Acupuncture is a theatrical placebo, nothing more. It has no “curative powers,” and, when studied objectively in good double-blind, randomized controlled clinical trials with proper sham acupuncture controls, there is consistently found to be no difference between sham and “true” (or, as they like to call it, “verum”) acupuncture. (Indeed, I have written about this many times.) The only exceptions to this rule tend to be studies that come out of China. Basically pretty much all acupuncture studies that come out of China are positive because they appear to be conducted with the intent to confirm the prior assumption that the treatment is effective. Yet, there continue to be true believers who think that acupuncture is basically a panacea for anything that ails you. Worse, of all the quackery that is being “integrated” into medicine by “pioneers” in “integrative medicine,” acupuncture is one of the most ubiquitous, if not the most ubiquitous of them all. Pretty much every quackademic program in integrative medicine offers acupuncture, even though even the largest meta-analyses presented in favor of its efficacy, when examined critically, do nothing of the sort, although they do leave advocates of quackademic acupuncture sputtering at the criticism.
Yet acupuncturists and the various “integrative health” specialists who have embraced acupuncture persist. I was reminded of this by a story I saw over the weekend. It involved acupuncture for pets that was recently glorified (yet again) by a local news station that seems to have a thing for pet acupuncture and other oddities. It’s the sort of story that is meant to interest, even amaze, readers by showing something that seems unbelievable on the surface, all wrapped up in a human (or, in this case, pet and human) interest story in which representatives of man’s best friends are portrayed as being relieved of suffering that no other veterinarian is able to relieve. Everyone is happy at the end, and acupuncture is normalized as not quackery; that is, if you believe the narrative.
Be that as it may, it was actually a bit abnormal that I saw this story on the local news, because normally I don’t watch the local news on Sunday night. Instead, I usually watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver instead. However, for whatever reason, Oliver’s show was not on at its usual 11 PM Sunday time slot this week; so instead I watched the same local news show that I usually do on weeknights (if I haven’t fallen asleep by 11 PM), the WDIV local news. Whenever I see woo on the local news, it always seems to be WDIV, which has featured credulous pieces on acupuncture before, including at least one two previous story touting acupuncture for pets. This is the same station that actually did a story about orbs nine years ago. Yes, I kid you not. Orbs. Of course, that could just be confirmation bias or selective sampling because my wife and I watch WDIV more often than the other local newscasts because we generally like the anchors and reporters more than on the other stations, although the occasional story like this one definitely tries my patince. This time up, the story is Acupuncture for your pets? Some owners swear by it:
It might as well be a commercial for Dr. Mike Petty, a local veterinarian who is a “pet acupuncture specialist.” His clinic offers quite a cornucopia of alternative medicine treatments for pets, including:
- Medical Acupuncture
- Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy
- Rehabilitation Therapy/Physiotherapy
- Stem Cell Therapy
- PEMF Therapy
- Pharmaceutical Therapy
- Laser Therapy
- Manual Therapy
Stem cell therapy? WTF? For chronic pain? The only modalities on that list that could be science-based appear to be rehabilitation therapy/physiotherapy, surgery, pharmacological therapy, and maybe manual therapy (that is, unless it’s chiropractic for pets). Of course, Dr. Petty comes across as very caring in this video and the one above:
I bet he probably is caring in real life (although, clearly, he’s no Dr. Jeff), and his caring doesn’t excuse his embrace of dubious therapies. In the WDIV clip, we are treated to, as with the previous report, testimonials interspersed with clips of Petty waxing enthusiastic about the various woo he offers. I will admit, however, that his description of why acupuncture “works” is different than any I’ve heard before. About a third of the way through the report, he claims that sticking needles in certain places distal to where nerves have been injured “reminds the nerves they’re there, and that they have a job to do, and you can slowly start waking them up.” Later, he claims that putting needles in and twisting them causes “microtrauma” (which is true) but then goes on to claim that that “microtrauma” brings the anti-inflammatories into the area. I must say, that’s different from what I learned about neurological function in undergraduate and medical school.
