Before Hippocrates, ancient Greek healers served simultaneously as magicians, priests and cult leaders.1 By the fifth century BC, Hippocrates “dissociated medicine from magic, facts from fiction, histories from lies, healing art from philosophy, and gods from men.”2
In so doing, he transformed the previous theocratic system into one based on rational thought, diagnosis and treatment.3
Although the Hippocratic tenets of “beneficence with non-maleficence” and vis medicatrix naturae (the healing power of nature apart from medical treatment)4 epitomize holistic medical ideals,5 the battle against irrational mechanisms, miracle potions and charismatic gurus continues today.
Nonetheless, certain treatments rise to the top in terms of relative safety and value. If he practiced veterinary medicine, what would Hippocrates do?
1. Bloodletting, which predates acupuncture,6 was practiced by ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arabian physicians.7–8 Over time in China, affecting pneuma and eliciting neural reflexes replaced the focus on phlebotomy.
Indeed, Hippocrates may have played a formative role in Chinese medicine. Sinologists suggest that Hippocrates likely inspired the mythical physician Qi Bo in the Han Dynasty medical text “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine.”9
Twenty-first century research has established acupuncture’s neurophysiologic basis and the merits of a neuroanatomic approach.10 In contrast, traditional Chinese medicine fails to outperform sham acupuncture.11
2. Hippocrates identified massage approaches and tailored them to his patients’ needs. Contemporary research shows that massage benefits patients suffering from cancer, heart disease, HIV and an array of non-malignant pain problems.
In horses, massage increases mechanical nociceptive thresholds.12 Dogs with suspected degenerative myelopathy who received massage in conjunction with exercise, hydrotherapy, and paw protection experienced longer survival times.13
In contrast, epsilon-aminocaproic acid, N-acetylcysteine and vitamins B, C and E offered no significant benefit.14 Although expertly performed massage on appropriately chosen patients poses minimal risk, the proliferation of video-based, do-it-yourself canine massage courses is producing a cadre of self-proclaimed, unsupervised dog masseuses who have received little to no personal direction on safe amounts of force and contraindications to massage.
3. Ancient Greek physicians like Hippocrates offered their patients opportunities to recuperate in roofless buildings in order to supply sunlight for accelerate healing.15 Similarly, low-level laser therapy employs light energy to stimulate healing and reduce pain, counter arthritis and limit radiation-induced mucositis.16–24 Mitochondria and cell membranes absorb the light’s photon-based energy and store it as ATP. This then provides the cell with more energy to synthesize DNA< RNA, enzymes, and protein that facilitate cell repair.25
Laser light subdues inflammation by modulating nitric oxide and prostaglandin levels, as well as by lowering TNF-alpha concentrations.26–27 The main safety hazard with laser therapy involves retinal damage from eye exposure.
4. The Greek Mediterranean diet supplies both plant- and sea-derived omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.28 N-3 fatty acids reduce oxidative stress and improve the flexibility, fluidity and selective permeability properties of cell membranes.29
5. In ancient Greece, patients recovering from illness could attend evening performances, presumably musical offerings. Music therapy expanded in the 1800s upon the invention of the phonograph.34–35 Today, soothing music played in the post-anesthesia care unit improves comfort and reduces pain.36 It reduces anxiety and pain in patients on ventilators and those undergoing surgery and painful procedures.37–40
Research may shed light on rhythms, genres and keys that best match certain species and medical conditions.
6. Herbs constituted the bulk of veterinary drugs until the last century, when synthetic chemicals rose to prominence. Despite their long empirical usage, herbal mechanisms, species-specific toxicities and interactions with other herbs and drugs fall far short of our level of knowledge about contemporary animal drugs.
