CAVM aka Complementary and/or Alternative Veterinary Medicine is a growing segment of the veterinary market.  CAVM can include chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathic, naturopathic practices along with use of herbal remedies, Bach flower essences,  massage, traditional Chinese medicine, nutraceuticals, and many other modalities. This blog post is not intended to make a recommendation for or against CAVM treatment options.  Rather, as I have done in many other posts, in order to keep you informed and your animal safe I will point out some products or practices that without proper application could be potentially harmful to your pet.

I will mention that there are strong opinions on both sides concerning the use of CAVM modalities in Veterinary Medicine. As with any type of medicine, it is important to research the education and practice background of the person providing treatment. Treatment of your dog or cat by someone unfamiliar with small animal anatomy, physiology, and body systems may prescribe a treatment that while non-toxic for humans, could be potentially life threatening to your pet.

For instance, there are herbal remedies that affect animals differently than people.

Garlic:  Garlic is used in herbal remedies in whole plant form or infused oil for its antiviral, bactericidal and fungicidal properties.  Like onions, garlic ingestion can cause anemia in pets.  Anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin in blood.  Since hemoglobin caries oxygen from the lungs to tissue, severe anemia can have negative effects on multiple organs and systems in the body.  Symptoms of anemia often show up three to five days after an animal has ingested the vegetable oil.  Exposure to garlic oil on the skin can cause a dog or cat to have allergic reactions of the skin or asthmatic attacks as well.

Chamomile:  This herb is often used in tinctures or teas as a digestive aid, stress reducer, poultice for cuts or burns or for the treatment of abscesses.  It can also be found in oil form.  For animals chamomile causes vomiting and lack of muscle coordination.

Oil of Wintergreen:  Are you familiar with Bengay ointment?  Bengay and other natural pain relieving ointments use Oil of Wintergreen as a main ingredient.  It comes in ointment or oil form and is applied to the skin to relieve muscle pain.  The scientific name for this type of medicine is a Salicylate.  Salicylates are toxic to cats and dogs.  Signs of salicylate toxicity include nausea, vomiting, restlessness that progresses to seizures and coma.

Tea Tree Oil:  Ridding your animals and house of fleas can be a tough job. One of the suggested methods is the use of Tea Tree oil as a topical application for your pet as well as a spray for bedding.  Tea tree oil can be toxic to pets if applied in large quantities or groomed off the skin by the pet.  According to the ASPCA “clinical effects that may occur following dermal (skin) exposure to significant amounts of tea tree oil include loss of coordination, muscle weakness, depression, and possibly even a severe drop in body temperature, collapse and liver damage.”

Moral of the story…what’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander.  In other words, talk to your veterinarian about herbal remedies before using them for your pet.  Your pets may be thought of as human, but their body systems are very different and some medicines don’t cross over well.

Much of this data can be found in Kirk’s Current Veterinary Therapy volume XII