Homeopathy: a kinder approach to veterinary medicine

Dr Sue Hayes has worked as a homeopathic vet in Cape Town for many years. We talk about the advantages of using a gentler approach to treat our sick pets.

My guest today is the lovely Dr Sue Hayes. Originally from New Zealand where she qualified as a vet in 1975 and met her South African hubby, she moved to South Africa in 1978. She has been living and working in Cape Town since 1979.


Her early interest in homeopathy was fuelled by her mother-in-law who used alternative medicines to treat many ailments. Dr Sue worked in full-time and locum practice for ten years and became increasingly disillusioned with the limitations of conventional veterinary medicine. This spurred her to research a more holistic pathway. There are several trained homeopathic vets in the Western Cape but Dr Sue is the only one who practises homeopathy as a predominant modality in Cape Town.


In the 1990s she worked in a practice and utilised one of the consult rooms to practice homeopathy. In 2002 she built her own homeopathic consult room at home.


One of her first chronic cases in homeopathic practice—an emaciated Cocker Spaniel with a chronic infection that would flare up seasonally—encouraged her to pursue an alternative solution. The owner’s withering hope motivated Dr Sue to research the case more thoroughly. Finding the probable cause, she suggested a homeopathic remedy and treatment began. After 3 months, she received a call from an elated client saying that the dog had gained weight and, since treatment began, no longer suffered from the infection.

What is Homeopathy?

I am interested in the exact meaning of the terms homeopathy, alternative and complementary medicine. When I look them up, the definitions are derogatory at best. It seems that these concepts fall into the realm of pseudoscience (a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific methods). Scientific method isthe process of objectively establishing facts through testing and experimentation. The basic process involves making an observation, forming a hypothesis, making a prediction, conducting an experiment and finally analysing the results.


However, for the scientific method to achieve an evidence base for a scientific process, that process (or experiment) MUST be repeatable many, many times under the same circumstances. In other words, nothing which has a once-off success rate can be deemed scientific or have an evidence base.


Based on this seemingly long-accepted idea that homeopathy is viewed as something unscientific or inferior to conventional medicine, I want to know how Sue has managed to treat so many patients successfully in a career that spans over 30 years.


Dr Sue explains that homeopathy is a system of medicine originated by Dr Samuel Hahnemann and first published in 1796. His system is based on the principle “Similia Similibus Curentur” or the Law of Similars which implies that ‘like cures like’: the symptoms that a substance can cause in its raw state are those that it can cure in its homeopathic form (diluted and mixed according to homeopathic principles).


Complementary medicine is any system of medicine that can act alongside another system of medicine (like osteopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, kinesiology, reiki, nutrition, etc.) to improve patient outcomes.


Alternative medicine is any system of medicine that is used instead of conventional Western medicine (often called Allopathic or Orthodox medicine).


Homeopathy may be used as a complementary or alternative system of medicine.


Generally, Dr Sue’s patients are referred by word-of-mouth from clients. She can provide treatment that is compatible with most treatment plans. Her clients are usually people who either accept that alternative medicines have value or have exhausted the conventional approach and are desperate for a solution. This means that many of her patients are suffering from chronic illnesses that Western/Orthodox medicine has been unable to cure. 


Sue stresses that the nature of homeopathy is all-inclusive, meaning that the patient is treated holistically rather than focussing on the disease. An initial consultation with a homeopathic vet will be unlike the normally accepted 15-20 minute approach. Sue investigates everything from nutrition to household chemicals, vaccinations to physical symptoms, living conditions and stressors in the home and prepares remedies to suit each individual. 


Conventional medicine can be marvellous. Many diseases that are caused by bacteria, viruses or dysfunctional body systems can easily be corrected with antibiotics, anti-virals or steroid-based drugs these days. Because of the serious problem of antibiotic resistance homeopathy provides a useful alternative in some cases. Also, our bodies (and our pets’ bodies) are equipped with an incredible in-built ability to heal and often, the causes of disease are overlooked by conventional medicine in favour of treating the effects or symptoms. And this is where an alternative approach is proving to be more and more successful.

What is homeopathic medicine?

Homeopathic medicine is sourced from the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms. The raw materials are all prepared differently depending on the source, but in simple terms they are dried, crushed or powdered (this is called trituration) and dissolved in a liquid (usually alcohol) and shaken vigorously either physically or mechanically. This produces a ‘mother tincture’ which is then diluted by the homeopath according to the individual needs of the patient (this is called potentization). 


“While homeopathic medicinal products typically originate from plants, animals, organic and inorganic substances, nosodes are made from disease products of human or animal origin, or pathogens or products derived from the decomposition of animal organs, cultured micro-organisms or body fluids containing pathogens or pathological agents. They are prepared according to standard methods of manufacture for homeopathic medicinal products. The Pharmacopoeias in current use include additional rules to produce safe, non-infectious starting material by different sterilisation methods. The subsequent serial dilution adds further safety and renders them as safe as other homeopathic remedies.” European Coalition on Homeopathic & Anthroposophic Medicinal Products,2020


One homeopathic principle is the law of minimum dose which means that the more dilute the preparation, the greater its potency. Dilution plus succussion is how potency is prepared. 


