More of our clients are wanting to look into all available treatment options for their loved pets, and the use of complementary medicines and treatments is an area of veterinary health that is growing. As clinicians we are taught the traditional, well established therapies, which are scientifically backed with clinically proven trials and studies. It’s not surprising that we are uncomfortable about recommending or approving the use of alternative or complementary treatments, but we need to know what is effective and working before jumping to dismiss them.
Posted: 19 March 2020
It’s been estimated that as many as 75% of the pet population diagnosed with cancer is offered complementary or alternative medicines, so it’s time we knew a little more about them. It’s only by being aware of them and understanding the reasons they are used that we can then offer informed advice as to their use and value as well as any potential risks.
Complementary therapies are used together with conventional medicine while alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medicine.
When we refer to complementary and alternative therapies, we can include;
The reality is that few of these have shown clinical anti-cancer effects, but the enthusiasm and belief which owners have for them needs to be addressed. It’s vital that we talk with our clients and help them rationalise and adjust their expectations of success.
It’s also essential that we stress the importance of never using these therapies as a replacement for established anticancer treatment. On the other hand, they may be suitable when used as supplementary treatments to improve the side effects of conventional medications, such as nausea and pain.
It’s possible that many of your clients will be using CAM therapies on their pets without telling you. The reasons may be;
It’s for this reason that opening the lines of communication between vet and client with respect to CAM use on their pet is extremely important. How you go about it is also important, as you don’t want to be too heavy handed. In order to maintain an open and compassionate level of communication;
Try to explain that you want to establish whether a new therapy is likely to be beneficial for their pet. This can usually be broken down into 4 key questions.
This is important because it confirms that the treatment has been looked at by many independent clinicians. The places you should check are all the standard veterinary online databases and literature, including PubMed Veterinary Science, IVIS, WSAVA and Trip Database. You can explain to your client that if the therapy or its active ingredient are not mentioned in any of these databases, it's unlikely to be effective.
It may be that certain treatments can kill cancer cells in a petri dish but only do so at concentrations that are toxic to animals. It’s important that the treatment has shown to be effective in live animals with naturally occurring disease, rather than just reports of effectiveness in vitro.
There are really only two ways a therapy can be considered to benefit a patient with cancer, these being if;
The reality is that all medical interventions will cause side effects to some degree. Whilst these risks can vary, all treatments should produce side effects with a defined frequency. Therefore, always question any treatment claiming to produce no side effects at all.
It would be unreasonable to dismiss all CAM therapies, as there are certainly some benefits that can be gained by using them in support of conventional treatment. Three such examples are;