Adventures in bad veterinary medicine reported by the local media

We skeptical bloggers try our best to educate our readers about science and critical thinking, in the process explaining why various forms of pseudoscience, quackery, and cranker are, well, pseudoscience, quackery, and crankery. Unfortunately, even the most heavy duty, high traffic skeptical blogs don't have anywhere near the reach of the mass media, in particular television. Unfortunately, we are awash in credulity in the mass media, compared to which it sometimes feels as though the forces of reason and science are but a rowboat buffeted about by a tsunami of unreason. I saw just such an example the other day in the media in my hometown, and I was sufficiently disturbed that I felt the need to apply a bit of my patented brand of not-so-Respectful Insolence to it.

Of course (and unfortunately, this isn't the first time), my hometown media hasn't exactly had the greatest track record. For example, a while back I wrote about a truly embarrassing story that aired on local media in which orbs were represented as actually possibly being spirits of the dead rather than what we skeptics know them to be: The result of a bit of dirt on the lens of the camera taking the picture. I mean, this is Skepticism 101, something so basic that one almost has to wonder whether the producers and reporters know this story was nonsense but ran it anyway because it would attract viewers. It's not the only time reporters have reported on the paranormal in a way that would make Joe Nickell cry. It's also hard to forget about Steve Wilson, our very own local version of Sharyl Attkisson, the antivaccine reporter working for CBS, except that Wilson worked for the local ABC affiliate and churned out conspiracy-mongering stories about mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism.

This week, it was animal acupuncture, courtesy of the local NBC affiliate, WDIV-TV. Worse, it was reported by one of the news anchors, Steve Garagiola. I couldn't help but think that Ron Burgundy would have done a better job as I sat through a long story (over four minutes, which is a huge amount of time for a story on a half-hour news show) entitled Acupuncture for pets: Finding relief for man's best friend. Here's the video:

The story begins—of course!—with shots of two cute dogs frolicking and two of the anchors introducing the story, saying that acupuncture has "made a huge difference" in the two dogs, "as strange as it sounds." Chuckling with that faux bonhomie with which local news anchors chit chat with each other between stories and to introduce new stories and even pointing out that when they're talking about a "tale of two dogs," they mean "tale," not "tail," anchors Carmen Harlan and Devlin Scillian play right into the story as they introduce the story about two dogs and a the woo-filled Arbor Point Veterinary Hospital, which offers acupuncture among its animal pain services. Depressingly, perusing the practice's website, I learned that Dr. Michael Petty is the current president of an organization called the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, which doesn't speak well for this organization has as its current president a vet who practices acupuncture.

The standard tropes are all there in this story. Garagiola describes acupuncture as being increasingly accepted in humans for chronic and acute pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, asthma, allergies, and infertility. There's just one problem. There's no good, reproducible evidence that acupuncture does any better than placebo for any of these conditions. For pain? Doesn't work. For asthma? It's downright dangerous placebo medicine. For infertility? It's useless. As Steve Novella and David Colquhoun put it, acupuncture is nothing more than a theatrical placebo. As I like to say, in acupuncture, it doesn't matter where you place the needles or, if the patient and practitioner are properly blinded, even if you place the needles in at all! Twirling toothpicks against the skin produces just as much apparent "benefit." Worse, acupuncture is represented as being beneficial for children as well for conditions such as migraines. Then comes the predictable hook for stories like this, in which Garagiola tells us that—but, wait!—it works for pets too, although using acupuncture to treat animals is new. I'll give him credit; at least he didn't fall for the frequently parroted lie that acupuncture was used for animals in ancient times, just as it was for humans. It wasn't.

From here on out, the rest of the story reminds me of Mark Crislip's infamous recent People Encouraging Turtle Agony post, except that instead of turtles being subjected to acupuncture it's dogs. The turtle angle was unusual anyway, given that most commonly it's dogs, cats, and horses subjected to acupuncture. Amusingly, when acupuncture is applied to horses, the "meridians" (the magical pathways through which the magical life force energy known as qi, flows, to be redirected by the magical acupuncture needles) are extrapolated from humans, even the gallbladder meridian, even though horses do not have gallbladders.

None of this stops Dr. Petty from blathering on about how this isn't magic, that the needles aren't magic, that the needle doesn't heal anything. But, according to Dr. Petty, the needle is just "telling the body to heal itself." One wonders exactly how the needle pulls off this amazing feat? How does it "know" what's wrong with the body and the body needs to do to "heal itself"? Inquiring minds want to know! No, contrary to what Dr. Petty claims, magic is exactly what is being claimed for acupuncture. There's no science behind it. It isn't science. It isn't science-based medicine. It is a practice based on prescientific vitalism.

Because acupuncture is based on prescientific vitalism and there is no science behind it, all we're left with are two testimonials. First, there's the story of a dog named Hogan with pain from a "variety of neurological and other issues." It's never really explained what the source of the dog's pain is, but he's shown getting an acupuncture treatment, while it's claimed in the voiceover that it's pleasant, with soft music, dimmed lights, and sometimes treats to distract him. The dog's owner is portrayed as "having nothing to lose" and wanting to do the best for her dog. To me, that dog didn't look particularly happy or relaxed as he got the acupuncture treatment. He was laying on his side, panting furiously, rather the way my dog does when he's really upset or excited and I've forced him to lay down while I pet him to try to calm him down. Whatever Hogan's mental state while undergoing acupuncture, he's portrayed as making a "miraculous" recovery (a year after he began treatment, I point out), to the point where he can go on a full walk for an hour and isn't afraid of stairs. Of course, one wonders whether a more likely explanation is that the tincture of time plus gradually increasing walk times has allowed Hogan to largely recover.

