Vets are giving pets better and longer lives by using homeopathy with conventional medicine. Adrienne Murphy reports
Tom Farrington, conventional vet and certified veterinary homeopath with a practice in West Cork, is one of about 20 vets in the State who uses homeopathy in their treatment of animals.
Yet 25 years ago, Farrington was vehemently anti-homeopathy. When he was asked to conduct a small trial using homeopathic medicine on animals, he agreed in order to prove that it didn't work. In the hands of a homeopath, a friend of his relative had died from a benign tumour growing above the heart, which became so heavy that it collapsed the lungs.
"If the tumour had been removed, the person should have been flying," says Farrington. "But this homeopath hadn't involved conventional medicine, where diagnostically they could have found out what the tumour was, and got the prognosis.
"That's the huge advantage of conventional medicine: diagnostically it's brilliant, and as a homeopath you know whether your patient is getting better or worse," he says.
"One of the things that I learnt after my conversion to homeopathy was the difference between a good practitioner and a bad one."
Farrington's conversion happened gradually. After two years, three of the four animals in his original trial showed a distinct improvement, though Farrington at that stage was not prescribing himself, but consulting with the people - a pharmacist and a chemist - who had urged him to set up the trial.
Word got out that Farrington was having some success for minor diseases like skin conditions where conventional medicine had failed, and owners started appearing at his practice requesting homeopathic treatment for their pets.
One arthritic dog case coincided with Farrington getting his hands on his first homeopathy book, First Aid For Pets by Christopher Day. He used the book to prescribe a remedy for the dog, and over the period of a year, the arthritis-causing bony nodules on the animal's legs completely disappeared.
"It was particularly impressive," recalls Farrington, "because before coming to me, this dog had been part of a conventional trial using the latest arthritis drug and had failed to get better.
"He was only two and half, but was so bad that the owner was considering putting him down. Yet the homeopathic medicine changed everything, and the dog went on to live a long and healthy life. That was my real turning point.
"It was the early 1980s, and there were no veterinary courses in homeopathy, so I rang a local human homeopath - the use of homeopathy in animals and humans is identical - and she said go ahead and consult me whenever you have questions, encouraging me to work away. I devoured books on homeopathy for humans, using what I learnt to treat increasing numbers of animals, always playing safe, staying only with animals where I couldn't do any harm," he says.
"One day a woman arrived saying she'd used homeopathy all her life, and urged me to treat her sick dog with the same. The dog had a temperature of 107 [ degrees] and looked terrible, but I took the plunge and prescribed a remedy. I spent that night awake, thinking if this dog dies, I've just committed veterinary suicide. But next morning the dog was completely better. To this day I still remember the feeling of jumping off a cliff without a parachute, because it was a step into an area where the animal could die if the medicine wasn't right, and I wasn't using conventional medicine.
"From then I started using homeopathy successfully to treat acute patients who were seriously ill - feline Aids, mastitis in cattle, cancer in horses. My homeopathy developed and developed, and I did the HPTG - the homeopathic physicians' teaching course for doctors and nurses - which provided the theory for what I'd been learning in practice."
Farrington now uses both conventional and homeopathic veterinary all the time, and has no qualms in mixing, say, antibiotics and surgery with homeopathy, or using homeopathy on its own where he thinks it's superior.
"As a homeopathic vet, you're not just looking at the conventional diagnosis," he says. "Consultations take an hour and a half, and you're looking for information about the animal - concerning its appearance, personality, behaviour - that often seems totally unrelated to the illness. You get a much bigger picture of the whole case, and this gives you a lot more tools to work with in finding a cure."
Farrington also designs his own homeopathic medicines, which his brother manufactures and markets through a US-based company known as Homeopet.
"I wanted to provide homeopathic mixtures that were good enough for acute cases, which a vet could simply pick off the shelf and use to treat a patient based on conventional diagnosis," he says.
Homeopet is now the largest veterinary homeopathic-producing company in the world, and includes medicines like Anxiety, Leaks No More and Trauma, and Farrington's favourite on the list, Because It Saves Lives.
While Farrington has had success with life-threatening diseases, he stresses that you don't always win. "It's important for people to realise that you're not going to get all their animals better. Sometimes I get cancer patients and I don't have the time to find the right medicine, because the cancer is in its last stages, or it's only going to give the animal six weeks to live," he says. "Homeopathic veterinary is one of the areas where you see a lot of tragedy, because you often get animals referred as a last hope. But it's absolutely wonderful when you do get that last-hoper better."
Conscious of his leftfield status in the world of conventional science, Farrington painstakingly documents all his cases. "The problem with a lot of the alternative medicines is that it takes someone to step out of the box who still has their feet on the ground, and has a veterinary qualification, and goes down that route and gathers the information, hundreds of cases, so they can really show results. With leukaemia, for example, people can see the blood test - the leukaemia there - and the blood test afterwards - the leukaemia gone.
"Veterinary homeopathy is becoming gradually accepted because it's proving itself. I'm involved in trials which are nearly complete and the results look very promising, but it's taken 10 years of work. There are people who don't want to shift from the old view, and to get them to change, you need to commit to getting the tests right."
• Tom Farrington runs his Alternative Animal Care practice from Rosscarbery, Co Cork, tel 023 48811, e-mail: email@example.com.
• For other vets in the field, contact the Irish Society of Veterinary Homeopaths, tel: 068 31757 or e-mail HILLVET@esatclear.ie. For information on Homeopet products, visit www.homeopet.com