Horse owners are fortunate today to have a whole spectrum of care options for their horses. In addition to traditional veterinary care, many veterinarians are becoming educated in a number of alternative treatments as well, using a holistic, or whole-animal approach, rather than concentrating on a specific area of treatment.
Holistic is a term that describes the use of a whole spectrum of therapeutic options. It involves a wide variety of choices for treatment, including chiropractic and massage, laser and magnetic therapy, use of therapeutic nutrition, healing herbs and homeopathic remedies.
Through the years, some of these treatments were frowned on as being ‘far out’ – ‘irregular’ or ‘fringe’ medicine; however in recent years the use of these practices are becoming more acceptable by ‘traditional’ practitioners.
Interestingly, none of the holistic procedures are really new; many have been practiced in one form or another for thousands of years, having been used by the ancient Mayans, Chinese, Greeks, Native American Indians and Asian Indians. Today they are being rediscovered as sound alternatives against the types of diseases and resistant bacteria that are becoming more prevalent with the increased usage of antibiotics. And in recent years, homeopathy has become more and more popular — in humans, the World Health Organization recognizes homeopathy as the second largest therapeutic system in use in the world, with five million American adults and one million children using homeopathy, according to a 2012 survey.
One of the most important principles of homeopathic medicine is that treatments must be “individualized” and tailored to each patient’s specific symptoms, history, body and needs. A patient’s past medical history, as well as his current status, are very important. For example, a homeopathic doctor will often ask in-depth questions to learn about a patient’s stress levels, anxiety and personal characteristics. In addition to the initial interview, laboratory tests of the blood, urine, etc. are commonly used to help determine the patient’s physical condition, with the end goal of assisting the homeopathic doctor in learning about the patient’s entire experience in order to be most effective in treatment — a holistic approach.
Patients can respond differently to doses of the same homeopathic medicines, with some needing higher doses than others based on their current situation. Homeopathic remedies are diluted to a potency depending on the individual patient’s needs, with the goal of using the smallest dose possible that will still be beneficial.
Some find it difficult to understand how such a minute amount of a remedy (tiny pills or pillules the size of nonpareils) can actually be effective in restoring a patient to good health, and some research into the subject revealed that homeopathic medicines are made by diluting a medicinal substance (mainly plants and minerals) in double-distilled water. Double-distilled water is highly purified, which enables the medicinal substance to infiltrate and imprint the water. Each substance is diluted, most commonly, one part of the original substance to nine or 99 parts double-distilled water. The mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken and the process is repeated — diluting and vigorously shaking a preparation of the original substance, in water and alcohol. After dilution the medicine is added to lactose tablets or pillules. Over-the-counter homeopathic medicines tend to be in either the 6c or 30c potency. 6c means that the substance has undergone 6 steps in a series of dilutions, where each step involves diluting one part medicine to 99 parts alcohol/water. The more stages of dilution and shaking (succussion) the preparation has gone through, the more potent the medicine is — so a 30c medicine is more potent than a 6c medicine, having gone through the process 30 times.
Animals are successfully treated with homeopathy, especially small animals such as dogs, who tend to have one owner over the course of their lives, and who has knowledge of the dog’s past medical history. Horses can provide a challenge to the practitioner, as they often are lacking complete medical records due to having several owners. According to the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy, the veterinary homeopath will use traditional medical procedures to evaluate patients prior to treating by the homeopathic method. These may include a review of available medical records, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and medical imaging procedures, among others. Homeopathic prescribing depends heavily upon determining the signs of disease in the patient. This is accomplished by thorough history-taking at the beginning of a case and by careful client observations while the patient is under treatment.
The Academy states that almost any problem that can be treated by conventional veterinary medicine (allopathy) can be treated by homeopathy. Veterinarians who practice classical homeopathy according to Academy standards have been successful in restoring good health to chronically ill patients; as well as treating a large array of acute conditions ranging from traumatic injuries to infections and poisonings. Homeopathy is a holistic discipline and as such, the standards of good health including diet, exercise and the removal of stresses become an integral party of restoring the patient back to good health. Veterinarians who practice homeopathy have found it to be gentle, safe and effective in curing many patients. We have been fortunate to have veterinarians who use a holistic approach in treating our horses. One is a traditionally trained veterinarian who also utilizes a number of therapeutic options, including massage, Chinese Herbs and chiropractic, which worked well on our mare that was sensitive on her right side and had difficulty raising her right hind leg. The chiropractor stood on a bale of hay to reach up and across her back and used his hands to administer the adjustment. It took about three visits/adjustments to treat the condition, and the end result was more freedom of movement and less stiffness. The session was relatively easy; the mare did not experience any pain and remained calm throughout the procedures.
The other holistic veterinarian specializes in homeopathy, and was recommended to me by a friend whose horses have been treated for various conditions for many years.
Our Morgan mare, Sabrina, came to us more than a dozen years ago in the middle of winter. She was somewhat overweight, and was covered in long, Wookie-like hair that was lighter in color than her regular coat. She had a habit of ‘pointing’ her front feet alternately, which alerted me to the probability that she had Cushing’s disease. Our traditional veterinarian had prescribed a medication which contains levothyroxine sodium, another prescribed Pergolide, medicines commonly used for treating the symptoms of hypothyroidism. However after several months and several containers of the products which did not appear to make much of a difference in her condition, I consulted the homeopathic veterinarian that was recommended to me. New to homeopathy, I had many questions, and after taking into consideration her past history, ailments, medical records and physical condition, he patiently described how homeopathy works, and what remedies he would use to treat Sabrina. He assured me that the strengths of the remedies were safe and would not harm her; if one was ineffective another could be used without any negative effects.
It was surprising to see how tiny the ‘remedies’ were — enclosed in a small narrow glass vial that was about 2 inches tall, and contained what looked like tiny white nonpareil candies — 15 of which were to be placed on her gums under the cheek three times per day (actually three different remedies, some to be given on alternates days) along with a small plastic bottle of liquid that was to be sprayed on her gums twice daily. The treatment was to be administered for about eight weeks.
The remedies she was given helped her overcome her symptoms of Cushings — she shed out all the long, chestnut-colored hair, lost some weight and seemed to be more comfortable. This took place several years ago, and today her top line is still fairly straight (not swayback as in many older horses), she has all her teeth and although she grows a heavy winter coat she is able to shed most all of it out and has never had a recurrence of the long, chestnut “Wookie” hair — in fact, she looks pretty good for a 33-year-old horse! From time to time I call upon the homeopathic veterinarian if I have any questions about her overall health. She has been treated for a few other conditions through the years with homeopathy successfully, and has had no adverse reactions or problems.
For information on where to find a holistic veterinarian, you might talk to other horse owners and ask for recommendations, and do a bit of research to check on reviews. You can also visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at www.ahvma.org/find-a-holistic-veterinarian/ which provides lists of veterinarians with contact information, as well as what modalities (fields of study) they are experienced in.