In any event, if you don’t think that pets can experience placebo effects, you haven’t been paying attention. Human contact has effects on animals and the expectancy effects underlying placebo effects can work on animals through their human owners who expect the treatment to work and, not coincidentally, often pay a lot more attention to their pet when acupuncture is being done, with petting and treats and all those things that most dogs, for example, love. As veterinarian David Ramey once put it:
The reported intensity of subjective symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and depressed mood in an animal may vary over time for all sorts of reasons, not all of which have to do with actual changes in symptom severity. Further complicating such analyses are treatment effects that might exist on the part of both the animal owner, as well as the veterinarian with a personal investment in an “alternative” approach.
Client expectations can be very powerful motivators. Having participated in a therapeutic transaction, clients generally expect to see some results. Optimistic owners may be more likely to diligently pursue treatments. Even failing obvious results, normal reciprocal responses often result in clients reporting improvement, at least initially, even when no improvement has occurred. At the very least, veterinarians can help clients understand what problems are occurring in the animal – such comfort and reassurance may make a problem easier for the client to deal with. That’s a good thing, mostly, unless the veterinarian steers the client into areas that are unsupported by evidence.
So, yes, placebo effects can occur in animals, although mainly through the influence of their owners.
Petty also claims that “90+%” of dogs respond to acupuncture. Personally, my response to this would be that, if this is true Petty really should publish his results in the peer-reviewed veterinary literature, because I smell confirmation bias here. Of course, one of the two dogs featured in the story is portrayed as having had a “miraculous” recovery. The other dog, for whom “expensive surgery” had been recommended, was also portrayed (at least by his owner) as having had great improvement. The story is then capped off with co-anchors Steve Garagiola and Priya Mann expressing awe and wonder at how fantastic Dr. Petty is. Garagiola was particularly effusive in his praise, but also inadvertently revealed a bit more about what goes on as he mentions how the dogs sit in a quiet room and get a little dish of ice cream when they get their treatments, with what Garagiola characterizes as “amazing results.” He even said that Petty had “worked some miracles.” I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear language like that, my skeptical antennae start twitching wildly.
As I watched the story, it all sounded very familiar to me. I could swear I had seen Petty before somewhere. So I searched the old blog archives and quickly found that Dr. Petty had been featured before in 2013 on this very same newscast, in which he was shown supposedly producing even more miraculous results with acupuncture for a dog with a severe closed head injury. Guess who did the story? Yes, it Steve Garagiola again. In fact, this story in 2017 is practically a carbon copy of the story in 2013, featuring two anecdotes about two dogs who supposedly experienced “miraculous” recoveries thanks to acupuncture interspersed with Dr. Petty explaining how acupuncture “works.” That time around, nearly four years ago, Dr. Petty blathered about how acupuncture isn’t magic and the needles aren’t magic, emphasizing that the needle doesn’t heal anything, but rather is “telling the body how to heal itself.” I wondered at the time exactly how the needle pulls off this amazing feat and noted at the time that, contrary to what Dr. Petty claimed, magic is exactly what he was claiming for acupuncture. There’s nothing less magical in the 2017 edition, although the magic is gussied up in less blatantly mystical terms. There was an interesting reversal, though. In 2013, Garagiola emphasized that “this is science, not magic.” In 2017, he all but gave that up, repeatedly referring to acupuncture results in the two dogs featured in his report as “miracles.”
What I said about that piece in 2013 applies equally well to this piece. It might as well have been a commercial for Dr. Petty and his clinic. One has to wonder what the connection is between Dr. Petty and Steve Garagiola and/or WDIV is, for him to be featured in what are essentially commercials disguised as news features. My guess is that Garagiola is a believer. Maybe he or a friend of his took his dog to Dr. Petty and was impressed. Whatever the reason, I just hope that I’m not seeing another one of these stories in another three or four years.
45 replies on “Adventures in bad veterinary medicine reported by the local media (2017 edition)”
The local Humane Society and the local Police should be watching this quacks shop and rescuing all the pets that are taken in there. There is no excuse for delaying or denying effective treatment to an injured animal. Idiots who do this are in the same class of retardation as the vegan morons with cats who feed them vegan cat food. Here’s a tip for those who would defend them. Look up what Obligate carnivore means before you open your mouth. Kill or harm yourself with quackery, it’s your right. Start harming animals who have no choice with quackery, you should be taken out back and shot.
