Alternative vets try acupuncture

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The Independent Online
"IT'S great this," says Alan Robb as he eases in a three-inch needle above the Great Dane's eye. "The dog hardly feels a thing and I know that the treatment has been tested on humans for use on animals. For once, we have been the guinea pigs."

Mr Robb is a homeopathic vet - one of a growing number who supplement conventional veterinary science with alternative remedies including acupuncture and osteopathy. Although there are only 13 qualified alternative vets in Britain, the number of self-taught practitioners such as Mr Robb is increasing rapidly.

Mr Robb, 45, who works in Scotland, decided to apply the principles of homeopathy to animals after he was treated by a homeopathic doctor. "When I qualified and began practising, I became dissatisfied with certain conventional treatments and I started thinking about my own experiences of alternative medicine as a child.

"If homeopathic medicine had worked for me, I thought, surely it would work for animals too. So I started using three or four simple homeopathic remedies I learnt from a book and the results were very encouraging. Now I have almost 1,000 different treatments. Many of them I use to treat myself."

The remedies Mr Robb dispenses at his surgery in Motherwell, near Glasgow, are made from moss, lava extracts and spider and snake venom. He insists they help to prepare animals for an operation and speed up recovery. He treats some 250 dogs, cats and farm animals including horses and cows each week for everything from broken hips to psychological disorders.

When he first advertised his homeopathic remedies, the take-up among local people was slow. But as the popularity of homeopathic doctors has grown, the number of animal patients has increased. He concedes that he does not know why the remedies he uses work, only that they do. "I am not a clinician and, frankly, it does not bother me that I don't know. To me it is a job, a satisfying job. The whys and the hows remain a mystery, not just for me but for all homeopathic practitioners."

He insists that treatments such as acupuncture do not frighten the animals. "If you use a needle or lasers on a horse, it does not freak out," he says.

The only people who express doubts are the owners. "Some people come to me and say they do not believe in alternative medicine but they want their dog made better. When I mention acupuncture or osteopathy, they realise they are being asked to pay for something that they do not understand and they don't know will work." He smiles: "Most are pleasantly surprised."