Next up is an eight pound Yorkie named Princess, whose owners also have a 70 pound chocolate Lab named Buster. Unfortunately for Princess, one day while they were playing Buster plowed into Princess and seemed to severely injure her. Princess lay still, and they thought Buster had accidentally broken her neck. After Princess was rushed to the vet, the owners were apparently told that there was nothing that could be done; however, noticeably missing is even a cursory description of the extent of Princess' injuries. It's implied that they're serious enough that there was nothing the vets could do, but none of the specific injuries were mentioned? Were there broken bones? Internal injuries? We don't know. What we do know is that Princess' owner decided to try acupuncture and got Princess acupuncture treatments every day. That's no small expense, given that at Arbor Pointe each acupuncture treatment runs $50 to $80. (I sure hope they got a volume discount.) Cost aside, this is how it's described in the news story:

At first, Princess got acupuncture treatments every day. Then she started going just three days a week, then down to two days a week. In less than a month she’s back to normal.

In this case, results were almost miraculous. If you're considering this treatment for your pet, keep in mind this is science, not magic.

Uh, no. It's magic. There is no science here. In any case, this case is almost certainly an example of confusing correlation with causation. We have no way of knowing for sure whether Princess would have had the same "miraculous" recovery in less than a month if nothing at all had been done. Almost certainly, she would have, because acupuncture is worthless and there's no evidence that it is anything other than an elaborate placebo. In essence, what we're observing here is exactly the same thing we see when parents mistake the proximity of regression or onset of first symptoms of autism in their children to vaccination as meaning that vaccination caused it. When you have an N of 1 and relay on personal experience, for all the world it can look as though that vaccine caused autism or, in this case, that those acupuncture treatments healed Princess. Vaccines don't cause autism, and acupuncture doesn't result in miracule cures. However, you'll never convince the antivaccine parent of an autistic child that the vaccine didn't cause that child's autism, and you're just as unlikely ever to convince Princess' owner that acupuncture didn't heal Princess of a potentially fatal injury. In any case, if I might be allowed to speculate briefly, what sounds like what happened to me is that Princess suffered a significant closed head injury, which wasn't enough to kill her but did render her lethargic and poorly responsible for several days to a couple of weeks. Now, closed head injuries that can heal will heal on their own with the tincture of time, while those that can't won't. In retrospect it's obvious that Princess' injury was one that was survivable and from which she could heal on her own, no acupuncture needed.

But, believers say, if acupuncture appears to work due to placebo effects in humans, how on earth could it possible work in pets? Obviously, animals don't have placebo effects, right? Well, not so fast. Human contact has effects on animals and the expectancy effects underlying placebo effects can work on animals through their human owners who expect the treatment to work and, not coincidentally, often pay a lot more attention to their pet when acupuncture is being done, with petting and treats and all those things that most dogs, for example, love. As David Ramey put it:

The reported intensity of subjective symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and depressed mood in an animal may vary over time for all sorts of reasons, not all of which have to do with actual changes in symptom severity. Further complicating such analyses are treatment effects that might exist on the part of both the animal owner, as well as the veterinarian with a personal investment in an “alternative” approach.

Client expectations can be very powerful motivators. Having participated in a therapeutic transaction, clients generally expect to see some results. Optimistic owners may be more likely to diligently pursue treatments. Even failing obvious results, normal reciprocal responses often result in clients reporting improvement, at least initially, even when no improvement has occurred. At the very least, veterinarians can help clients understand what problems are occurring in the animal – such comfort and reassurance may make a problem easier for the client to deal with. That’s a good thing, mostly, unless the veterinarian steers the client into areas that are unsupported by evidence.

So, yes, placebo effects can be apparent in animals, although mainly through the influence of their owners.

None of this matters as far as this incredibly credulous report goes, however. It was so bad that it didn't even fall for the trope of false balance (also known as the "tell both sides" trope, in which the side of pseudoscience or quackery is presented as an equally valid viewpoint as the scientific viewpoint). Not even a single word of skepticism appears. There wasn't even a "token skeptic" veterinarian interviewed to give the science-based side. It was all Dr. Petty and his two happy dog patients and their owners singing the praises of acupuncture. It might as well have been a commercial for Dr. Petty and his clinic. At least a commercial would have been honest.


More like this

Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo, nothing more. It has no "curative powers," and, when studied objectively in good double-blind, randomized controlled clinical trials with proper sham acupuncture controls, there is consistently found to be no difference between sham and "true" (or, as they like…
Ever since moving back to the Detroit area nearly seven years ago, one thing I've noticed is a propensity for our local news outlets to go full pseudoscience from time to time. I'm not sure why, other than perhaps that it attracts eyeballs to the screen, but, in reality, most of these plunges…
Acupuncture is quackery. As with naturopathy (a medical pseudo-"specialty" that embraces acupuncture and other so-called traditional Chinese medicine), when I write about acupuncture I like to start out with a provocative statement, a statement of—dare I say it?—judgment in order to shock new…
I don't like quackery. I know, I know. Big surprise, right? After all, I've only spent the last six years laying down a nearly daily dose of Insolence, Respectful and not-so-Respectful, on the anti-vaccine movement, alternative medicine practitioners, quacks, and pseudoscientists of many different…

If only dogs could talk :(

You gotta love our venerable perspex box of blinking lights, forever embedded in evidence based science ( no oxymoron intended).

