Conventional veterinary medicine claims that holistic therapies don’t work, or that any healing that does occur can be written off as coincidence or placebo effect. Here are some powerful counterarguments against these claims.
Many of my clients run into a number of objections when they try to talk to their conventional veterinarians about holistic care for their dogs and cats. They feel frustrated because the doctors won’t even consider something that isn’t “mainstream conventional care”. In this article, I’ll share with you the three most common objections that traditional medicine poses against holistic medicine, and how I respond to them.
Objection #1 – “There’s no proof holistic medicine works.”
A large number of conventional doctors don’t believe there is any proof holistic therapies work. This is one of the objections that arose when I participated in a debate with a skeptical veterinarian at an AVMA conference, and it’s a common claim. When I wrote my most recent book (actually, all my books), I had to include “proof” that what I was saying was true, or else the editor wouldn’t move forward.
It’s true that double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are sometimes lacking when it comes to holistic medicine, but keep in mind that this type of study didn’t even exist until fairly recently. Doctors learned and shared with colleagues what worked and what didn’t work, based upon clinical experience. My clients only want to know if my treatment can help their pets; and I answer that question based on my own experiences and those of my colleagues.
Proof that holistic medicine works does exist if you look for it – although this isn’t to say veterinarians will accept it. One area in which the question of proof is often discussed concerns annual vaccines, which are not necessary and should not be given. Titer blood tests are preferable to determining if and when a vaccine might be needed. Vets who are against titers often say there’s no proof they work (actually, there is a lot of data showing their effectiveness). If you run up against a vet or anyone else who disagrees that titers are effective, simply ask him or her to show you proof that pets need annual shots. They won’t be able to give it to you because there isn’t any. Vets only give shots annually because that’s what they’ve always done, not because of any proof they’re needed!
Objection #2 – “If holistic medicine seems to work, it’s just a placebo effect.”
A conventional doctor will often dismiss a successful clinical response to a holistic therapy as a placebo effect. There are actually two types of placebo effect, but only one can occur in pets.
- The placebo effect we’re most familiar with cannot apply to dogs and cats. Here’s why. Suppose you have hurt your arm, and your doctor tells you the medicine he is prescribing should make it feel better; if it doesn’t, he will have to amputate! Believe me, you’re going to do everything possible to make sure your arm feels better soon. In effect, your mind is telling your body to get better. Obviously, we can’t tell a dog or cat that he needs to feel better — either he responds to the therapy or he doesn’t.
- The second type of placebo effect does occur in pets as well as people. It involves the fact that unless a disease is terminal, a percentage of patients will get better regardless of treatment. It follows that if a natural therapy might not have worked, yet the pet recovers even without it, the same can be said of a drug.
As a holistic doctor, I actually love the placebo effect because it shows me that my patients can get better on their own without the need for harsh conventional medications. At times, it may be hard to know if my therapy worked, or if the pet simply improved through placebo, but consider the following two points.
- Isn’t it better to treat the dog or cat with something natural and devoid of side effects, rather than a harsh chemical, if he might get better anyway? And since I know my natural therapies can reduce pain and inflammation, and support the immune system during healing, isn’t it likely the animal gets some benefit without side effects, even if it’s just through feeling better and recovering from disease more quickly?
- Many of the cases I see are chronically ill animals that should have recovered already, either by placebo effect or with conventional treatment. By the time I see them, enough time has passed for the pet to have improved, thereby eliminating the possibility of placebo effect or coincidence (see below).
Objection #3 – “It’s only a coincidence when holistic medicine seems to heal.”
The final objection brought up by the skeptical veterinarian during our debate was the possibility of coincidence. Basically, as he stated it, there is always the chance that a holistic doctor is just plain lucky that the pet got better, and that it had nothing to do with the therapy.
This objection is similar to that of the placebo effect, but has more to do with chance. However, when does “luck” become “reality?” How many cases must I treat before a skeptic admits I’m not simply lucky, but that actual healing occurred? Most of the cases I and my holistic colleagues see are the really tough ones that have not responded to any conventional treatments. These are the so-called “hopeless” cases I wrote about in the last issue (see “Holistic medicine for ‘hopeless’ cases”, V20I4). They’re the cases that failed to respond to numerous treatment attempts by several doctors, including board-certified specialists. If coincidence was the only explanation for my success, then I’m the luckiest doctor on earth! And why should I be so lucky? How come no other (conventional) doctor achieves this level of success? Are only holistic doctors so lucky that we heal and often cure the hopeless, incurable cases?
I think any open-minded person has to admit that much more than luck, coincidence and a placebo effect are involved when so many people and pets who failed to respond to conventional medicine improve with natural therapies!
“Why don’t you publish more articles in conventional journals?”
During the Q&A following the debate I took part in, a conventional doctor mentioned that if holistic doctors published more articles in mainstream journals, the chances of our therapies being accepted would be higher. I agreed, but shared two stories with him about how challenging this can be.
- Many years ago, I wrote an article detailing the side effects of supplements. It was rejected by a prominent veterinary journal because the editor questioned why any vet would need to know this! Fortunately, a magazine whose audience was comprised of pet owners decided to run the article.
- Another time, I did research for a company that made a choline supplement. I wrote up the research, detailing how this supplement successfully treated Alzheimer’s (cognitive disorder) in dogs. The AVMA Journal turned it down, saying that since there was no such disease in dogs, my treatment could not have worked! Ten years later, a drug was discovered to help senile dogs, at which time the journal and the profession at large accepted cognitive disorder as a real disease.
As you can see, we have our work cut out for us when dealing with vets and others who are skeptical of holistic medicine. However, consider some of these common arguments against holistic care, and use some of the counterarguments that I use to try to win them over. And yes, I actually did win the debate against the skeptical vet at the conference!
Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier wrote The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. He’s the pet care expert for Martha Stewart Living’s “Dr. Shawn – The Natural Vet” on Sirius Satellite Radio, and creator of Dr. Shawn’s Pet Organics. His practice, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital (petcarenaturally.com), is in Plano, Texas.