says:

    Our local emergency vet has some excellent doctors. Two of my dogs have had emergency surgery there and I couldn’t have asked for better treatment. One of my dogs recently had a large tumor removed and is undergoing low-dose chemo; the vet that is treating him is amazing.

    However, it saddens me that they also employ a “specialist” in acupuncture and chinese herbal medicine: http://www.vsecvet.com/bio/kCollins.shtml

    UGH

  10. art malernee dvm says:

    his is terrific. While medical schools are integrating dark ages medicine that doesn’t work with the real stuff, British vets are weeding out the magic rubbish.
    I wish this could be done with human medicine.
    What do you think made the difference? How did reason trump politics and CAM lobbyists in vetrinary medicine?>>>>>

    the vets in UK practice closer to Sweden I suspect they figured out how to change the laws to match those of Sweden. The practice of veterinary homeopathy is forbidden in Sweden. I bet if Canada or Mexico forbid the practice of homeopathy the USA vets would be so embarrassed we would also figure a way to stop it also.
    art malernee dvm
    fla lic 1820

  11. It is nice to see a government regulatory body make some sort of statement about scientific evidence being important to justify claims made for healthcare products. I may be unduly pessimistic, but unfortunately I doubt this is going to have much real impact on the availability or popularity of these products though. Unproven health claims are technically illegal in the U.S. too, but the rules are rarely enforced, and it is easy to avoid them simply by making vague, but still misleading “structure and function” claims. I wouldn’t be surprised if the companies challenged by the Directorate find a similar loophole.

    And ultimately government doesn’t always do a great job keeping things away from consumers that they want, useless nonsense or no. The Swiss government tried to stop paying for homeopathy under its national health coverage, and the public voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to reverse this decision regardless of the evidence.

    Still, maybe at least it will help some people to know that the government explicitly does not approve the claims these companies make. Here’s hoping!

  12. rmgw says:

    A lot of people are asking what makes the difference is how medical personnel are allowed to treat animals or children i.e., with woo or not.
    Surely the answer is in the sentence “Animal OWNERS have a right to know if a product does what it claims….”
    The economic rights of an “owner” are what counts. This sheds an interesting light on how we now consider parenthood, compared to the old idea that children “belonged” to their parents in a way that meant sooner or later the latter were going to get some economic benefit out of their offspring. “Disinterested” parental – or pet-keeping – care (“love”) can take risks which hard-headed economics cannot, with interesting consequences for the care-ees.

  13. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    In the Netherlands practising medicine used to be (since 1865) strictly reserved for physicians. But this law was unenforceable, and the authorities also didn’t put a lot of effort in controlling quackery. In 1997 a new law came into force, which allowed anybody to practice human medicine (except cutting into people and writing prescriptions and so on). The only restriction was that inflicting damage became punishable, but hardly anybody was prosecuted for that.

    However, the law still says that treating sick animals is restricted to university trained veterinarians. The philosophy is that animals cannot choose for themselves. But just as in the old times with human medicine: the law is not enforced. There are countless animal quacks and the authorities don’t care.

  14. Epinephrine says:

    What do you think made the difference? How did reason trump politics and CAM lobbyists in vetrinary medicine?

    Might have to do with the reviewers? We don’t have any homeopaths or naturopaths reviewing monoclonal antibodies, but they are present in the group responsible for evaluating natural health products. It might be as simple as having a smal review team that tends to attract pharmacologists and those of a scientific bent.

  15. draal – “What originally got me ticked was when I went to a dog product show last summer in Canton. I passed a booth for doggie acupuncture (a few stalls down from a chiropractor- why he was there… donno).”

    Chiropractor’s booth seem ubiquitous around here. Last spring I saw one at a Green Fair for environmental products. What, I have to ask, does Chiropractic have to do with environmentalism? They didn’t seem to know either.

    I would speculate that flooding a market with ads, booths and commercials does not always give a good impression. For higher priced good/services, scarcity often appeals to people, Chiropractic is starting to seem about as valuable as a pillow pet.

    But maybe that is wishful thinking.

  16. rmgw – “The economic rights of an “owner” are what counts. This sheds an interesting light on how we now consider parenthood, compared to the old idea that children “belonged” to their parents in a way that meant sooner or later the latter were going to get some economic benefit out of their offspring. ”

    Why would there be a difference in the economic rights (consumer protections) of someone purchasing health care treatment for themselves or their child or their pet, for that matter? The question revolves around whether or not the item/service being sold does what it claims to do. The question is not who it is sold too.

  17. davuws says:

    Slip of the tongue I’m sure, but the UK and England aren’t synonyms and there is no “English government”.

  18. norrisL says:

    Here in Australia, we (scientific veterinarians) tried to force the AVA (Australian Veterinary Association) to remove the “Australian Holistic Veterinarians” from the AVA several years ago. The attempt failed due to the AHV veterinarians being far more interested in voting on this issue than “scientific” veterinarians.
    Interestingly, this year’s AVA conference in Adelaide is under the banner of “Evidence based Medicine”/ The AHV “vets” are not attending. I guess they couldn’t find any evidence at all to back their ludicrous claims.
    My view is that these fools should either recant their beliefs in their stupid little homeopathy etc, or they should hand back their registration and also their veterinary degrees and practice under their true title of quack.
    NorrisL

  19. sagarp49 says:

    Title should read U.K. government but good news for animal care for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too

  20. wertys says:

    A dog in the UK can’t be given homeopathy for its arthritis, but its owner can have homeopathy and acupuncture on the NHS. Should we found a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Gullible People?

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