Homeopathy: Alternative Medicines for Rabbits
Homeopathy is an alternative modality that can be very effective for treating disease in rabbits. Dr. Mark Newkirk, a companion-animal veterinarian who uses both traditional and alternative approaches with his patients, considers the modality to be “another tool in my medical toolbox.”
I don’t automatically think of homeopathy as the treatment of first choice – sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. My decisions for treatment are always based on the symptoms, clinical signs, and overall condition of the rabbit, as well as the negative impact of stress and pain on a rabbit and the importance of keeping the gut working.
But I also know that disease is not confined to one organ or one system of the body (e.g., circulatory system). Disease affects the whole body, and it represents a disturbance of the rabbit’s elemental life energy. Thus, I often combine homeopathy with allopathic treatment. For example, for an abscess I would use antibiotics but I might also use Silicea for drainage, Arnica for contusion, and other remedies to help strengthen the rabbit’s immune system and promote healing.
I blend the best of both worlds. This is the classic application of complementary medicine.
Homeopathy works on a subtle level, working with the body’s energy or vibrational field to promote healing. As Dr. Newkirk notes, its philosophy sees the cause of disease not simply as the malfunction of an organ or body system, but a disturbance of the body’s vital force (the energy that keeps us alive). Rabbits treated regularly with homeopathy are overall in better health and typically live longer because their immune system is continually being strengthened.
A FASCINATING HISTORY
Homeopathy was developed in the late 1700s by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. It is based on the Principle of Similars (“like cures like”): a substance, which in a normal dose can produce a set of symptoms in a healthy individual can also, when given in a diluted homeopathic dose, treat a sick individual manifesting a similar set of symptoms. In other words, a substance that is given in a “normal” dose can actually produce a set of disease symptoms in a healthy individual. When that same substance is diluted in a homeopathic dose, it can treat a sick individual who exhibits symptoms similar to those of the healthy individual.
In Homeopathy: Medicine of the New Man, George Vithoulkas, MIH, records the rather amazing way in which Dr. Hahnemann came to his discoveries. A brilliant man, fluent in several languages, he studied in the fields of chemistry and medicine, earning prominent position in both. He eventually departed from the practice of allopathic medicine out of concern for patients: he did not want to risk doing them harm.
But though he no longer continued in the role of physician, Dr. Hahnemann continued to study and work in both of his chosen fields, writing and translating works. It was during such time that he came across the explanation that a particular bark successfully treated malaria because of its bitterness. Dr. Hahnemann questioned that reasoning.
What followed is what makes Dr. Hahnemann’s approach to medicine and the way in which he conducted his studies quite fascinating. The doctor’s first forays into what would eventually become homeopathy were actually based on a series of scientific experiments on himself. He methodically ingested measured doses of the bark, which induced symptoms similar to malaria, and recorded his physical and mental reactions and their duration. That is when he realized that the (then) drug for malaria actually produced – for a temporary period of time – the symptoms of the disease in a healthy person: himself.
This discovery led to repeated self-experimentation, the compilation of medical data from numerous sources, and then to agreed-upon experimentation on interested friends from the medical field. The lengthy process of reporting all the findings eventually led to “drugs” that could be used on patients. Some of the homeopathic treatments have been used to successfully combat epidemic diseases (e.g., scarlet fever), and some remedies, such as nitroglycerine, have been adopted into the pharmacy of standard medicine.
THREE APPROACHES: CLASSICAL, SYMPTOMATIC, AND HOMOTOXICOLOGY
There are three major approaches to homeopathic treatments: classical homeopathy, symptomatic homeopathy, and homotoxicology. Each of these is discussed below.
After forming a diagnosis of the condition based on the patient’s symptoms and clinical signs, classical homeopathy treats the complete being (the unique aspects of the patient’s physical, mental, and emotional life), not simply the disease. The remedy chosen is based on the characteristics – for example, whether there is restlessness or lethargy – that distinguish and differentiate the patient from others with the same condition.
Dr. Newkirk further explains:
Just as humans differ in their reactions to illness, so too do rabbits – each is unique. Thus, it’s often possible for caregivers to observe particular characteristics and behaviors, referred to as “personality reactions,” when their bunny is ill. I want to know, for example, if the animal is seeking out hot or cold places, exhibiting a meek or strong demeanor around others, and whether he or she is enjoying or disliking attention. Classical homeopathy is as concerned with these disease symptoms as with the disease itself.
