Tag Archives: complementary and alternative veterinary medicine

Magical Thinking and the ‘Tongue Worm’

Faustino-Rocha, A.I., Henriques, N. and Venâncio, C. (2017) ‘Lyssa lingualis: debunking the myth of the “tongue worm”‘, European Journal of Companion Animal
Practice, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 63-66. [Link]

There is a fascinating article in the latest edition of the European Journal of Companion Animal Practice concerning a phenomenon I hadn’t been previously aware of.

Apparently in the days of Ancient Greece it was believed that rabies was caused by a worm which lived in a dog’s tongue. This structure can be seen as a pale streak in the midline of the underside of many dogs’ tongues and is referred to as the Lyssa (Lyssa was the goddess of madness); it does indeed look a little like a worm. The ancient remedy to ‘cure’ rabies was to remove this supposed parasite after which the dog would allegedly recover and then the Lyssa itself (which would ‘wriggle’ convincingly after removal) could be used in remedies to ‘cure’ humans who had been bitten. This was performed on the dog using a blade and without any sort of sedation or anaesthetic. Who would be mad enough to perform this procedure in a rabid dog I have no idea, but it must have been agony for the dog.

So far this sounds like nothing more than a piece of interesting, if gruesome, historical information. That is until you realise that this appalling procedure is still carried out in parts of Europe today as a supposed cure for a variety of diseases including rabies, but now also distemper and parvo-virus, still with no anaesthetic.

It turns out the Lyssa is a perfectly normal anatomic structure, possessed by all dogs, it is composed of muscle and fat. Its precise function is unknown but it’s easy to imagine it might be part of the supporting structure of the tongue. What it most emphatically is NOT, is a worm, it is part of the dog and removing it serves no purpose whatsoever. The authors of the paper describe the procedure as ‘witchcraft’ and inform us it is a criminal offence.

Just another example of magical thinking in the world of veterinary medicine (although I would hope the procedure isn’t carried out by actual veterinary surgeons) and how suffering can be caused in the name of wishful thinking.

This paper is a brilliant and simple example of how science can help counter superstition and barbarity.

Homeopaths – poor losers

Bodey, A.L., Almond, C.J. and Holmes, M.A. (2017) ‘Double-blinded randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial of individualised homeopathic treatment of hyperthyroid cats’, Veterinary Record, vol 180, p. 377 (doi:10.1136/vr.104007). [Visit RationalVetMed.org for full links]

Abstract… There were no statistically significant differences in the changes seen between the two treatment arms following placebo or homeopathic treatment… or between the means of each parameter for either treatment arm before and after placebo or homeopathic treatment…  The results of this study failed to provide any evidence of the efficacy of homeopathic treatment of feline hyperthyroidism.

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Hyperthyroidism (an over-active thyroid gland) in cats is a nasty, insidious disease which, in a nutshell, turns the metabolism of affected cats up to eleven. Their heart starts to beat so fast it eventually fails, their energy consumption rockets so they develop a ravenous appetite, eating more food than ever before, yet they still lose weight. And they also get quite grumpy as a rule. But despite all this they can live untreated for a considerable while, although with serious quality of life issues.

Some homeopaths claim you can treat an overactive thyroid by using homeopathy or, more precisely, isopathy with nosodes prepared from ground up thyroid glands (which, by the way, is an example of ‘sympathetic magic’, along the lines of the medicine man spitting on the ground to bring rain or a voodoo priest sticking pins in an effigy of someone who is ill). These homeopaths are most charitably described as ‘mistaken’.

What happens when truly hyperthyroid cats are treated homeopathically (i.e. with nothing) is that they stuggle on for months and months with heart failure and weight loss, becoming increasingly uncomfortable and breathless yet all the time, like most cats, just appearing to sit around quietly rather than making a fuss, right up until the point they go into acute heart failure and die, often in some distress. And while this is happening the attending homeopath is either claiming success on the good days or claiming an ‘aggravation’ during the bad ones – ‘ever had your cat vaccinated, ever fed it commercially prepared cat food, ever given it any medicine, or flea or worm treatment? There you are then, it’s all your fault, it’s the toxins’, they’ll tell you as they trouser your hard-earned cash.

And it’s all nonsense – you cannot successfully treat an overactive thyroid with homeopathy or isopathy as this well conducted trial by statistical supremo Mark Holmes and crew shows.

Of course, the homeopaths are wingeing about it, as they always do when trials, no matter how well conducted, don’t give results they like, even when in this case homeopathic head honcho John Saxton personally gave his go ahead for the trial design.

The homeopathic practitioner, Chris Almond, who participated in the trial says he is expecting a hard time from his homeopathic colleagues – ‘I don’t think I am going to be very popular’ he complains in an article in the BSAVA Companion magazine. And then, in typical homeopathic fashion, the excuses start – having been a willing part of the trial for the whole six years it took to perform, cooperating at every stage and interpreting the answers from owners in response to an agreed questionnaire, once the results are published he suddenly changes his tune, ‘the quality of responses from clients in the questionnaire was often “pretty poor” and made it difficult for him to determine the best individualized treatment for each animal’. Furthermore, he has now decided ‘he was also uncomfortable with the three-week duration of therapy set in the trial protocol’ and, anyway (one can almost hear the stamping of tiny feet and the sound of toys being thrown out of prams by this stage), ‘the experience of participating in the study has shown him that the randomized controlled trial format is simply not suitable as a test of homeopathic methods’.

Well why didn’t he say something sooner, one might well ask? Could it be he was waiting just in case the results were favourable to homeopathy first, in which case the triumphalist cries from the vet homs would have been deafening? But that didn’t happen, the results were entirely in line with expectations and it looks like Mr Almond is currently being hung out to dry by his erstwhile colleagues for consorting with the devil and participating in a well run, methodologically robust trial along with two other veterinary surgeons who were completely independent of any vested interest. Really, what was he thinking!

I can do no better than to quote Andrew Bodey, the (conventional) veterinary practitioner whose idea it was to perform the trial in the first place, ‘If the purpose of your efforts is to justify your own opinions rather than to answer a legitimate question, then that is not going to work…

There’s no getting away from it, homeopaths are simply poor losers.

For full links to the original papers visit RationalVetMed.org.

Water

Earth’s 326 million cubic miles of water cover most of the planet’s surface. Water makes up 70% of our body mass (80% in the case of a newborn infant); the average human uses about 50 gallons of it every day.

Water has inspired great works of art and sculpted the surface of our planet. It has killed millions in floods and tidal waves, yet without a ready supply we would be dead in less than a week.

It is the only substance that is found naturally on earth in three states: liquid, gas and solid. It dissolves more things than any other known liquid and uniquely it is actually lighter as a solid than as a liquid.

Water is a wonderful, awful thing without which life itself couldn’t have evolved. The water molecule itself is probably the most extensively studied compund in history, we know more about it than almost any other chemical.

Water is all these things and much more, but one thing it is not, is a medicine, nor is it magic – yet that is what every homeopath in existence claims.