Scienceblogs own dog whisperer :)

By Delurked Lurker (not verified) on 20 Jun 2013 #permalink

This is an area where physical therapists around here are making money. It irritates me no end. I sometimes feel very lonely as one of the very few physical therapists around here that does not do acupuncture nor do I endorse its use. If I don't see any need or benefit to humans, why subject a dog? Or a horse? Imagine those slender, tiny needles having any effect on a a horse. It's almost as laughable as chiropractors who claim to be able to manipulate horses' spines. *sigh* I will continue to beat my drum and hope that sense and logic will prevail eventually.

If I went out and stuck needles in some random animal, I'd be hauled into the nearest police station for cruelty to animals. Why aren't these owners and acupuncturists under arrest?

Oddly enough, the other day I discovered Mercola's own pet section: I looked at one video in which the resident woo-ish vet interviewed a researcher who appeared to be more SB about vaccinations- he stated that animals don't need as many as was formerly thought but stressed the need for certain basic ones for dogs and cats which he then outlined in detail.

Acupuncture is only a single weapon in the pet woo arsenal:
if you search any cat or dog illness/ condition, you will find volumes of alt med solutions- many dietary or supplement -based.
However, I have yet to find homeopathic hairball remedies- apparently, 'hair of the cat' doesn't work as well as 'hair of the dog'.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

Woo can be instantly wooniversal when the woogicians wave their woonderful magic woonds (hence animal woo, especially given the lower liability risk since you only have to, at most, pay the replacement cost of the pet you kill in the US (well, so far--but injury lawyers are trying hard to make it so you can sue vets for punitive damages as well).

There are a lot of "alternative/complementary" vet ads that run on the radio here in Tucson by more than a few "vets". There's even a radio talk show on the weekend that preaches all of the above to the callers who call in and just aren't happy with what their "regular vet" is doing for their dog/cat.

The only needles that go into my dogs are from a real veterinarian at a real clinic (including of course, all the vaccines the recommend for my dogs). Last summer one of my dogs (the sweetest beagle you'll ever meet) came limping in from the backyard, with her front paw starting to rapidly swell. She in pain, tachypnic and tachycardic, so I rushed her to the emergency vet center in town and they confirmed what I had suspected--a rattlesnake bite. Although it's not cheap (but a lot cheaper than what it costs per vial for the human-approved stuff), the cro-fab anti-venom saved her paw/leg and maybe her life. I'd really like to see someone counter rattlesnake venom with an acupuncture needle.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

I’d really like to see someone counter rattlesnake venom with an acupuncture needle.

I'd rather not.

I'm reminded of the first thing that really got me angry about homeopathy. I was just starting to bloom as a skeptic, and at the time, I mostly just knew about homeopathy in a dry, academic sense: Dilute stuff by ten, shake it ten times along each axis, repeat until ridiculous. So, at that point, homeopathy was merely silly to me.

Then I read a forum thread where a skeptic detailed a story of a dog who got an ear infection, and his homeopath owners decided they could cure him without the vet's antibiotics. The antibiotics would clear it up in short order. Instead, on the homeopathic regimen, the dog suffers as the infection spreads over a month, eventually dying as a result.

It's one thing for a human to suffer for making their own bad choices. We still have compassion for their suffering, but it's somewhat mitigated by the possibility that they should have known better, or that people like us warned them.

With a dumb animal, it feels more like a violation of trust. When a pet gets sick, they are dependent on their owners. By owning a pet, a person has agreed to be responsible for their care. If the vet says his treatment can clear up an illness in a few days, and your treatment isn't working on that same level, it's time to swallow your pride and take the vet's advice. It isn't about your pride in your treatment, it's about the patient's welfare.

By Bronze Dog (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

Once a month, the Larry Meiller Show on Wisconsin Public Radio has as a guest Sandi Sawchuk. It drives me absolutely nuts when she suggests acupuncture, which is pretty much at least once every appearance. I seem to recall some other questionable ideas being tossed out, as well.


There's also that awful Patricia McConnell (sp?) animal "behaviorist" on WPR whose website spews all sorts of woo. Larry Meiller drives me nuts with his gullibility and downright ignorant "questions"--so nuts that I gave up on the station some years ago.


I used to buy organic dairy to support small and local family farms, but at a local festival event, I talked with one such farmer who informed me that they only treat the cows "homeopathically". That was the end of my organic dairy days. I still strive for small and local, but I cannot support blatant ignorance. We have some local dairies that do a good job with animal treatment (my main concern) and welcome visitors, thankfully.

I'd like to recommend the very excellent

to anyone who has an interest in pet woo. Skepvet is a really good writer and also seems to be an amazing vet who truly works for the best interests of our pets.