And don’t forget plain old regression to the mean for placebo in animals. I kept having to repeat this to explain what really was happening with homeopathy for cats and finally it sank in so no more oscillococcium or whatever for the cat. Yay for small victories.
“Hey! Why is this monster sticking needles in me?”
I notice he didn’t say they respond positively, so the claim might be technically true.
Why isn’t the lesson here that dogs respond to ice cream, given your description of the process? Would Dr. Petty be willing to try ice cream alone?
So, laser therapy doesn’t work in animals? I’ve always been suspicious of it, but I thought the consensus was that it might at least have some of the same benefits as applying heat to an injury. If it doesn’t work I’d love to know, so that I can tell my parents to stop wasting their money.
@Anonymous Pseudonym — There’s at least one vegetarian (I’m not sure if it’s vegan, and don’t care) cat food that’s healthy for cats. It’s soy based, and contains supplements for everything that’s usually missing from a meat-free diet.
I was actually feeding it to my cats because at the time it was the only grain-free food I could find that they would all eat. And now that the pickiest eater has passed, I’ve switched them all to a venison based food.
Sadly, this comes as no surprise to me. I have some connections with a dog rescue (the one where I got my dog from), and some of the other members are heavily into woo for animals.
They’re constantly talking about home cooking for dogs, and raw diets for dogs, and what essential oils are best for what condition.
I try to be the voice of reason, but generally I’m ignored or dismissed.
I put my foot down when our coordinator wanted to do a woo treatment for a dog with serious heartworm issues. She wanted to avoid both the “hard kill” and “slow kill” methods that use mainstream medicine to kill the parasite in favor of a “natural” remedy some quack vet pitched her.
I told her it was irresponsible to use an unproven alternative treatment on heartworm, and described graphically what happens to untreated dogs (CHF basically, only worse).
Next thing I knew, the dog was being treated with the “hard kill” method (which is the best method but is hard on the dogs). Thankfully. Sweet dog that deserves better.
If Mike Petty, DVM has never had an acupuncture treatment on his nervous system but promotes its therapeutic benefits for his customers (i.e., animals) he’s definitely “Orac bait”.
I avoid being petty with my puppy dog, I taste the new dog-food before giving it to her.
On behalf of that dog, thank you Panacea.
You just had to bring up Dr. Jeff huh? That guy. I can’t even be coherent he makes me so mad.
We deal with our fair share of woo at the specialty veterinary hospital where I work. I can tell you that trying to attach a Holter monitor to a dog who’s been covered in essential oils is a frustrating experience.
Good for you Panacea!
Animals are very good at hiding pain so if they are actually showing any evidence of pain they need to be given proper painkillers. I rather liked the attitude of the orthopedic vet who did my DSG bitch’s TTA, he said his attitude to pain control had changed after he’d had an operation and he now prescribed painkillers as standard for recovery whenever he did an operation, because he’d discovered for himself just how much being cut into can hurt!
You do realize that you gave your cats the equivalent of cardboard, with artificial flavoring to make it palatable, and some vitamins and minerals. I have yet to see or hear of any cat on Vegetarian diet that lives longer then five years. Most of them succumb to renal failure or starvation. Before you decide to do something like that again, talk to a qualified and competent vet about better alternatives. And no, any vet that would recommend a vegan or vegetarian cat food is no-where near competent. It ranks up there with quacks who recommend cleanses and white rice with supplements for humans to live on.
This pretty much describes all pet food, I think.
There are safe vegan cat foods, but some are better than others and some are lacking. Note that it’s more dangerous to feed a male cat a vegan diet, for various reasons. It’s not always possible for all cats, but it can be done.
There’s a whole video about it here.
Also, please refrain from using mental disabilities (specifically “retardation”) as insults. Thanks.