The impact of past events from which the rabbit has not fully recovered (e.g., abuse, extreme illness) is also taken into consideration.
In his practice, Dr. Newkirk uses classical homeopathy most often for acute conditions, when he has a history of symptoms such as described above. In such cases, selection of the homeopathic medicine is based on more than the clinical signs of the rabbit’s disease: the chosen medicine is based on the totality of both the clinical signs and the symptoms described by the caregiver. From a list of remedies that are used for a particular condition, the homeopathic veterinarian eliminates them one by one according to specific factors.
Due to their potency and curative powers, in general only one remedy is administered at a time in classical homeopathy, with a period of time allowed to pass before assessing the effect. It’s helpful to remember that homeopathy works with the body’s energy and that homeopathic medicines themselves are energy, each having a specific vibrational frequency.
Symptomatic homeopathy, as the name implies, uses homeopathy to treat a symptom, such as for upper respiratory infection. Much less exact than classical homeopathy or homotoxicology, it takes into account neither the individuality of the rabbit nor his or her unique personality characteristics. The remedies are usually low potency and are found over the counter or online.
Since over-the-counter homeopathic remedies are low potency, they are generally safe for patients who may have little tolerance for other medications. Their dilute form generally induces healing without creating toxic side effects or sensitivity reactions. In most cases, if an incorrect low-potency remedy is administered, the patient will exhibit no reaction. That said, caregivers should still exercise caution because homeopathic remedies are medications, and each rabbit is unique in his or her reactions.
Homotoxicology is a blend of classical and symptomatic homeopathy. It uses lower potency combination homeopathics to treat either symptoms or the particular phase of the disease. According to Dr. Newkirk, the remedies are designed to act as a “blend”; each blend (combination) is considered one remedy. An example is Traumeel, a combination remedy that has been incorporated into the pharmacy of standard medicine and is listed in the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) of human drugs. Traumeel is made up of multiple small-potency remedies, though it is considered one remedy.
Dr. Newkirk further discusses this approach:
The phase includes the following three criteria: the depth of the disease; its chronicity, which refers to the duration of or the frequent recurrence of the disease; and its effects on the body’s total energy or vital force.
In homotoxicology, three remedies are commonly prescribed – a symptom remedy, a drainage remedy, and a vital force remedy – again taking into account ‘who’ the animal is versus simply what disease he or she has. Remedies are administered orally on a daily basis or are injected into acupuncture points specific to the disease once or twice a week.
Injecting into acupuncture points gives two treatments simultaneously. For example, injecting Hepeel, a liver combination remedy, into the liver acupuncture point gives both an acupuncture treatment and a homeopathic treatment at the same time. (Or, I might use Hepeel intravenously and also provide it as an oral remedy for administering at home.) In this example, Hepeel would be the symptom remedy. Lymphomyosott would be the drainage remedy; it drains and detoxifies the liver and lymph nodes. The vital force remedy would depend on the rabbit’s personality and behaviors [discussed above].
Some dramatic results can occur quickly using the methods of homotoxicology and acupuncture.
Homeopathic veterinarians do not only practice homeopathy; they are fully qualified veterinarians who have elected to take further training in the use of homeopathic medicines. They ideally like to see rabbits and other animals when they are still young and healthy; maintaining that health holistically is the goal. Additional factors that holistic veterinarians generally consider are proper diet and living conditions, both critical to the welfare of the herbivorous, highly social rabbit.
The most important thing for any veterinarian’s assessment is taking a good history. For a homeopathic veterinarian, the history is even more comprehensive in order to grasp the larger picture for the particular patient. Dr. Newkirk gives some examples:
In a homeopathic evaluation, I’ll ask if the rabbit is more active in the morning or evening. I’ll check to see if the tongue is pink or pale. To the extent possible, I want to know the totality of symptoms. Seemingly minor facts can guide a skilled homeopathic veterinarian to the correct remedy, potency, and dosage.