My hairdresser recently told me she was seriously considering taking a course in acupuncture; she wanted to add it in to her repertoire at the salon. I told her it was basically an elaborate placebo and she replied that it sounded like 'fun' anyway.

I let it drop. Never argue with someone giving you a haircut ... or waving a scissor. Basic principle of mine.

Another hairdressing shop downtown has a sign in the window offering 'ear candling.'

Frankly, I'm less disturbed by alternative medicine infiltrating into beauty regimens than I am by alternative medicine infiltrating into medicine. Though, of course, there's usually a progression once the underlying concepts have been normalized. First, you think it's mainstream science. Then, you think it's cutting-edge science. Finally, you consider faith and magic a 'science' of their own.

If you’re considering this treatment for your pet, keep in mind this is science, not magic.

Keep in mind that they think it's both: science finds magic. Finally, spiritual truths are gaining acceptance through the evidence instead of through faith. Though of course you have to have enough faith to accept the evidence as is -- and not get all skeptical and nitpicky about it.

Ghads, I am a veterinary technician at an emergency clinic. I have heard an seen all kinds of quackery practiced on peoples pets and it just infuriates me.
I have a hard time understanding how such gullible people function in the world, there are far more idiots than there are villages to miss them.

By LurkeyLoo (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

Larry Meiller drives me nuts with his gullibility and downright ignorant “questions”–so nuts that I gave up on the station some years ago.

Sadly, I find it to beat WBEZ's 11a–12:30p lineup. But then again, I detest Fraîche Aire. Plus, I at least get TOTN from WPR until that disappears.

Sawchuk's generally fine, but one just knows that some howler is coming sooner or later.

@ Sastra,
Just saw some fragments of a show about Gene Simmons, first seeing him with acupuncture needles in his face, later with some earcandling.
Just because one is a famous rockstar, doesn't mean they always know what they are doing, though I got the impression his wife talked him into it.

If you’re considering this treatment for your pet, keep in mind this is science, not magic.

Statements like this remind me of the bridge from Weird Al's "Your Horoscope For Today":

Now you may find it inconceivable or at the very least a bit unlikely that the relative position of the planets and the stars could have a special deep significance or meaning that exclusively applies to only you, but let me give you my assurance that these forecasts and predictions are all based on solid, scientific, documented evidence, so you would have to be some kind of moron not to realize that every single one of them is absolutely true. Where was I?

By Jeff Read (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

Aaarrrggghh! This wacko stuff was part of the reason I got out of private practice and into science. The first time I had a client ask me if we did "therapeutic touch" I told her yes, this is it--while I was petting her dog and stuffing freeze-dried liver in its mouth. She was not amused. Neither was I.

Then I read a forum thread where a skeptic detailed a story of a dog who got an ear infection, and his homeopath owners decided they could cure him without the vet’s antibiotics. The antibiotics would clear it up in short order. Instead, on the homeopathic regimen, the dog suffers as the infection spreads over a month, eventually dying as a result.

That was probably at JREF and either Rolfe or me. She saw the case notes as part of a court case. Unfortunately the prosecuting authority pursued the vet over care of the case in a period when he had the legitimate defence of not having real care of the case. There were plenty of other periods when he did but having blown the prosecution once, it was not taken further. Not one of the English legal systems finest moments.

Back on-topic, the first time I saw acupuncture on a dog was on one of that string of TV programmes shadowing vets. These were popular in the UK 10-15 years ago. Young vet sticks needles in lame dog. We see dog after numerous sessions as lame as a feckin' duck. Outcome declared to be a great success. This is what we call "placebo by proxy". It requires the user to wear a particularly strong pair of the "beer goggles of medicine".

By Badly Shaved Monkey (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

As a kid I remember reading a book by a British vet (not James Harriet) where he talked about going to China and watching vets there use acupuncture to anesthetize a horse and remove a few feet of intestine. He seemed quite taken with it.

(On the other hand he was furious about another client in SE Asia who wanted him to treat a rhino so it would be healthy when the horn was cut off to make 'medicine'. The vet offered the client a shot of B12 (vet grade), which the client found to work much better.)

And then my mother-in-law will talk about giving the dog tumeric (the spice) because someone told her it would prevent (something). And she was not happy when I told her that a single cell-culture study was not enough evidence to start feeding the dog spices by the spoonful.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

@ JustaTech:

In woo-topia, tumeric is touted primarily as anti-cancer although I may have also run into woo about it as a general anti-inflammatory for arthritis et al THUS
it's the elixir of life.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

Turmeric is also an ingredient in curry, though I shudder to think how that might apply.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

@ Mephistopheles O'Brien:

It's true. Curry cures all ills. People who eat curry frequently never get sick or get arthritis or cancer or ...
Oh wait...

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

OT, but is it ever truly OT on RI when we are talking about colon cleanses?

The New Republic has a piece about cleansing (ie: starving yourself with supplements) as ridiculous:…

Also, I ran into an old friend last night who had a pronounced limp. He explained it was sciatica. He asked me whether acupuncture would help him. I replied that it is as good as any other placebo. He seemed a bit disappointed, but seemed to accept the verdict.

Organic Quackery

I you support veterinary woo and quackery, buy organic animal products. The people who tend to farm livestock organically also tend to be heavy into homeopathy and other natural remedies. Even the big organic dairies such Horizon and Organic Valley have staff quacks who go around the country spreading homeopathic remedies to the farmers.

