This is the first in a series of articles on homeopathic medicine. There are thousands of remedies to choose from, and they’re among the easiest to use and safest types of medicine available. In this and future articles, we’ll look at a featured remedy and its unique healing properties, and also explore some of the guidelines and background information that will help you get the maximum benefit for the animals in your care.

Homeopathy may be the answer to a caregiver’s dream. Its remedies are easy to administer, have virtually no side effects, and can be used safely in the treatment of illness and injury in any species. Unlike conventional medicines, or even other natural medicines like herbs and supplements, it is not species specific—the same guidelines for choosing the right remedy and dosage apply whether the patient is a human, a cat, a bird, or a bear. While it can be helpful to have a precise diagnosis, it’s not necessary because the choice of remedy is based primarily on symptoms. That makes it easy to treat minor ailments at home, and can be particularly helpful if you must deal with a more serious problem when veterinary care isn’t immediately available.

Homeopathic medicines are highly, highly dilute forms of the substances from which they’re made. For example, the remedy known as Arnica starts with a tincture made from the leopard’s bane plant. A pharmacist dilutes a small amount of the tincture in water or alcohol until the desired dilution is reached—that might be 1:10 (one drop tincture to ten drops water), 1:1,000,000, 1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or greater. In some cases the remedy is given to the patient as a liquid; more commonly we use tiny sugar pills that have been impregnated with the solution. Both forms are much easier to administer to an animal than most any other type of medicine.

Many homeopathic remedies are made from substances that in their natural state would cause the symptoms you’re trying to treat. A good example is Ipecac. Ipecac syrup is used to induce vomiting when a poisonous substance has been ingested. However, the homeopathic version of Ipecac helps to eliminate the symptom of vomiting. How is that possible?

The exact healing mechanism is unclear, but the answer lies in the way the medicines are made, the dilution process we discussed above. The prevailing opinion among homeopathic practitioners is that the remedies themselves carry the energy of the original substance. This energy stimulates a response on an energetic level in the animal who takes the medicine. When that animal is ill, and has symptoms that are similar to the ones that might occur if the substance were taken in its pure form, the remedy stimulates the patient’s life force, or “vital energy,” to begin the healing process. If your dog gets carsick, giving her homeopathic Ipecac may help stimulate her innate healing process to eliminate the symptom of vomiting, so she can enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

All of these principles explain why homeopathic remedies are as safe as they are. Because they are so highly dilute, we can assume they contain virtually none of the original substances from which they’re made, and so there is nothing to react with the body in a way that would cause side effects or toxic reactions. It also explains why the same remedies work for animals of any species. Because they heal on an energetic level, homeopathic remedies never interact with the physical body, which differs from one animal to the next. You might even say that their ability to work with all animals—humans, dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, you name it—is just one more bit of evidence that we are all the same once we get past the unique costumes we wear.

Featured Remedy: Arnica montana

Homeopathy’s answer to aspirin. That’s a common reference to the remedy you’ll probably use more than any other in your medicine chest. Arnica is the first remedy to begin healing any injury, and can help relieve pain in a variety of circumstances. Given after a strain, sprain, bruise, cut, scrape, and even after surgery, it will minimize swelling and speed the healing process. It can also help prevent soreness in muscles and joints after a particularly long romp in the woods.

Consider giving Arnica when you see the following symptoms:*

  • Visible injury
  • Lameness, or an unwillingness to bear weight on a limb
  • Swelling that is not due to infection
  • Pain that is not due to illness

*Any of these symptoms could be a sign of a serious illness or injury that requires professional care. Contact your veterinarian if you’re not sure.