Chicago Tribune, May 23, 2001
on pet alternatives eased
Alternative medical treatments for animals have some value after all, a veterinarians group has decided in backing off from a proposed policy that would have discouraged the practices.
Instead, revised guidelines adopted by the executive board of the Schaumburg-based American Veterinary Medical Association say the treatments, ranging from acupuncture to more exotic treatments such as herbalism, can play a legitimate role in animal health care.
"The AVMA recognizes the interest in and use of these modalities and is open to their consideration," the new guidelines state.
The guidelines contrast sharply with those proposed in December by an AVMA task force.
They called unconventional medicine "unproven practices."
These proposals sent a chill through the growing ranks of veterinarians who use alternative care and say animals at times can benefit from non-traditional treatments.
Also, there were fears that if the 65,000-member AVMA adopted a tighter policy, such as demanding more scientific proof of certain treatments' effectiveness, some states might respond by restricting veterinarians practices.
The new guidelines, however, "leave the door open for those who want to use these treatments," said Dr. Craig Smith, an AVMA staff member.
The revisions were welcomed by Dr. Laurie McCauley, a Grayslake veterinarian who specializes in rehabilitation therapy for dogs using chiropractics and acupuncture.
"They take a much more balance approach to Eastern and Western medicine," she said.
Dr. Carvel Tiekert, a Bel Air, Md.-veterinarian who is founder of the 900-member American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, was pleased with the guidelines but said they didn't go far enough.
"They are better than the proposed ones, but not what I would have liked to have seen," he said.
Tiekert's group advocates an array of alternative treatments for the prevention and early detection of disease.
He said the new guidelines were too broad, as opposed to the previous ones adopted in 1996, which looked closely at the various treatments.
These guidelines identified some therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractics, as having demonstrated benefits, while saying others, such as botanical medicine, needed more research for safety and effectiveness.
Other alternative therapies range from aromatherapy, which uses the scent of oils to soothe animals, to magnetic field therapy, which ostensibly stimulates blood flow.
Smith said one of the guiding principals was to remove the labels such as "traditional" and "alternative" from dividing the profession.
"A veterinarian is a veterinarian, and veterinary medicine is veterinary medicine," Smith said. "Whether you want to call it traditional or complementary, we're all practicing the same medicine."
The new guidelines retain language from the proposed policy requiring that claims for teh safety and benefits of alternative treatments, "ultimately should be proven by the scientific method" and minimizing anecdotal evidence.
Alternative practitioners criticized this as being an unreasonable standard, saying many treatments were shown to be effective although their scientific basis was not demonstrated in studies.
In the new guidelines, the document adds: "Circumstances commonly require that veterinarians extrapolate information when formulating a course of therapy. Veterinarians should exercise caution in such circumstances.
The new guidelines will be published June 1 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. They will be subject to approval by the AVMA's House of Delegates at its meeting July 12 and 13 in Boston.
Smith said the task force revised the earlier proposals in response to about 2,100 letters from veterinarians and animal owners.
Smith said it was difficult to determine how many veterinarians practice alternative medicine, because while some do exclusively, others may do so selectively.
"We don't think it's a majority of veterinarians. It's still a minority," Smith said. "Is it growing? yes.
"Some people feel, 'If it's good enough for me, it's good enough for my pet.'"