Here is one quack from Organic Valley…

"Dettloff has dedicated himself to sustainable and organic/biological treatment for dairy and beef cattle, sheep and goats. He has researched and developed treatment protocols for many natural remedies, botanicals and homeopathic medicines. "

and another

"He has participated in far reaching policy groups such as the USDA National Organic Standards Board, and AVMA Taskforce for Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine. He has also written two books, "Treating Dairy Cows Naturally: Thoughts and Strategies" and "The Barn Guide to Treating Dairy Cows Naturally".

Dr. Karreman is president of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association, is certified in veterinary botanical medicine, and also completed the acupuncture course given by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. He has a soft spot for homeopathy as it worked extremely well for him as a herdsman. He is especially thankful for the gift of empathic and intuitive sensing when being with animals."

As a vet who is not a member of the AVMA, *I* am thankful for "the gift of empathic and intuitive sensing". It's called the skill of observation. Sheesh.

I gave up on AVMA when they made entirely too much room for the PETA doofuses within the profession.

Apropos of nothing, could one of you tell me the etymology or derivation of the word "woo"? It is such a cool word for blatherings of the anti-science brigade that I'd love to know from whence it came.

I looked up some more information on the National Organic Standards Board mentioned by one of the quack vets. Apparently this board advises the USDA on how organic regulations should be made. Here is one of their recommendations showing they fully embrace woo:

"(1) Phytotherapeutic (i.e. he
rbal or botanical substances), homeopathic or similar products
are encouraged to
be used in
preference to chemical allopathic veterinary drugs, provided
their therapeutic effect
for the condition
which the
treatment is intended
(2) I
f the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic or similar products are not
promptly alleviating
illness or injury, synthetic
medications may be administered:
That, such medications are allowed under §205.603."

I apologize for the formatting of the last post.

(1) Phytotherapeutic (i.e. herbal or botanical substances), homeopathic or similar products are encouraged to be used in preference to chemical allopathic veterinary drugs, provided that their therapeutic effect ,for the condition which the treatment is intended , is improving.
(2) If the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic or similar products are not promptly alleviating illness or injury, synthetic medications may be administered: Provided,
That, such medications are allowed under §205.603.

@ Dorothy:

Yeah, I'm sure that was shocking to hear. But more than just supporting blatant ignorance--if a farmer really thinks homeopathy works, I have zero confidence that they have any grasp of food safety and associated science. I would run away very fast from someone like that who is in charge of food production.

@ Janet:

Woo is short for alt med, pseudo-science, un-critical thinking. I think that the sceptics' dictionary has an entry.
Also 'woo-woo' or the sound a person makes to denote awed admiration for the mysterious "Woooo!"

Perhaps it suggests the sound of a theramin in old sci fi?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 21 Jun 2013 #permalink

Also ‘woo-woo’ or the sound a person makes to denote awed admiration for the mysterious “Woooo!”

Something something Ronnie Wickers something.*

* I'm pretty sure I've done that before.

Does IV ascorbic acid work miracles in dogs too, prn?

@Denice & Meph o'B - It's true about curry being a safeguard against illness and injury! I have yet to be diagnosed with cancer. Proof positive there. Also vanquished is my acne, athlete's foot, and an odd rash I had.

My dog loved curry. I used to make it from scratch, back in my late teens. She'd spend the entire cooking process (hours of it!) with her nose pressed into the back of my knee, whining pitifully. With every step the pathos increased. She'd start with very soft whining as soon as I got the karahi* out from the cupboard and would just ramp it up, so that by the time the yoghurt was being added there'd be this "Pleaaaaase! Oh please please PLEASE!" sound that would wring tears from a stone.

By the time it was ready to serve she'd be practically insensible with glee and greed. Some pilau rice in the bowl, a nice scoop of chicken Rogan Josh, a little piece of naan, et voila, world's waggiest labradog! She'd chase her bowl around the kitchen floor until it was so clean that a human could eat from it. She'd then parade around the living-room with the tail wagging her, trying not to look like she was assessing the potential leftover situation.

She adored spicy food, fruit and veg, and most things that you'd expect a dog to side-eye with suspicion. Heaven help you if you ate an orange without sharing it!

She was a very healthy dog, and the only day she was ill was the day she died after giving us 13 amazing years, as an old lady of 14ish. She was a rescue dog, so her exact age was unknown.

Apart from her hayfever she was as strong as a horse, but if anyone had come near her with the intent to use acubollocks on her I would have kicked their arse.

Don't get me started on the subject of alternative remedies for fish. That makes me shouty. I despise wooligans and their shruggie enablers.

Thank goodness for safe, effective veterinary vaccines. We always have to be on guard about cranky lies against vaccines.

I have missed the point, prn, and request further explanations. There is no talk of vaccines in your linked Nature story about a recently-discovered liver-damaging virus. There is mention of botulism antitoxin, which is a different kettle of red herrings.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

also, wu

a guy at work subjects his dog to quackupuncture, he swears the dog's arthritis is relieved for a couple of days as it moves better

A hula popper is a good alternative remedy for fish, almost acupuncture-like

By al kimeea (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink


My dog loved curry.