Caregivers might wonder when homeopathy would be the treatment of first choice for their rabbit. Dr. Newkirk advises:
I would choose homeopathy over traditional, allopathic medicine if the rabbit had negative reactions to drugs or if the immune system was weak. I’d also elect to use homeopathy in chronic illnesses where traditional medications have clearly failed.
There are times when alternative and allopathic treatments work well together, but not always. Each case is unique.
THE HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINES (REMEDIES)
Homeopathic medicines do not suppress symptoms. Instead, the correctly prescribed remedy will safely, gently, and permanently elevate the health of the body.
The remedies themselves are specific dilute preparations of single plant, mineral, or animal substances. The dilution process is also referred to as potentizing. Though rabbits are herbivores, it may be that a remedy comes from an animal source. Dr. Newkirk provides three examples of this:
When a rabbit has a tumor, potentizing a tiny piece of the tumor creates a ‘vaccine’ that can be administered orally. This potentizing process can seem rather mysterious because the more potent remedy is actually the more dilute remedy. So I don’t actually administer a piece of the tumor to the rabbit; it is the essence of the tumor that is used in the vaccine. How this can effect a cure is probably the most difficult thing to comprehend about homeopathy.
Another example of an animal-source remedy is when the rabbit’s blood is mixed with a homeopathic medicine. After sucussing (or energizing) the remedy, I then administer the remedy to the rabbit intramuscularly. Since the blood has the ‘information’ about the disease, then we are in a sense ‘vaccinating’ the pet against his own disease, or we are stimulating the immune system to fight the disease more strongly. To follow up, the medicine can also be given orally. In this example, a minute amount of the rabbit’s own blood is used in the medicine.
A third example is the remedy Apis mellifica, which comes from bees. I might use it in the case of abscess to help treat inflammation.
As a result of the dilution process, homeopathic medicines contain virtually no material substance from the original tincture that the veterinarian started with. Instead, the medicines share with flower essences the concept of a vibrational or energetic imprint of the original substance. If correctly chosen, the remedy interacts positively with the vital energy of the patient. Dr. Newkirk describes it this way:
If the body creates fever, it does so for a reason. The standard human reaction is to take an aspirin. The fever breaks and we feel better, but what we’ve just done is broken the fever against what the body wants, which is to have the fever as part of its healing process. The fever is a manifestation of the body’s attempt to heal itself.
Homeopathy stimulates the body to speed up and do its job, so the normal body process breaks the fever naturally. In this way, homeopathic remedies work with the body.
High and low potencies of the same remedy can have different effects. High potencies (12c and above) generally require veterinary supervision and guidance. They are used for acute cases, chronic conditions, or when symptoms can be traced back to a previously unresolved malady or trauma. Lower potencies are less powerful but broader in their action. Therefore, they are likely to be of some benefit even if they are slightly “off target.” Low-potency remedies are also less likely to cause negative side effects.
Dr. Newkirk discusses the use of homeopathy in chronic disease and as a preventive:
One of the major areas in which we use homeopathy in rabbits is chronic disease, for example in chronic urinary or respiratory illness. When treated allopathically, the long duration of the condition can result in the overuse, leading to possible abuse, of antibiotics. This often damages the intestinal flora and may weaken the immune system. The immune system needs to be boosted, the urinary or nasal passages detoxified and cleaned, and the ‘environment’ of the organ drained.
Conventional drugs can’t do that. No matter how good the medication is, unless the body is helping, the disease will remain. Homeopathy helps the body help itself. The potency administered depends on the condition of the rabbit. If debilitated and weak, low potencies must be used. If a strong vital force is present, then higher potencies are employed.
Homeopathy is also beneficial as a preventive. An immune-boosting remedy can be added to the water, for example, and this is very useful when there is more than one rabbit. Here we would use a lower-potency mixed remedy because we would not be treating a particular rabbit.
When a rabbit needs medical attention, tests and radiographs will help the veterinarian make a diagnosis and prescribe remedies and other considerations for home care. In addition to following the veterinarian’s recommendations, caregivers may wish to discuss an emergency kit for those times when medical care may not be readily available (e.g., the midnight hours). Below are some remedies that Dr. Newkirk feels are appropriate for an at-home emergency kit:
- Arnica montana (or, Arnica): For wounds and injuries new and old that result in bruising, bleeding (often with unbroken skin). Reduces shock. Used before and after procedures that may cause bleeding or bruising of tissue (e.g., surgery, dental care).
