Homeopathy - The Basics

Homeopathy, the "law of similars"...

"Like cures like."  "The smallest dose."  "Potentization, trituration, succussion."  "Provings."  "Miasms". ...

Generally, popularized homeopathic "understanding" consists of a vague idea about the remedies being based on the aphorism "like cures like" - kind of like a vaccine, right?  Well, kind of...  But not an awful lot!  It might help to think of homeopathic remedies as working because they can produce in the body a disease state similar to that which the patient is suffering from... but that the "new one" is slightly stronger (due to potentization) and so able to "overcome" the other one.

In any case, there's a whole lot more to homeopathy than that!

If you aren't very familiar with the homeopathic concept, and the sorts of things you might encounter in homeopathic treatment of your pet, you'll do well to get some grounding in it.  For this, I think that the best thing I can do is refer you to a couple of introductory articles (which I've selected from many). ...It takes more than a couple of sentences to really comprehend it.  (Then come back here for the animal perspective!)

http://www.homeopathic.org/introduction.htm - National Center for Homeopathy (U.S.)
    This is an excellent brief overview (and includes an article on the use of homeopathy for pets and farm animals).  Both of these articles give easily-digested versions of the basic concepts as well as describing typical human patient interviews.  But if you only have time for one introduction, read this one.

http://www.kcnet.org/~jvanemon/homeo.htm - Dr. Anthony Campbell, Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital
    This is a very interesting and well-put-together overview that begins with a terse history of the development of the homeopathic science.  I highly recommend it as a companion to the NCH intro.

Homeopathy is a recourse for animal ailments.  Homeopathic remedies, unlike drugs, act to strengthen the body's own healing system to deal with disease symptoms, be they physical or mental/emotional.  (Most people aren't aware that homeopaths have had very significant success dealing with even the most severe of infectious diseases, nor that homeopathic remedy kits used to be a staple for many rural families far from a doctor or veterinarian.)

As with humans, homeopathy may entirely "remove" disease from your pet (if tissues/organs haven't been damaged beyond repair)...  But let's not forget that it can't affect the circumstances that got your critter into a diseased state.  It still behooves you to learn what you can about the origins of a disease, and about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, so that you can prevent a reoccurrence. ...Not to mention the fact that continually experiencing the cause will obstruct the cure!

The Symptom Picture

Though I'm assuming that you have at least a very basic understanding of what homeopathy is all about, there's one thing that I might stress...  That is the difference in how homeopaths (those who treat a disease with the same substance that causes it) and "allopaths" (those who treat disease with drugs - i.e., mainstream MDs) treat symptoms.  ("Naturopath", "osteopath" - truly representatives of different pathways.)

Mainstream medicine focuses on, and treats, symptoms individually; whereas homeopathy treats the constellation of symptoms that make up the patient's disease picture (physical and mental and emotional). 

Logic and experience show us how these two medical systems manifest...

Treating one symptom at a time - or perhaps a cluster of a few (often with drugs or surgery that cause other unwanted symptoms) - tends strongly to simply change the patient's disease picture, not to heal the patient of her diseased state.  The changes may vary from patient to patient.  The patient (or, in the case of an animal, his owner!) may decide that the "cure" is better than what came before, despite an imperfect outcome, and let it go at that.  The medical system is designed to manage disease, not to cure it.

Treating the entire symptom array, on the other hand, is far more likely to result in the clearing up of the patient's diseased state (again, assuming not too much damage to the body has been sustained).  From the homeopathic point of view, the reason that a drug, for instance, acts differently with different patients is that they each have a different constellation of symptoms...  Each of which needs a different treatment!

In homeopathy, a changed disease state is simply a step on the road to a cure, not an end in itself.  (Though some patients, or caretakers of animal patients, may stop with a mere lessening of symptoms - which is the normal allopathic treatment expectation.)  But Samuel Hahnemann, the discover and developer of homeopathy, stated, simply, that "illness is the sum of its symptoms."  Illness is the symptoms!  (Which means, in a very real way, that there are many liver-related diseases, not "liver disease", to be treated.)  Only when disease symptoms are gone is a cure achieved.  Logically, then, all unusual symptoms are of import, and are watched along the way.