I once had a cat that loved curry, the hotter the better, especially a prawn dansak. She's the same one that p!ssed on a power extension gang socket (UK 240 volts - it destroyed it, cat urine is apparently an excellent conductor), let out a screech and disappeared for three days, which I sometimes wonder might be connected to her weird tastes. She would also walk up and down the side of the bath when I was in it, and eventually her large fluffy tail would get wet, she would lose her balance as a result and fall off, sometimes into the bath, which was amusing and dangerous in equal measure (nudity and thrashing clawed paws can be a painful combination).

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

Meryl Dorey's ( Ex-head of Australian {anti} Vaccination Network ) dog died an incredibly painful death from snakebite when her homeopathic vet instructed the use of vitamin C infusions only. Documented on her blog.…
Vitamin C treatment for snakebite is anecdotally alive and well in the world of Australian equine and dog owners, even though completely unsupported by evidence.

By janerella (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

My hate for Meryl Dopey* just increased a thousandfold. Poor dog.

@Krebiozen - Maybe it gave her superpowers! I house-shared with a girl who had the sweetest little cat. The cat loved the bath. Every time I went into the bathroom there'd be little cat pawprints all over the bath. When I was in the bath she'd sit on the edge and do that chirrupy thing they do, while pawing through my hair. She was adorable.

When I first moved in with Other Mrs elburto the next door neighbour had a cat who would press her face against the cat-flap (OME's cat was killed just before we met) and yowl pathetically if I was making curry, or chilli, or anything spicy. We often ate in our back garden in the summer, and one night Miss Truffles hopped up on the table, grabbed an onion bhaji, and practically flew over the fence!

Did you catch the Horizon prog. about cats the other night, where they'd attached cameras and GPS trackers to them? So interesting.

*courtesy of autocorrect on my phone but I'm leaving it in, it suits her.

I notice most meridian lines run through the wallet. I 'cured' my neighbors dog once and could have made it seem like woo magic. He had a sore rib or something and wouldn't let anyone pet him except on his head. He became rather aloof and shy. After a month or so, I decided he had healed so I very carefully and slowly petted his head, then neck, then back and eventually his sides. When he realized it didn't hurt anymore, he regained his usual friendliness and started running and playing more. People tried to say I had magic touch and so I told them what I actually did but some still said it was woo. So, yes, dogs are very social animals and can be affected by placebos.

By Jolly Wahlstrom (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

I’d really like to see someone counter rattlesnake venom with an acupuncture needle.

Rattlesnake bites don't respond to the wisdom of the east, apparently, you need the power of Christian faith for that (or, much safer, rattlesnakes that have been milked of venom)*.

* There was an amusing episode of Justified in which a lay preacher countered a rattlesnake bite with the powers of his faith. Sadly, he didn't realize that the rattlesnakes he had previously used to successfully demonstrate this had been milked of their venom by his sister. I wonder if this was based on fact.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

According to Wikipedia:

*wu* ( shaman) are "spirit mediums who have practiced divination, prayer, sacrifice, rainmaking and healing in Chinese traditiion for over 3000 years"; additionally, they can be either male or female, cast harmful spells, exorcise demons and function as oneiromancers or soothsayers.

The word seems to be similar to that for 'deceive'.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

In the cats-and-baths department, a few years ago I found 10 cats abandoned* in a nearby park. Four adults, six kittens. My late friend and I managed to get the kittens.** Given the unknown health status, they had to be separated from mine and wound up living in the bathroom about 20 hours a day while I worked on finding homes. I rigged this up pretty comfortably; in addition to a dog crate, there was a box lid with some toys in the tub.

So, one day after I was down to just four, all black and white, I woke up to the sound of running water. In the bathroom, I find the tub near to overflowing, with three kittens on the rim (it was a freestanding clawfoot) and one sitting in the now-floating lid. For the life of me, they looked like a band of pirates.

* What actually happened was that some genius was between places and had to go stay with his mother but couldn't bring the cats. He thought he could "store" them in an isolated part of the park for the duration. I was eventually contacted by some grad student who knew about this and finally launched into some bizarre postmodernist attack when I told her that under no circumstances was I putting them back. A few calls later, and I told her I'd call the cops if she rang again. The other three promptly disappeared.

** My friend also grabbed the lactating queen, although the kittens were on solid food. The aformentioned genius demanded that she be returned to his possession, to which I acquiesced. A few months later, I ran into him at the vet's with... yet another litter of kittens.

re: " Let's let animals live naturally in the outdoors..."

My friend Dave and his wife love animals, advocate for them and usually have quite a few living in their house. Last year , he was so terribly happy because he had adopted a young-ish dog who someone had found running around an abandoned farm ( they live in an odd area where a small city, suburds and farms are in close proximity).

It was a spaniel and jumped like mad all over everyone ( none of us really minded though) but he and Dave were like long-lost family, re-united.

I usually only see these people once a year- their other communication is formal and brief. This year on arrival, I heard the bad news: the dog, who at first *seemed* to be alright but was 'being watched' by the vet, gradually became sick - tests revealed that he had acquired a long list of parasites, infections, viruses: they tried to treat him but they couldn't: his condition deteriorated and the evitable came about in a few months.

Pet woo scoffs at vaccines and other 'pharma' pet care. Right. And cooping animals up in houses and keeping them from their natural habitat- woods, fields and farms. Where they can starve, get infected or bitten by other creatures living the natural life.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

Right on synchronistic cue, via Vox Felina.

"She will crawl in the tub with [Kevan] or crawl in the shower with him, so that was probably a good thing that she's been around water a little bit," [Yeats's mother] said.

[OED] woo: 1 court; seek the hand or love of (a woman), 2 try to win (fame, fortune, etc.), 3 seek the favour or support of, 4 coax or importune"

There you go, it's all advertising and marketing. On video they ought to wear a plaid sports jacket.

Thank you all for the origin of the word "woo". I'm a word geek, I can't h

help myself. (Apparently I can hit the send button completely at random. )

re: ” Let’s let animals live naturally in the outdoors…”

Our cat was living wild in a small wooded area of our local park when we first encountered her. After weeks of feeding her we decided that she definitely had been abandoned and needed adoption, but she ran back to the park the first chance she got.

Our next attempt was more successful - I think we buttered her paws, the traditional way of welcoming a cat to its new home - but she yowled all the first night.

She's a funny little thing; she must have injured her pelvis or back legs at some time, so she walks oddly, more like a raccoon than a cat. I would love to know where she came from, but we'll never know. Someone should find a way of retrieving animal memories.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

Thanks for the catch HDB. I had recently read this Nature article. Guess too many TDAV residual on the front registers, and muffed it. More consistent with Orac's title, remark should have read:

"Thank goodness for safe, effective veterinary medicines. We always have to be on guard about cranky lies against veterinary medicine."

More details on the Theiler's equine hepatitis story from PNAS. Apparently "post-
vaccination hepatitis" was first noted in 1919 as a side-effect of -- wait for it -- vaccination. Since then it has been recognised as a potential danger of botulism treatment... but not as dangerous as *not* treating.

If I am reading the story correctly, to reduce the risk from asymptomatic carriers, plasma from horses is not mixed while extracting serum or antitoxins -- each dose comes from a single source.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

Note that Michael Fox, DVM, who's repeatedly promoted woo in his syndicated veterinary column, did not object to homeopathic treatment of a 17-year-old cat with a tumor:

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 17-year-old cat has a neoplasm at the site of a rabies vaccination on his mid-back that he got about four or five years ago. It has increased.

I raised objections to the injection site (having heard that it was better to give the shot in the leg), but the holistic vet said that’s no longer true. My homeopathic vet has begun treating it and wants to refer me to another holistic vet to consider escharotic injection. I understand it’s very messy and possibly traumatic for the cat.

We haven’t done a biopsy. He is in no apparent pain, and it doesn’t hurt when I touch it gently. He is eating well and loves his twice-daily walks with me. His eyes are bright — he’s in good spirits.

My vet is also treating him homeopathically and with Standard Process Feline Renal Support for serious renal issues, further compounding my aversion to surgery for the neoplasm. I’ve had him on homemade cat food, high-quality raw food and canned food all his life, with about 10 non-grain kibbles as a bedtime treat.

Do you have any suggestions?

B.N., Potomac

DF: An escharotic injection is an injection of a caustic chemical such as silver nitrate. Such a caustic material would not differentiate between the cat’s healthy tissue and the cancer, essentially destroying both and possibly stimulating surviving tumorous cells to proliferate and probably causing the cat great discomfort.

I think the veterinarians need to focus more on your cat’s age and quality of life than on treatment options.

I am not aware of clinical studies demonstrating effective escharotic treatment of feline fibrosarcomas. Neither am I aware that there has been any change in the protocol for vaccinating cats as far down on their legs as possible, where amputation of the limb above any injection-site tumors is a more reliable way of getting rid of the cancer than extensive surgery.

Give your cat supplements of fish oil — Resveratrol for cats — and put one part each of essential oils of frankincense, lavender and myrrh in 40 parts organic almond oil. Apply this mixture twice daily for seven days. Stop for seven days and apply again for another seven days. If there is no sign of shrinking, stop further treatment because essential oils are risky for cats.

Although grapes and raisins can cause renal failure in dogs, the toxins involved have not been identified. Resveratrol for dogs and cats is, by all accounts, safe, even though it is extracted from grapes. Its anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial qualities have made this a popular human supplement.

As a veterinarian, the whole alt-med thing in veterinary medicine enrages me to the extreme. I know a couple of vets who are way down the rabbit hole. One that I know no longer practices science-based medicine at all, and has her own, reasonably lucrative practice doing only homeopathy and acupuncture. She chose not to remain friends with me after I questioned her claims.

People are very vulnerable, and sentimental where their pets are concerned and veterinarians are in a position of authority. I feel it makes a mockery of my qualification.

Note: I am no longer registered as a veterinarian - I chose to become a high school science teacher (where I try to instil critical thinking skills so my students have some defence against irrational claims), and chose not to re-register because I can't imagine myself ever leaving teaching to return to veterinary practice. I just thought it was best to mention this in the interests of openness.

By Robin Byrne (not verified) on 22 Jun 2013 #permalink

Snakes and horses and cats! Oh my! Felinophiles - I strongly urge you to watch the BBC's Horizon - The Secret Life of the Cat, available on BBC iPlayer or on YouTube here. They used the latest technology to find out what cats get up to when we're not looking.

