Complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM) was defined in 2001 by the American Veterinary Medical Association as “...a heterogeneous group of preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic philosophies and practices. The theoretical bases and techniques of CAVM may diverge from veterinary medicine routinely taught in North American veterinary medical schools or may differ from current scientific knowledge, or both.” Although some of the myriad approaches have been used to treat animals for centuries, they became more prominent in veterinary medicine several decades ago. Despite its popularity among some segments of the public, and promotion by some veterinarians, others within the veterinary profession continue to express reservations as to the true therapeutic utility of the practices. Thus, in order to gain a legitimate foothold in modern medicine, CAVM must demonstrate a rational mechanism of action and withstand scientific scrutiny.
A leading complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) authority and critic, Edzard Ernst, has written that CAM lies somewhere “between evidence and absurdity.” That is, the diversity of approaches that constitute CAM range from the well-studied to the bizarre and baseless. Certain treatments lack biologic plausibility; others require that the practitioner and patient adopt belief systems that are more typical of faith-based healing than they are of medicine. Much of the material published on CAM promotes unreliable and potentially dangerous advice. CAM providers cannot always be relied upon to provide a scientific basis and critical perspective for what they practice.
The responsibility for protecting and benefiting veterinary patients lies with the scientifically educated clinician. Veterinarians have a responsibility to investigate modalities in the attempt to determine which should become tried-and-true and to distinguish them from those that are too-good-to-be-true. One accomplishes this by conducting well-designed scientific trials to investigate relevant clinical questions, and then by revisiting the medical literature on a regular basis to reassess which modalities have accumulated independently-confirmed data. Even if a certain clinical application has not yet received research scrutiny, studies showing a plausible and unique mechanism of action, as well as a safety record, can help support a rational decision about whether to recommend it.
Although there are numerous modalities and treatments associated with CAVM, the ones discussed below are some of the more well known or considered for veterinary use.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA