The popularity of complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM) has grown among the public, and veterinarians and veterinary schools have increased their offerings-especially with herbal medicines and acupuncture. This eclectic group of therapies includes systems (practices and products) that offer benefits that complement (or provide alternatives) to conventional treatments. Many CAVM systems have clearly developed standards of care, including sophisticated and complex methods based on empirical science. While the AVMA recommends scientific knowledge to support these new therapeutic systems, practitioners are not researchers. Funding for research in chiropractic, herbal medicine, homeopathy, veterinary acupuncture, and other alternatives is scarce.
Many people explore CAVM because conventional medicine has failed to improve their pets' health. Difficult diseases or unusual conditions may be well served by alternative therapies that are "highly evolved and technically sophisticated medical practices," resulting from centuries of practice. When alternative therapies are being considered, several ethical obligations must be addressed, such as the severity/acuity of the illness and whether it is curable by an evidence-based treatment; whether the alternative treatment is invasive or toxic compared with conventional treatment; availability and quality of evidence of utility and safety of the alternative; the client's understanding of the risks of using CAVM; and the client's financial limitations. CAVM practitioners should use their scientific knowledge to evaluate, innovate, and bring into practice new and old medical therapies to help suffering animals.
COMMENTARY: Practitioners often have strong beliefs-both positive and negative-on CAVM. The average pet owner often gets lost amid a wellspring of accurate and inaccurate information concerning therapeutic options for their pets. This article lays a foundation for examining the numerous merits and weaknesses of CAVM and should be read by all practitioners who aim to present balanced, well-informed options to their clients.
The majority view of ethics and professionalism in alternative medicine. Wynn SG, Wolpe PR. JAVMA 226:516-520, 2005.