Sadly my suspicions that they get together to laugh about how easily humans (or "monkeys", as I imagine they call us) are manipulated, and to gamble in catnip dens, are incorrect.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 23 Jun 2013 #permalink

@ Krebiozen:

No, no, no! It's Draconis who calls us "monkeys".
Cats refer to us as the "slaves-who-bring-canned-fish".

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 23 Jun 2013 #permalink

According to Terry Pratchett's The Unadulterated Cat, cats call us the "pink blobs."

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 23 Jun 2013 #permalink

I know a few fellow fibromyalgia sufferers whose pain was made *worse* by acupunctre. Of course they were probably doing it wrong. /sarcasm

More seriously, a number of government sponsored groups here in Australia note that acupuncture SEEMS to provide relief for fibromyalgia. But they are quick to point out there's no scientific basis for this and people should be wary of miracle cures.

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 23 Jun 2013 #permalink

Perhaps insteat of "government sponsored groups" I should have said "medically recognised and accredited."

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 23 Jun 2013 #permalink

Human contact has effects on animals and the expectancy effects underlying placebo effects can work on animals through their human owners who expect the treatment to work and, not coincidentally, often pay a lot more attention to their pet when acupuncture is being done,

I used to think that too, Orac, that the placebo effect in pets was mostly due to the dogs picking up on the humans' moods. But now I think that's actually giving the "treatment" too much credit. I don't think the dog is actually feeling any better at all. Not even a "placebo response" to the owner being less stressed. I have arrived at the opinion that this is 100% what Badly Shaved Monkey above described as the "beer goggles of medicine" -- there is absolutely no improvement whatsoever. We don't need to explain why dogs get better on placebos, because actually they don't. They may even be getting worse (hardly any dogs enjoy going to to the vet, after all, so logically we should expect a nocebo effect, if any). But of course, the dogs aren't the ones reporting on their symptoms. It's the humans who are. And this is why it infuriates me so much. It's not merely naivety letting the owners believe the dogs are improved: it's *arrogance*. Arrogance enough to think they know what their dog is thinking. How many owners have demonstrated, time and again, that they really have no clue whatsoever what their dog is thinking? "Oh, he's harmless," they say, as the dog growls warningly at people, whom the owners are allowing to get right up next to them. And they forget that any dog can bite, any cat can claw, any chicken can go totally bonkers. They are animals, and this doesn't mean they are crazy, it means they are thinking creatures which don't happen to give off the same signals that humans do. Yet we interpret them using human signals. I don't trust owners' impressions of their animals. I don't even trust my own, not when it comes to pain. I attempt to assess my dog's condition, but I know there's a lot I can't tell because she won't show it to me. Dogs don't generally show pain. Humans do; that's one of the things that makes us kind of weird among the animal kingdom. And which makes us extremely prone to thinking that placebos have helped our pets; because we show pain, we expect our pets to, so when we are given the impression that a treatment has been done, the pet seems to be conforming to our expectations by not showing pain. Of course, they weren't showing it very well before either.

And this isn't limited to animals. I suspect a lot of perceived benefit to autism woo comes from the same phenomenon: the actual patient is perceiving no benefit whatsoever, and may even be objectively much worse, but the caregiver is perceiving a benefit. No placebo effect is occurring in the patient's mind. It's all in the *observer's* mind.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 24 Jun 2013 #permalink

I think acupuncture should only be used for weight loss. It works great for those trouble areas, like the back pocket where your wallet is.

David Ramey is a lone voice of reason in a sea of placebo by proxy. Sadly, acupuncture, homeopathy, chiro, and many forms of crania-sacral are quickly becoming a must-have treatment for any pet or horse ailments. Animal rescues spend precious dollars on "alternatives" while distrusting vaccines.
Thanks for writing about veterinary topics, Orac.

In real life, I really feel like I cannot voice my factual take on things. People are so much into woo for horses that the slightest science reasoning is dismissed. And more and more veterinary universities are teaching woo, with more and more vets practicing "integrative" medicine.

Thanks, Brew! I've seen similar stories over the last few days, hoping there will be something more effective available soon.

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 28 Jun 2013 #permalink

Orac's VCADOD Group,

Seriously, I want to attend to other stuff over the weekend and this thread is starting to get too much. I may still read the comments, but I want to avoid further exchanges for the time being. Please refrain from any rebuttals that may tempt a response from me. Perhaps you may choose to direct your comments at each other. When I return, we can continue with our exchanges.

Did you hear that, Narad? I am gone again!

Greg, my child: Does this necrocomment portend a shift in your obsession, from fantasies of vaccine-induced autism to the veterinary acupuncture scam? How do you move, in a single weekend, from one fantasy world to another? You've entertained us with your antivax fantasies for a few months now – How many fantasy worlds do you have? (Or is the apparent thread-jacking by this comment just another symptom of the intellectual dishonesty you've displayed in the vaccination threads for lo these many weeks?)

[Yes, folks, I'm in a bad Saturday morning mood.]

By Bill Price (not verified) on 12 Jul 2013 #permalink

"Please refrain from any rebuttals that may tempt a response from me."

Greg has no self-control and we can make him respond against his will and better judgement.

@LW - yeah, very much like a puppet on a string....