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The Appeal of "Alternative" Therapies for Dogs

By: Dr. David Ramey

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Still, it's easy to understand why people find "alternative" therapies so appealing. A yearning for "unity with nature" is something that is common to any number of cultures. Germany has its naturphilosophie. In Asia, this desire exhibits itself as a reverence for tradition and beliefs that try to tie spirituality and cosmology into all phases of life. Many North Americans and Europeans are captivated by "naturopathy," "holistic" (non-natural) medicine, fairy tales and folk traditions. On the other hand, scientific medicine is complicated and intimidating. People are drawn to that which is comfortable and they tend to resist giving up folk beliefs, traditional healing methods, quaint and familiar ideas and superstitions.

Signs of such superstitions can be seen regularly. Cold water on hot muscles causes cramps and muscle damage (it doesn't). Feeding garlic keeps the fleas away (it doesn't). Unnamed "toxins" are at the root of all disease and it's important to "detoxify." (The notion of toxins stems from the musings of Dr. Kellogg at the turn of the 20th century. Though he gave rise to the popular cereal brand, he also made such fad treatments as routine enemas popular.)

On the other hand, when compared to that which is old and comfortable, technical, professional and scientific medicine is relatively new, only having been in existence for about a hundred years. Plus, it keeps changing – the volume of medical information is estimated to double every four to eight years. The language seems strange and it's not easily understood; indeed, special schools are set up so as to help make that language more understandable. However, even if you don't completely understand the language, revolutions in modern medicine has dramatically changed the quality of life.

So, why is it that "alternative" and "complementary" therapies seem to be getting so much press? In fact, why do they exist at all? There are probably several reasons. In general, "alternative" and "complementary" therapies tend to find a niche in one of three areas:

  • The first is where no cure currently exists. Where there is a cure, such as giving intravenous fluids in the treatment of dehydration, there is simply no "alternative" needed because the proven therapy is effective. Unfortunately, however, most conditions do not have a cure. No one has yet solved the difficult problems posed by arthritis in any species. Thus, it's a sad fact that the use of any currently available treatment for an incurable condition will most likely ultimately fail. This leaves room for any number of treatment possibilities. Still, it seems unlikely that cures and effective treatments for difficult-to-treat conditions have been somehow forgotten; the advances in medicine have come from looking forward, not backward.

  • The second playground for "alternative" therapies is in the treatment of things that are likely to turn out all right anyway. A good number of things that cause people to worry about their animals, such as minor scrapes or sprains or self-limiting viral infections, can most likely be treated successfully, using any number of approaches. Indeed, such conditions tend to get better on their own (unless the therapy gets in the way). So when treatments are given for diseases that are going to improve anyway, the treatment is usually credited for the therapeutic "success." Whether you use homeopathic arnica, an herbal poultice or a dose of pain reliever, your dog's limp may get better on its own if you give simply it some time.

  • The third situation where "alternatives" are popular is in the treatment of animals that are not sick and have no signs of disease or in animals where it's not possible to demonstrate or diagnose a real medical problem. "Alternatives" appeal to a group of people that have been termed the "worried well"; a group that worries something might go wrong soon, even if nothing is wrong at the moment. With such an attitude, it's easy to be persuaded that a regular dose of herbs is "good for your animal's metabolism" or that "adjustments" help keep your animal's spine in good working order.

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