- Hypericum perforatum: For open wounds with damage to nerve endings; dulls pain.
- Ignatia: Helpful with grief. May aid in calming the digestive system.
- Lycopodium clavatum: Reduces gas and digestive upset; can be used in combination with Nux vomica. Also useful for urinary conditions.
- Magnesia phosphorica: Soothes muscle cramps (e.g., abdominal).
- Nux vomica: Reduces gas and digestive upset.
- Pulsatilla: Especially good for thick, purulent discharge (e.g., nasal).
- Silicea (or, Silica): Useful for abscess when fever is not present; helps promote discharge of pus and healing.
It should be noted that high and low doses of the same remedy may effect different healing, thus emphasizing the need for consultations with a qualified veterinarian. In all cases, treatment stops as soon as symptoms cease. Treatment periods will vary with the condition.
A temporary aggravation of the symptoms (sometimes referred to as a curative crisis) can occur after the correct remedy is administered but before the cure is completed. This tends to occur more often with classical homeopathic remedies and can be especially noticeable in chronic disorders.
HOMEOPATHY: PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Homeopathy, with its tremendous power to heal, is not entirely harmless. This is especially true in chronic cases, long-standing cases, and those with pathological changes such as tissue destruction or deep lesions. Thus, having your rabbit treated by a veterinarian trained in homeopathy is very important. (Reference the resources below.)
There are also certain situations in which homeopathy is not the treatment of first choice. In life-threatening situations, medications such as antibiotics or steroids are often essential. And, clearly, homeopathy will not set a broken leg. In these situations, homeopathy can be used along with traditional methods of care.
When considering homeopathic care, be clear and realistic about your expectations and goals for treatment. Homeopathy, though powerful, cannot cure all health problems nor is it the appropriate treatment for all cases. However, it can do much to improve and help heal our rabbits. Homeopathy can reduce the negative effects of anesthesia, improve the rate of healing and recovery, strengthen the immune system, support the animal’s emotional state, and leave the body in a better state of health than before the rabbit was ill.
Individuals interested in researching homeopathy will find many sources, including some that provide overviews of alternative treatment options, of which homeopathy is one. Other sources focus more intensely on the subject, such as Homeopathy: Medicine of the New Man by George Vithoulkas, MIH, Arco Publishing, Inc., New York (pages 13-16 are referenced in this article).
For those individuals interested in obtaining more information about homeopathy for their animals, books by Dr. Christopher Dodd or Dr. Richard Pitcairn may be of interest. In addition, the following organizations have websites that serve a variety of functions, including a referral search.
- The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (www.theavh.org)
- AltVetMed (www.altvetmed.org)
- American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (www.ahvma.org)
- International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy (www.iavh.org)
by Marie Mead with Mark D. Newkirk, VMD
Copyright © 2013 by Marie Mead. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to Dr. Mark Newkirk for sharing his expertise in this article. Warm thanks also to Cheryl Abbott, Sandi Ackerman, Dr. Stephanie Crispin, Nancy and Gary McConville, and Karen Witzke for their review of and suggestions for this article. – Marie Mead
Marie Mead has been involved in various capacities with animal rescue, advocacy, and education for over twenty years. She has made a home with special-needs rabbits and other animals, all of them rescues. Author (with collaborator Nancy LaRoche) of Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits – Inspirational Stories of Rescue, Triumph, and Joy, Marie has also written rabbit-related stories and articles for other publications. Additional writings have covered topics such as aging and the environment.
Mark D. Newkirk, VMD, obtained his degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has been listed in the “Guide to America’s Top Veterinarians” by the Consumer Research Council of America. As owner of Newkirk Family Veterinarians, Dr. Newkirk incorporates the best of traditional and alternative medicine in treating his patients, and he continues his training in alternative therapies, such as Chinese herbal medicine, NAET (allergy elimination), and rehabilitation and physical therapy. He has been published in Animal Wellness Magazine and Whole Dog Journal. Dr. Newkirk is available for phone consultation: 609-645-2120. www.newkirkfamilyveterinarians.com