Sometimes one remedy does it.  In the case of serious or chronic disease, though, the symptom picture may change such that "new" (or, more likely, old) symptoms (re)appear.  One remedy may bring the course of a disease from its current point back to an earlier stage (perhaps one that the patient or owner wasn't really aware of - a "precursor" to the acute disease). ...Then another remedy will be in order.  Disease progresses... so too, often, does the cure.

See the following article for a discussion of the layers of diseases, and why more than one remedy might be needed to trace disease back to its source:

- David Little, homeopath
    Though this article is a little hard to read (and needs grammatical editing), I don't hesitate to recommend it as being very interesting and informative.  I suggest that just reading it through without worrying about understanding each sentence will result in quite a lot of understanding of the classical homeopath's method of treatment.

As a pet owner, a comprehension of this homeopathic precept will give you an edge in your caretaking abilities...  It can make you more aware of changes in your animal that might indicate that a diseased state is developing.  And you'll be on the lookout for latent symptoms that arise, so that you won't have to settle for "just a little better".

Symptom Aggravation and Proving Caveats

In case you missed these important points (or might forget about them when they happen!), I'd better underline them...

It's possible that on taking a homeopathic remedy, the patient will for a short time experience an aggravation of her symptoms - then a lessening of them.  This doesn't happen all that often, but you should be prepared for it if it does.  We might say that there's a correlate to this in the "healing crisis" that can come with other natural treatments (herbal, nutritional, hydrotherapeutic, etc.), when the body is stimulated to rid itself of toxins and whatnot.

Such an aggravation will usually last only a matter of hours and is nothing to worry about.  If it lasts more than a day, better check with the doctor again.

But, while homeopathic remedies are rightly characterized as being extremely safe, there are certain situations in which it would be dangerous for aggravations to occur - such as with further production of lung-clogging mucus for a tubercular patient already precariously near death.  (In such cases, I very much hope that the patient will be under the care of a trained homeopath and not just treated at home from a book!!)

Hahnemann also discovered and stressed that the amount of a remedy given is an important part of the practitioner's prescribing skill.  Giving too much of a high potency remedy can aggravate symptoms unnecessarily...  And perhaps dangerously, if the patient suffers from hypersensitivity or a serious lack of vitality - or, as mentioned above, some sort of severe tissue change (and what if it's there but not known of?) that puts his health in a precarious position.  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT NOT TO INEXPERTLY PRESCRIBE FOR ONESELF OR ONE'S ANIMALS BEYOND THE LOWER DOSES!

(And I must interject here that gaining the most thorough understanding of the body that one can achieve will aid one's common sense in any home prescribing that one does undertake.)  

It's also possible that if the wrong remedy is given, the patient may begin to experience other symptoms entirely unrelated to what has come before.  (For the homeopathic home prescriber, who has only a limited number of first aid kit remedies to choose from, the wrong one may sadly be the result because the right one just isn't there!)  This is often said to be a "proving" - that is, the new constellation of symptoms demonstrate those that typically occur when someone who doesn't have them takes that particular remedy.  (Which is how homeopaths came to know to give that remedy to someone who does exhibit that symptom picture - because they "proved" it with hundreds of healthy subjects all exhibiting the same set of symptoms.)  In some patients, the wrong remedy won't do anything (that's certainly a good sign of it being the wrong remedy!) - some patients are very sensitive to any remedy, though, and will demonstrate new symptoms readily.

As mentioned before, with an animal, you as caretaker may not have noticed the progression of symptoms (as you would with yourself!) - so you might not be certain whether this is a proving or the backward progression of the disease.  Not to worry! - in either case, the point is that a different remedy is now needed if these strange symptoms don't go away soon...  The prescriber's concern need only be to figure out what that remedy is, and go on from there.

What you should not assume is that a little more of the remedy later - and then a little more, and a little more! - might rectify the situation.  Giving too many doses of a remedy can disrupt the workings of the right one (and aggravate the unwanted symptoms of the wrong one).