SUCCUSSION – Part of the homeopathic manufacturing process in which a medicinal substance is diluted in distilled water or alcohol and vigorously shaken according to precise standards.

What does homeopathy treat?

Depending on the problem she encounters, every complex that Dr Sue formulates contains various components suited to an individual’s needs, for example arthritis, digestive problems, liver, skin and heart problems. She also uses Chinese Herbal Medicine in tablet or liquid form. 


“What is at the top of the list of problems that you encounter in your practice?” I ask. Without a pause, Dr Sue tells me that some of the most common problems she treats are related to diet. 


She starts by explaining the radical changes that have affected ‘Pet food’ over the years.


”Fresh food contains proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and micro-nutrients (many of which have not been isolated yet). Processed food is subjected to high temperature that substantially alters some of these components. For processed and packaged pet food to remain unspoiled for months outside of a fridge or freezer and remain palatable, preservatives, stabilisers and flavour enhancers must be added. Cooking at high temperatures not only alters beneficial components but forms advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which can cause disease”. 


Unfortunately, many pet owners continue to be oblivious to the fact that highly processed food can cause problems and unwittingly rely on the convenience of packaged food. It’s not implied that all pets fed processed foods are sick, but Dr Sue is seeing more and more cases that are resolved with an improvement in the type of foods they regularly consume.


Chronic skin problems are another issue that Dr Sue sees regularly. These can be attributed to several things like food sensitivities. But environmental allergens like chemicals are also playing a bigger role in the disease. Dr Sue explains that most cases have a multi-factorial cause. If disease was only caused by one thing then curing it would be exponentially more successful. Sometimes an animal may be predisposed to certain challenges due to its physiological makeup; genetics and immunity play an important role in overall health. Happily, one of the principles of homeopathy is the doctrine of individualisation which means that those symptoms which are particular to a sick individual are more important than the symptoms which are particular to the disease in general.

Pet vaccines

This brings us to the next issue which Dr Sue is passionate about—vaccination. She believes that many chronic issues (especially related to the immune system) are linked to vaccinating too early and too often. By no means does she discredit the need for vaccinations, but rather seeks to harmonise the timing of vaccinations to the needs of individual pets where it is practical. 

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) created a Vaccination Guidelines Group (VGG) which, in 2016 released a new set of guidelines regarding the vaccination protocols for dogs and cats. In 2019, the South African Veterinary Council released a document called ‘Dog and Cat Vaccination Guidelines for South Africa – 2019 – Evidence’. The paper recognises that South Africa has a unique set of challenges concerning wide gaps between income groups and problematic diseases. Although the paper still encourages core vaccinations from 6 weeks of age in puppies and kittens, it does push the annual requirement (for core vaccines) to once every 3 years. Core vaccinations are for Canine Parvovirus, Distemper and Adenovirus type – 2. 

It is worth making the distinction between core and non-core vaccines. The SAVA guidelines state that “Core vaccines protect animals from severe, life-threatening diseases that have global distribution. Core vaccines for dogs are those that protect against canine distemper virus (CDV), canine adenovirus (CAV) and the variants of canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV). Core vaccines for cats are those that protect against feline panleucopenia virus (FPV), feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV).”


About non-core vaccines, they state that “Non-core (optional) vaccines are defined as those that are required by only those animals whose geographical location, local environment or lifestyle places them at risk of contracting specific infections. It needs to be recognised that non-core does not mean that they are non-essential as they may be of huge importance to the well-being of pets at risk. Non-core vaccines for dogs are for Leptospirosis, Bordetella bronchiseptica and Parainfluenza (PI). Besides the need to comply with some travel regulations, the need for routine inclusion of Leptospira in routine vaccines used may not be justified. Strong evidence of clinical Leptospirosis in dogs is also lacking in South Africa.”


So, only in cases where pets are at risk of specific diseases, non-core vaccinations are still recommended according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 


True to her nature Dr Sue has a more comprehensive approach. Concerning an umbrella ruling on the timing of vaccinations, she believes that individual circumstances must be measured separately when a vaccination protocol is formulated. For instance, maternal immunity for a healthy puppy can persist up to 16 weeks of age but this can even differ between litter mates. Maternal antibodies interfere with the efficacy of vaccinations and in some cases (where puppies and kittens are not in danger from being exposed to viruses) they can be vaccinated at 8 – 10 weeks of age. Where practical, a pet may benefit from antibody titre tests rather than re-vaccination each year.

Softly now

Scientific research has advanced medicine impressively over the past few decades. Humans and pets are living longer than before. Veterinary medicine allows us to protect our pets like never before. But I believe that there is a downside to our magic pill-popping progress too. Our world is becoming an increasingly toxic place. Anti-microbial resistance is looming on the horizon and chemical pollutants threaten our health and our pets.


Homeopathy is perhaps considered a slow and old-fashioned approach. It treats you as an individual, shaking your hand warmly and looking you directly in the eyes. It asks and it researches. It finds out and it understands. It does not give the same answer to many and it works harmoniously with others.


I am full of gratitude that there are still vets like Dr Sue who see the bigger picture. She has had a long and successful career with countless grateful pet owners and patients. I can only hope that younger generations of vets are inspired to follow in her footsteps. 




©Liz Roodt – 2023