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Everyone expects the right to choose not only their health-care provider but also the method of treatment for themselves and their animals. We support that right, but with it comes responsibilities.

We would all do well to take to heart the Hypocratic oath, which admonishes physicians to “do no harm.” This obviously refers to intentional harm, but ignorance is no excuse either. A major objection of those who dislike alternative therapies is that these therapies have little scientific research to prove their effectiveness. While we disagree with a reflex denial of all alternative therapies for this reason, the objectors have a point.

It’s one thing to reject bute for chronic arthritis but quite another to opt for acupuncture for a life-threatening colic that needs surgery. A decision to try natural dewormers in a healthy adult horse with good intestinal immunity is one thing, but it’s a different story with young horses where even the most effective modern dewormer often can’t keep parasites down to a safe level.

It’s reasonable to opt not to use unproven or questionable vaccines despite advertising designed to scare you into using them. Insisting on titers before vaccinating for things like rabies, encephalitis or tetanus on yearly schedules is also a viable alternative. However, when you reject proven vaccines for life-threatening diseases in favor of options like homeopathic nosodes we think you’ve crossed the line.

You must understand the difference between objective findings and unsubstantiated opinions. If your horse’s bone scan shows a pelvic fracture, but your chiropracter claims the horse has a cervical dislocation and an animal communicator tells you the horse wants you to know his spleen has a yellow dot on it, you better know who you can reliably depend on. If we have to tell you, your horse is in big trouble.

There’s also the serious question of how you decide to whom to listen. Almost anyone can claim to be a naturopath, homeopath, herbalist, massage therapist or holistic health-care expert. How do you know who is fake and who is genuine'

The American Veterinary Medical Association is trying to establish some order to this chaos by recognizing specific branches of alternative therapy for animals as well as certifying bodies. Their listings should be your first stop.

Objective publications like Horse Journal and studies published by research facilities, universities and independent testers are also good sources for you to check. Much more important, though, is the realization that the health of your horse is your responsibility. Don’t subject it to a trendy whim.

-Eleanor Kellon, VMD