Having been subjected to acupuncture, I can only say that the poor animals have my sympathy: it’s a waste of time and money and some procedures like cupping hurt. ( I doubt that they do cupping on cats and dogs because they don’t have inhibitions defending themselves form painful abuse that over- educated, over-socialised white women like me have- in other words , I did not slam the delicate, elderly Chinese practitioner who did the cupping)
re vegan cats:
Woo-meister Null told numerous stories about vegan cats on his various estates who all seem to live to advanced ages- like 25 or 27- prior to succumbing after being struck by cars.**
AFAIK cats as obligate carnivores need specific proteins in order to survive which are available in meats- otherwise they develop cardiac issues.
So supplementation might be feasible but would you really want to deprive a kitteh of tasty chicken or fish?
** after several years of these tall tales, he began to change his tune saying that he only fed the ancient cats raw fish and let them hunt natural prey.
Someone must have told him that he sounded idiotic.
Grand master Woo might have just been tossed from land-based station WBAI which might be a major source of revenue ( an ill-gotten gain) for him. see WBAI schedule.
Taurine, specifically. Even meat-based cat foods are fortified with it, as are vegan cat foods.
The main issue for vegan diets with male cats is that they can increase the risk of UTIs, which are a lot more dangerous for male cats. (It’s because a vegan diet is less acidic than a meat-based diet, which changes urinary pH.
I dunno, my cat gets plain old kibble, and he still gets excited about it every time. I suspect he would be just as excited about pretty much any food.
I realize that you are probably being fecitious(sp?), but cardboard with flavoring doesn’t describe any proper pet food actually. The meat for dog and cat food is not acquired in the most appetizing way, but it is animal flesh. I personally find it no more disagreeable then the way they acquire and process meat to go into wieners and sausage, but most people find mechanical processing of a carcass distasteful. Dog food has a high level of vegetable/grain filler in it. Dogs are not obligate carnivores and can thrive on a diet high in grains and vegetables. Cats are obligate carnivores and non-flesh ranges from little use to out-right damaging to their health. As an example the high level of phosphorous and ash in most super-store cat foods almost guarantees a shorter life for a cat due to it leading to kidney stones/failure. But since it’s cheap and sold in the same place people buy their food, it must be OK. Even the higher-end food-brands (Royal Canin, Science diet, etc) are susceptible to excess minerals and filler creeping in.
As for your dislike of me using retardation to indicate a serious mental disability, what would you suggest in it’s place? I realize that we have taken retardation as a slur, but it is also a technical description. I am ignorant of other terms that serve the same purpose in an economy of wording.
Well, I was wrong. The food was soy based, but it’s not even vegetarian — a bit further down in the ingredients they’ve got both chicken fat and fish oil. I suppose the chicken fat is responsible for most of the flavor, which they all seemed to like.
This is it, if anyone else cares to look at the ingredients.
“Stupidity” leaps to mind, since it’s pretty obvious that that’s what you were talking about, not “retardation.” A person can have a perfectly normal IQ, no developmental disabilities, etc., and still be very stupid.
And yes, “retard” is a slur, and has been my entire life; it was a common playground insult, for instance. I find using it as an insult definitely denigrates many perfectly fine people who might have mental disabilities. Not to mention, there are a lot of folks around here who might be on the autism spectrum, and I can attest that kids with autism were also called “retards,” or “spaz,” etc. It’s a hurtful term.
Our dogs were raw fed for years. Literally chunks of beef or chicken on a towel in the kitchen or on the grass in the garden during summer. Now, the remaining terrier gets various forms of dry food. I’ll say one thing, his poops are now about as pleasant as poops can feasibly be. He never did brilliantly on meat.
The Staffie (dead now) had a thing about vets. It was fairly fraught just getting her an injection. Multiple needles would have involved blood.
You might check to make sure it has adequate levels of taurine; not all cat foods do, including meat-based cat foods, and they’re rarely tested.
I imagine the vegan cat foods use various flavoring agents, since if it didn’t taste good, cats wouldn’t eat it. (What with being notoriously picky eaters and all.)
One of my cats got ill last week. He started sneezing first and breathing heavily – and when we got him to the vet, it turned out he had bronchitis (fortunately, not pneumonia). And since cats cannot blow their noses, he was also utterly miserable. So he got antibiotics, first three days as injection. He wasn’t very happy about the needles but tolerated it pretty well – and after the third injection he even started playing with his friend. Now, after another 4 days of oral antibiotic he’s almost perfectly well.
