More than half of pet owners surveyed by Colorado State University veterinarians use complementary medical approaches to help their cats and dogs. Complementary therapies such as herbs, nutritional supplements, chiropractic care and acupuncture were used by 65 percent of pet owners whose dogs and cats were being treated for cancer at the Animal Cancer Center at the Colorado State University Veterinary Medical Center. The pet owners were part of a survey of 254 clients at the center.
While the survey showed that a high number of animals receive complementary and alternative treatments, the study also shows that many owners don't tell their veterinarians that their pets receive these treatments and don't seek out veterinary experts for reliable information.
"Although alternative and complementary medicine are considered to be helpful in improving the health and well-being of animals and humans, their use without proper information can be dangerous," said Dr. Narda Robinson, the Shipley Professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences. "In addition, some of these practices might interfere with conventional treatments an animal may be receiving.”
Herbal products may alter how enzymes metabolize drugs, for example, or interfere with the amount of drug levels available in the pet's body. Animals may react to herbs and supplements in different and sometimes unpredictable ways, compared to humans.
"Only scientific research and rigorous examination concerning the safety and effectiveness of these products in animals will provide veterinarians the information they need to prescribe these products with confidence," Robinson said. "Colorado State is looking toward pursuing funding to support this type of research."
The most common reasons why survey participants used complementary therapies was to improve the general well-being of their pets, improve the animal's immune function and, with chiropractic procedures, to reduce pain. While 64 percent of those surveyed believe that their veterinarian supports their use of complementary and alternative therapies, only 35 percent said they had actually talked to their veterinarian about the use of such practices.
"Simply providing pet owners with sources of reliable information would likely be beneficial," said Robinson. "In addition to revealing that few pet owners tell their veterinarians about the alternative and complementary medicine their pet may receive, this study is consistent with reports that physicians underestimate the rate of use by their patients."