Rational Veterinary Medicine

A History of the Site:

The Rational Veterinary Medicine web site was originally born out of a crisis in the UK veterinary profession regarding complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM)…

It was the year 2006, and the Veterinary Medicines Regulations were in final draft form and within weeks of being passed into law. This piece of legislation, which is of vital importance to the veterinary profession in this country, defining as it does which medicines the practicing veterinary surgeon is legally allowed to use, looked as if it was finally about to outlaw the practice of homeopathy by veterinary surgeons and so bring the UK into line with many European countries who restrict professionals such as veterinary surgeons and doctors to practicing only medicine which has a scientific basis.

There had also been strong indications in the veterinary press from the UK government's Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) that the use of homeopathic remedies in animals was in contradiction of the "cascade" (the rules which determine which drugs a vet is allowed to use) which meant that no vet would be able to use such remedies in any case where a conventional, licensed alternative was available. Veterinary organisations such as the British Veterinary Association (BVA) had issued statements which were in opposition to the use of homeopathic remedies in veterinary medicine.

Then, suddenly and after the deadline for appeals had passed, the news was announced that the act would be changed in such a way as to allow homeopathic remedies to be used by vets. Additionally, remedies already in use would automatically be granted a "license" which would give them virtually identical legal status as conventional medicines but without the need for the testing for safety or effectiveness that conventional drugs have to undergo. At the same time concerns from government bodies about whether or not homeopathic remedies would be allowed to be used legitimately on the cascade went strangely quiet.

It seemed to many in the profession that this was a last minute fudge, slipping under the wire without any prior warning and in a way which left it too late to mount serious objection. Nevertheless, by virtue of email and some pretty speedy dissemenation of information a campaign was put together by concerned vets and a letter of protest was sent to the governing body of the profession, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

2006 had been a difficult year for those in the profession unhappy about the use of non evidence based treatments such as homeopathy. In the previous year there had been a concerted effort to undermine freedom of speech in the profession by attempting to close down the satirical (and good humoured) British Veterinary Voodoo Society which was set up to counter the ridiculous claims of veterinary and other homeopaths. For the next few months several members of the profession whose only crime had been to try to present the full truth about homeopathy had the threat of expulsion hanging over them as the disciplinary committee met to consider the case. The whole affair didn't come to a final conclusion (the charges were dismissed) until 2006.

So the imminent endorsement of homeopathy by the VMD in the same year seemed like yet another assault on rationality in the profession. To support the case in favour of rational veterinary medicine the letter which was sent to the RCVS contained statements from other veterinary organisations such as this, from the prestigious European Board of Veterinary Specialisation (EBVS) "The veterinary profession received the prerogative for diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases based on the assumption that veterinarians are guided by scientific methods. The EBVS therefore only recognises scientific, evidence-based veterinary medicine which complies with animal welfare legislation. Specialists or colleges who practice or support implausible treatment modalities with no proof of effectiveness run the risk of withdrawal of their specialist status. No creditpoints can be granted for education or training in these so-called supplementary, complementary and alternative treatment modalities." and this, from the British Veterinary Association, which represents over 10,000 veterinary surgeons, a substantial proportion of all UK vets, "No genuine "provings" of homoeopathic remedies have ever successfully been performed in animals. Wild extrapolation of a disproven human therapeutic modality to animals is therefore an offence to animal welfare.” [where “provings” are the process whereby homeopathic remedies are claimed to reveal their sphere of action].

"All controlled trials of homoeopathic treatment of veterinary patients (four in total) have shown no effect compared to the placebo control groups. There is no evidence whatsoever of a physiological or therapeutic effect in such patients. Instead, the homoeopathic ritual of case-taking and remedy matching appears to influence the owner to perceive the animal's condition in a more favourable light, attributing coincidental recovery to the remedy, and even imagining improvement where none is present. While a positive change in attitude to an illness may arguably be of real benefit to a human patient, such an effect on the owner of an animal patient does not help the animal.

"This is not purely a concern as regards pet animals - the danger is arguably even more serious in farm animal medicine, where homoeopathy is encouraged within the organic farming industry as being free of side effects and residues. The question of how any preparation can have a physiological effect and yet be absolutely safe as regards adverse reactions or residue concerns never seems to be addressed, and the consequences for animal welfare of denying these patients proven effective medicines is a grave concern.".

The expected reply arrived on 20th June and was, to be frank, a major disappointment. The RCVS pointed out that in a submission to the house of Lords inquiry in 1999 they had stated "Veterinary surgeons practise science-based medicine" but then went on to say that the RCVS had not "taken a view on the efficacy or otherwise of homoeopathy" and that it did not want to limit the "clinical discretion of veterinary surgeons".  This contradictory response did little to assure. On the one hand the RCVS was paying lip service to 'science based medicine' yet at the same time was unable to comment on homeopathy, a discipline which has never had any scientific credentials outside its own journals and was happy for vets to carry on using it if the inclination took them.

Thus was born the 'Rational Veterinary Medicine' web site, serving originally as a platform for the public scrutiny of this scandal. And it worked very well too, getting plenty of coverage in the blogsphere, in forums and on the national news. In addition the Veterinary Voodoo Society got plenty of excellent publicity at the same time as the attempts to gag it had become conflated with the legislative issues and is now one of the highest ranking sites when searching 'veterinary homeopathy' on Google as a result. Pity no one can spell either veterinary or homeopathy, but you can't have everything I guess!

The website has now been revived in an effort to further highlight the contradictiory and potentially damaging effect of homeopathy in animals but it will also include wider topics relevant to CAM in veterinary and human medicine and also to rational thinking in other areas as well as a database of papers and articles relevant to the subject.