Now I know my vet is science-based, she prolonged my previous cat’s life for over 5 years (renal failure) and I trust her. She might sometimes propose something that is experimental, but she always states it clearly and even if it’s experimental, it’s also science- and reality-based,
And I must say that I’m not surprised that dr Petty is shown treating only dogs. Acupuncture for cats would probably involve sedating most of patients.
Taurine, specifically. Even meat-based cat foods are fortified with it, as are vegan cat foods.
Absence of taurine = cardiac myopathy. I remember Pion et al (1987): http://science.sciencemag.org/content/237/4816/764
Supplementing the cat’s diet with energy drinks is probably not a good idea.
FYI if you want to look less stupid and you’re uncertain of a word’s spelling, type it into a new window and google it. Even with the totally garbled spelling of feciotiosu the dictionary entry for facetious pops up.
Acupuncture for cats would probably involve sedating most of patients.
Butchers’ gloves would also help.
Yes, there is a risk that a feline patient would attempt acupuncture on the vet.
As the son of a veterinarian, I figured I would point out something else in here that makes animal medicine different from human medicine.
One big difference is that veterinary practices must be run much more like a business than a human hospital in large part because they are not coupled to the insurance industry the way human medicine is. As such, there is no third party restricting payment by dictating what insurance will or will not cover based on some metric of what truly works. Veterinarians are therefore less restricted at offering medical services that may actually not be very medical. They have little choice but to *appear* to offer everything that their clients expect, which includes things like acupuncture. My Dad is not a believer in acupuncture, for much the same reason you’re not a believer, but I remember him planning a suite into his clinic which had the intent of allowing for an acupuncture specialist to work simply because people were asking for the option. With some of these clinics, they may not employ such a specialist directly, but might contract someone who travels about offering the specialty.
Since a dog can’t actually tell you whether he’s feeling better or not as a result of treatment, a big part of customer satisfaction is that the client got what they wanted… whether or not what they wanted really contributed to the dog’s recovery, which is enormously hard to measure in some cases. My Dad is fond of mentioning one case he encountered during schooling where an owner had mistakenly rewarded their dog for playing at having a limp… the dog acted normally when handled by anybody else, but upon seeing its owner would pull its leg up and play at having a limp –the owner never realized that the dog wasn’t actually hurt because the dog got special treatment from her when feigning injury, so it always feigned the injury.
@ JP #15: A very good friend of mine is a veterinarian. She has told me that when male cats get a urinary obstruction due to crystalization or stone, it is very difficult to correct. The urethra narrows, and dilating it is not always successful. You get to a point of diminishing returns after a few gos of this, and either you put the cat down, or he dies because of the obstruction.
viggen, we had a dog who watched another dog limp and for whatever reason decided she should limp. Naturally we gave her some extra attention, but we realized she was faking it when she switched sides–what had been a left leg limp became a right leg limp.
“Supplementing the cat’s diet with energy drinks is probably not a good idea.”
Damn! There goes any hope for me making a breakthrough contribution to veterinary science.
Although the thought of a cat amped up on 5-Hour Energy is the stuff of nightmares. Or B-movies with John Carradine.
NJK: Venison? That’s pretty nice! My cat gets “game bird” (duck, pheasant, maybe turkey) because all the vets say she’s too chubby and the latest vet said we should try “low carb” dry food (because her majesty must eat 23 kibblets out of the automatic feeder every 3 hours) in addition to the one spoonful of regular-brand wet food every evening.
The only semi-woo that the vet suggested was a lysine supplement (maple flavored, for some weird reason) to help with the cat’s eye herpes. When the cat has a bad flareup (running eyes, running nose, clearly miserable) then she gets real drugs. But we decided to try this supplement, and it seemed to make a difference, but then we ran out and I didn’t get around to getting more and she’s been just the same. So, not going to bother with that any more.
True, I could have searched the web for the correct spelling. Honestly I got lazy and when Firefox spell-check didn’t give me a correct spelling, I added the sp? and carried on.
