Cookie use on MRCVSonline
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
Send Cancel

Homeopathy only appears to work due to ‘perceptual errors’ - study
Homeopathy was invented around 1796 and debates on its use have raged for decades.

RVC team says biases can lead to misperceptions 

New research by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) suggests homeopathy in veterinary care can appear to be effective due to perceptual mistakes, when in actual fact they are ‘fundamentally non-effective’.

The findings, published in the Veterinary Record, also have significant implications for the use of homeopathic treatments in people, researchers say.

Led by Emeritus Professor in Pharmacology, Peter Lees, the team aimed to take the first step in providing a better understanding of the processes that lead to misperceptions on clinical and healing phenomena. This, they say, will give veterinary and medical practitioners a clearer idea on which clinical interventions are more effective, and which can be discounted.

The article, ‘Comparison of veterinary drugs and veterinary homeopathy’, suggests that many phenomena perceived in labs and clinical settings are the result of coincidence, not understood causes. As a result, health improvements can be wrongly linked to ineffective products, such as homeopathic remedies.

There are inherent uncertainties in determining the body’s response to treatments, and therefore cognitive bias can prevent veterinary surgeons or medical doctors from recognising that their intervention was not the reason for a patient’s health improvements.

Clinical trials are also subject to numerous biases, such as confirmation bias, ascertainment bias, selection bias and publication bias. All of these apply with randomised clinical trials (RCTs). Bias-free standards are not always achieved in human RCTs of conventional medicines, and researchers say they are very rarely achieved in veterinary RCTs of homeopathic treatments.

Homeopathy is often used for chronic conditions with fluctuating signs, or acute, self-limiting conditions. These types of condition are difficult to assess in terms of response to treatments, because of the natural history of the disease and subjective biases.

While homeopaths report that their remedies are effective, researchers argue that efficacy beyond placebo is not apparent in well-controlled clinical trials that eliminate biases and other effects. Their article acknowledges the potential value in counselling or psychotherapeutic elements of homeopathic consultations, but point out that this placebo effect would not apply to veterinary patients.

Researchers say their papers highlight ethical concerns regarding veterinary surgeons treating patients with an ‘ineffective’ therapy.

Homeopathic products are sometimes given when conventional drug-based therapies have failed, but on occasion they are also used as alternatives to licensed pharmaceuticals. Additionally, researchers say not all of these treatments are neutral in effect; some are given in highly concentrated forms that could potentially harm patients.

Homeopathy was invented around 1796 and debates on its use have raged for decades. There remains a small but significant use of this practice by vets.


Image courtesy of the RVC

Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

Vets save premature penguin chick

News Story 1
 Vets have saved a tiny Humboldt penguin chick after her egg was accidentally broken by her parents. Keepers at ZSL London Zoo were shocked to find the chick, named Rainbow, still alive and rushed her straight to the Zoo’s on-site veterinary clinic.

It was a little way to go until the chick should have hatched, so the process was touch and go. Vets removed bits of shell from around the chick with tweezers until she could be lifted out and placed in a makeshift nest.

Rainbow is now in a custom-built incubation room where she spends her days cuddled up to a toy penguin. Keepers will hand-fed Rainbow for the next 10 weeks until she is healthy enough to move to the penguin nursery.  

Click here for more...
News Shorts
BVA infographic to help shoppers understand farm assurance schemes

An infographic to help members of the public understand farm assurance schemes has been produced by the BVA. The infographic outlines BVA’s priorities for animal welfare and shows whether or not the schemes address these priorities in their standards.

BVA president John Fishwick said: “The infographic is not intended to be a league table but to allow people to understand what aspects of animal health and welfare are addressed by assurance schemes so that they can decide which scheme best aligns with their own individual preferences and priorities."