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Monday, February 10, 2014

WTF natural medicine?

How has everyone been?  As usual, it's been hectic here at the Skeptical Okie headquarters, between the strange weather (thanks climate change), work (thanks needing to eat and pay bills), and just life in general (thanks?).

Now on to the main topic.  A few days ago, during the course of my normal day at work, I had to take an animal to a local emergency veterinarian.  While I was there waiting on them to determine the course of action for the kitten, one of the vet techs escorted a family back to see their dog, a schnauzer I believe.  While two of them were talking to the schnauzer, the third one in the group, a rather elderly lady, began looking at the other animals in the recovery area.  She noticed a couple of pups that were in essentially incubators.  The vet came out and told the family what the schnauzer had been doing while in his care.  Then the older woman asked what was wrong with the pups.  The vet informed her that they had a virus, which had already killed 2 other litters that morning. (I don't know what they had because the vet never said)  She looked at him and said "You need to go to a health food store and get some oregano oil.  You rub it on their bellies and they'll absorb it.  They'll be right as rain."  The other 2 people with her were standing there, nodding their heads like it was common knowledge.  The vet looked at the three of them and said that he didn't think it would work on a virus.  She said to do it and he would see it would work.  The vet sort of blinked, said okay, and went back to his office.  The 3 folks were just saying he'll see, and the natural cures work the best.   About this time, the vet tech that was working on the kitten I had taken in was looking at me sort of oddly, and she finally said "You want to say something, don't you?"  Yes, I did, but I couldn't because it wasn't directly related to my job, and I need the paycheck.  One thing I wanted to say was the vet blew a perfectly good teaching moment.  Granted, it probably wasn't the first time he'd heard it, and he may have just given up.  Secondly, I wanted to ask the 3 people, "If natural cures work the best, why is your dog at an emergency vet?"

Looking on the ever trustworthy interwebs for the efficacy of oregano oil, the first site I looked at states that it can be used to treat arthritis, allergies, and wounds, but nothing about viruses. The best sentence of the article says "Though there are no known side effects when using oregano on dogs, make sure to consult your vet immediately in case you encounter any problems."  Then at the bottom of the page, it goes on to talk about a couple of other herbs that are good to use on dogs, including slippery elm, basil, milk thistle, and hawthorn.  Another site only states that it will kill parasites, and yet a third says that it is "Antifungal, antiviral, anti-aging, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, immune stimulant and antiseptic."(  So feed your dog lasagna, it never needs to see a vet?  The reason that this pissed me off, aside from the fact I really couldn't say anything to the owners, is that, like many people who rely on "natural cures and treatments" they wait until it's too late before seeking actual medical treatment.

When I was looking for the efficacy of oregano oil, and a few other "natural treatments", I kept running into the same websites, namely,,, a lot of them using some variant of "wellness" "natural" or oregano in their page title.  As soon as I see anything promoted by mercola or naturalnews, my skeptisense begins tingling.  I have discussed these two several times in the past, and I think I'm just going to have to write an article on them, and several other people and start referring people back to that.  Quick rule of thumb kiddos: When doing research on any medical treatment, if they claim something works, say oregano, or Antimonium crudum (no, that's not a Harry Potter spell) and strangely enough, why lookie there, a link to buy what they just said works!  What a coincidence! Yeah right.  The reason that there are links to buy whatever miracle cure you just read about is because it was an ad trying to entice you to buy whatever they're selling.  While looking into this lovely bit of Woo, I did find 2 articles on the first page of Google (using the keywords: Efficacy of oregano oil for dogs) from  The articles are Oil of Oregano: All anecdotes, no science and Oil of Oregano – No substitute for the pertussis vaccine.  I couldn't find anything published through the World Health Organization.  The CDC has about 3 pages of published material mentioning oregano.  These seem to consist mostly of articles about rates of exposure, studies about the rates of CAM(complimentary and alternative medicine) used by different ethnic groups, and a cookbook.  In Pubmeds, there are quite a few articles mentioning oregano, but they include ones concerning extending the shelf life of rainbow trout and the chemical components and character of oregano oil.  Yes, there are some talking about it having antibacterial or anti-cancer traits, but I could only read the summary, not the entire article, nor can I find anywhere that these results have been reproduced.  As far as I can tell, the main benefit to Oregano oil is to make a grilled piece of tuna taste even better.

I hope that my slightly ranty article shows that skepticism and critical thought aren't relative to only people, but can be helpful to the various animals that many of us share our lives with.  When I was young, a common treatment for mange was to cover the dog with motor oil.  Need to worm your dog or horse, feed them cigarettes (My grandfather insisted the Camel brand unfiltered worked best).  Your female dog was bred by an undesirable male?  Give her an entire clove of garlic (Just watch out if she tries to lick your face afterwards).  After I got older, and learned a bit of science, I realized that not only were a lot of the hedge doctor cures I grew up with ineffective, but a lot of them were also dangerous. (I guess if the patient dies, you can consider them cured of the problem?)  Now that I'm nearly 40, I'm mildly pissed, and a bit frightened that this crap is still being used.  As I've said in the past, I work for animal welfare, and we often see animals come in that have been covered in oil or paint to "cure" skin issues, cinnamon or sevin dust put on the animal to prevent or kill parasites, and various other "treatments" that people will swear works, yet they are dropping them off at the shelter because the animal has either gotten worse or it died.  I got particularly upset and argumentative with a woman that brought in several adult dogs, 2 litters of puppies, and 2 carriers of kittens and adult cats.  The puppies had parvo, which without medical treatment, is fatal to dogs, the adults were emaciated due to a worm infestation combined with nursing the puppies, and the felines had a variety of illnesses.  When I asked her how long they had been ill, she said a couple of months, and the puppies started showing signs of parvo the day before.  I asked her why she hadn't taken them to a vet and she informed me she had.  When asked what the vet told her to do, she said she didn't like the treatments suggested because they involved "harmful man made drugs".  She finally found a naturopathic/homeopathic veterinarian (do they actually come in that flavor?  WTF!) that prescribed activated charcoal for the parvo, and parsley for the worms. For the cats, the owner had several vials with cheap labels and fake latin sounding names hand written on them.  I won't go into detail, but needless to say, I was asked to step back and go help someone in the back, and let the supervisors take care of it.  On a side note, we had to euthanize everyone of those animals, as well as the others that she brought up later. She had more animals that she was treating for a variety of illness in a similar manner. As I said, Woo is dangerous, not only to humans, but to our fuzzy, furry, scaly, and feathered companions.  So the next time you're tempted give your animal something that claims to be All Natural, or some form of a cure-all, do a little research, consult your veterinarian, and remember, cure-alls cure nothing.

As usual, feel free to leave a comment here. Until next time, Be good, Be polite, and stay warm!

The Skeptical Okie

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