If I had meant stupidity, I would have used stupidity. As it was I meant exactly what I said. Granted I try to use the words with their actual meaning, not the ones that assholes over the years have co-opted onto them. I may come off as ignorant, but I am far from ignorant of the denigrating tones that has been attached to retard and its derivatives over the last 35 or so years. To be honest, I’m just a bit sick and tired of having to reduce my vocabulary because of the actions of assholes. They keep stealing words, and in time we’ll all be back to communicating with non-committal grunts and gestures.
Clever aren’t they and nice story. Years ago I had a dog with kennel cough so brought him into the house away from the others to recuperate and (hopefully) not infect the others. After he was no longer coughing and had been on antibiotics for a time I brought him back to the kennel and he started coughing. So back to the house he went. It was at least three times of this that I realised he trained me up.
Anonymous Pseudonym (#31) says,
They keep stealing words, and in time we’ll all be back to communicating with non-committal grunts and gestures.
You made me laugh out loud and my face hurts, stop it!
With respectful insolence, your brilliant at blaming others for your inappropriate vocabulary.
Derp comes to mind. But this is the real world so:
Travis J. Schwochert, general purpose fuckhead, alert!
poleaxe for travis summoned
True, I could have searched the web for the correct spelling. Honestly I got lazy and when Firefox spell-check didn’t give me a correct spelling, I added the sp? and carried on.
All five vowels in alphabetical order, is all you have to remember about ‘facetious’. Lke ‘abstemious’. If you want to count ‘y’ as a vowel, tack ‘-ly’ at the end.
If you are Welsh and want to count ‘w’ as a vowel too, then there is no hope for you.
Yes, what is with all the vegan hate? My perfectly wonderful brilliant adventurous daughter is a strict vegan and she is perfectly wonderful, brilliant, and adventurous, among her other sterling qualities, although I wish she would tone down the evangelizing.
She gives special dispensation to the shrimp and flies in our turtle’s food, the meat in our dog’s food, and the bovine aortic and mitral valves in her father.
I see that I wasn’t clear enough earlier. Fuck off, Travis. Luna hasn’t been seen here in ages.
[…] yesterday’s post on a local news station’s credulous promotion of quack acupuncture (but I repeat myself) for pets, I thought I’d stay on the topic of acupuncture for one more […]
what is with all the vegan hate?
They should go back to Vega if they don’t like it here.
Well I’m part Welsh, so I am only partly hopeless? 🙂
No hate for vegans here, but I have yet to read a justification for feeding a cat a vegan diet that made sense. If you want a vegan pet get a rabbit.
ORD @41: I think for at least some people the issue is not all vegans, or even most vegans, it’s that the person that they know and remember as a vegan was likely also obnoxious *about* their veganism.
Like, most of the vegans I’ve known I didn’t realize were vegan for a long time. But the person who is a jerk about being a vegan (or anything else, people can be holier-than-thou about anything) tends to stick in the mind much harder than Jane from Accounting or Fred at Pub Quiz.
Do you realize, people who assumed you were using it as a slur were giving you the benefit of the doubt? It’s actually *worse* if you really mean the word the way it was intended and not as an insult.
My dad was a general practitioner before he retired. He commented that of all the parents he worked with, he mentally retarded ones were the most competent. He wasn’t sure why, but I suspect it’s because they are less likely to suffer the delusion of being brilliant — they’re painfully aware of their limitations, while us normals grow up being praised for our brilliance to encourage us through school, the result being that we think we’re a lot smarter than we actually are. Hence, a veterinarian who thinks he knows better than the scientific consensus, and if it looks like something is working, that’s good enough.
I’m inclined to think that’s the truth of it. After all, many studies have found that use of alternative medicine correlates strongly with educational level. It isn’t the mentally retarded, by and large, who are choosing alternative medicine. Their caregivers, quite often, especially those with a lot of education.
Personally, I would not have used “stupidity” either. It’s tempting, since it lets you feel better than them, but dangerously wrong. It’s important to recognize how often extremely smart people both promote and seek out alternative medicine. There are two broad categories: the hucksters, who don’t really believe in it but know they can make money from it, and the believers, which includes both the patients and many of the practitioners.