By the way, many lay people don't know that there are various homeopathic remedies that antidote other remedies.  If you are truly worried about a severe reaction to a remedy, be sure to consult with a trained homeopath... who may be able to instantly put her finger on a way to neutralize the troublesome dose.

As homeopath David Little (the author of the article linked above) states elsewhere on his extremely interesting site (fascinating to browse through!), "The first dose of a homeopathic remedy is a test dose.  No one can judge the constitutional sensitivity of each individual perfectly.  For this reason, the safest thing to do is give one single test dose and carefully watch for signs of action of the remedy."  In other words, don't give up on homeopathy because it didn't work the first time!

Combination vs. Single Remedies

Classical homeopathy is based on the single remedy for a constellation of symptoms.  This makes sense...  Though I say I believe in the shotgun approach to healing, it is difficult to know what factor had which effect when more than one is introduced at one time.  In homeopathy, this separating out of effects is especially important.

(For this reason - to make it possible for the homeopathic prescriber to manage the patient's case - it's also best not to "indulge" in many different healing modalities that work on the body's "energy systems", nor to introduce new ones, while beginning a homeopathic treatment.  Try to space out acupuncture, Reiki, etc., even chiropractic treatments, and the use of very powerful herbs, so as not to coincide with the giving of homeopathic remedies.)

Combination remedies have become very popular, though, for the layperson - i.e., for self-treatment.  This does make its own kind of sense...  Because if one is in the position of having to treat oneself (or one's pet), it's not only often difficult to diagnose what the single correct remedy should be (assuming you have diagnostic tools on hand), it's often hard to find it as well.

I live in the middle of nowhere - and I do use combination remedies from time to time.  One uses the best tools of whatever is at hand!  But as you may imagine from reading the above sections, some admonitions are definitely in order...

  • Look for the right single remedy first! - use a combination remedy only if you can't find it or don't have access to it...  (David Little states:  "The single remedy allows the vital force to concentrate its maximum healing power on the essential picture of the illness rather then dispersing vital energy in reaction to several medicinal influences simultaneously."  And that "combination remedies... [make] case management of complex problems almost impossible... because you can not tell what may be causing aggravations, new symptoms, or amelioration.")

  • Absolutely don't rely on over-the-counter combination remedies (which are all in lower doses) for treating chronic or serious problems.

  • If you can, do some research on each of a combination remedy's elements before choosing between a couple - one may have more likely remedies in it than another.

  • Another reason to do some research instead of just grab one off the shelf is that some contain elements that are known to cancel each other out (!) - if you have a homeopathic materia medica, look for this information at the end of the discussion of an individual remedy.  (If you're buying from a health food store, there may even be a first-aid-type guide there in the store that you can consult, if not a full-on materia medica.)

  • If an over-the-counter combination remedy doesn't work for you, don't conclude that homeopathy doesn't work!!

Did you notice that I stressed "over-the-counter combination remedies"?  That's because there are combination remedies, and there are combination remedies...

"Homotoxicology" is a development in homeopathy that utilizes the principles of single remedies as well as expertly-chosen combination remedies.  These combinations are of two types:  multiple remedies, and multiple doses of the same remedy (called "potency chords").  This article is a good introduction to the concept... and makes a good case for homotoxicology being especially apt for treating animals:

- Marina Zacharias
    There is also a follow-up article on potency chords here.

On Choosing a Practitioner

Recognize that the power behind homeopathy lies with the science... not the pseudo-science.  Popularization is good in that it allows more and more people to discover a very useful alternative health treatment. ...But realize that homeopaths may be doctors who have undergone rigorous training as MDs do - or they may be people who have bypassed the critical underpinnings of the science to capitalize on a trend.

If you have a choice, always head for the classically-trained homeopath.  That might be someone who is self-trained, certainly. ...Just don't settle for someone who picks and chooses a few of the tenets to try out on you, if there's someone else who can help you based on excellent training and clinical experience.  That isn't so much better than treating yourself (at least you know what you don't know!). ...Do you want clues, or medical treatment??




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