A recent report by the National Research Council for the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine cited the need for consistent data, a good system of adverse event reporting and clarification of dietary supplement regulations.41
Fortunately, a few studies on herbal products for animals have emerged, suggesting clinical value and safety, although several require re-examination using placebo controls. For example, a natural resin extract of Boswellia serrata provided a statistically significant reduction in the severity of pain, lameness and stiffness in dogs afflicted with osteoarthrosis, causing minimal to no adverse effects.42 Ginkgo leaf extract appeared to reduce canine geriatric behavioral disturbances such as disorientation, sleep disturbances and general vitality.43
Echinacea powder afforded significant reductions in clinical signs of upper respiratory tract infections in dogs with faster resolution of illness.44 Silymarin from milk thistle protected dogs against gentamicin-induced nephrotoxicity.45
Although most humans enjoy lavender and similarly find it relaxing, exposing dogs to lavender in automobiles or shelters risks inducing soporific effects in the human workers as well as provoking inhalant allergies or headache.
8. The term “probiotics” arose from the Greek word “for life”; physicians predating even Hippocrates advocated yogurt’s health benefits. These living microorganisms work by improving enzyme, vitamin and antimicrobial production as well as by enhancing immune modulation and gut protection.49
Probiotic preparations specifically designed for veterinary species have appeared on the marketplace but, like herbs, lack regulation and verification of safety and effectiveness.
While most species and genera of probiotic organisms appear safe, a recent report raised questions about enterococci harboring transmissible antibiotic resistance determinants and bacilli producing enterotoxins and an emetic toxin.50
9. Who can argue with Hippocrates’ recommendation for regular, moderate exercise? The unanswered questions about exercise for veterinary patients pertain to how much and how often as well as how soon after surgery or illness.
Overzealous exercise can lead to repetitive motion injury and acquired muscle contractures.51 Imprudent exercise prescriptions forced on canine rehab patients with spinal instability can worsen neurologic compromise. Staffing rehab clinics with unsupervised or untrained personnel has led to injuries.52
10. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Would Hippocrates prescribe raw diets for dogs? Whether research ultimately supports or refutes the values of raw food, recognizing that our animals’ physical and emotional health is best served by diverse, wholesome and enjoyable foods is long overdue.53–54. <HOME>
Narda Robinson, DVM, DO, Dipl. ABMA, FAAMA, offers an evidential and scientific perspective on the latest trends. She oversees complementary veterinary education at Colorado State University.
12. Sullivan KA, Hill AE, and Haussler KK. The effects of chiropractic, massage and phenylbutazone on spinal mechanical nociceptive thresholds in horses without clinical signs. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2008;40(1):14-20.
18. Brosseau L, Robinson V, Wells G, et al. Low level laser therapy (Classes I, II, and III) for treating rheumatoid arthritis (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2005, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD 002049. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD002049.pub2.
20. Gur A, Cosut A, Sarac AJ, et al. Efficacy of different therapy regimes of low-power laser in painful osteoarthritis of the knee: a double-blind and randomized-controlled trial. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2003;33:330-338.
21. Gur A, Sarac AJ, Cevik R, et al. Efficacy of 904nm gallium arsenide low level laser therapy in the management of chronic myofascial pain in the neck: a double-blind and randomized-controlled trial. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine. 2004;35:229-235.
23. Maiya GA, Sagar MS, and Fernandes D. Effect of low level helium-neon (He-Ne) laser therapy in the prevention & treatment of radiation induced mucositis in head and neck cancer patients. Indian J Med Res. 2006;124:399-402.
24. Bensadoun RJ, Franquin JC, Ciais G, et al. Low-energy He/Ne laser in the prevention of radiation-induced mucositis. A multicenter phase III randomized study in patients with head and neck cancer. Support Care Cancer. 1999;7:244-252.
37. Lee OKA, Chung YFL, Chan MF, et al. Music and its effect on the physiological responses and anxiety levels of patients receiving mechanical ventilation: a pilot study. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2005;14:
41. Scheid JF. NRC publishes report on horse, cat, dog dietary supplement safety. Obtained on October 25, 2008 here.
43. Reichling J, Frater-Schroder M, Herzog K, et al. Reduction of behavioural disturbances in elderly dogs supplemented with a standardised Ginkgo leaf extract. Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd. 2006; 148(5):257-263.