Muffin isn’t afraid of injections. The Golden Retriever sits calmly on the treatment table while veterinarian Maleen Schaumburg injects him with a homeopathic remedy to treat his back pain.

Muffin’s owner Katrin vom Hagen doesn’t reject conventional medicine in principle, but sees advantages in homeopathy. Sometimes the therapy may take a little longer, but it has a lasting effect, she says.

Alternative medicine is increasingly being used to treat animals. “Often the work of the animal homeopath begins where the work of the vet stops or does not begin at all,” explains Birgit Weidacher-Bauer, deputy chairperson of the oldest federation of alternative animal health practitioners.

For example, there is a steep rise in allergies among animals. While veterinarians often use cortisone, homeopaths try to clarify what the complete organism lacks, she says.

The principle is the same as for humans: Basic substances such as salts or plants are strongly diluted. The homeopaths call this process “potentiation” and they administer the resulting substance as injections, pellets, drops or ointments.

The relationship with conventional veterinarians can be fraught. “You can’t put everything on the same footing,” says veterinarian Ingo Stammberger. He is guided by the common opinion of experts that the method “is not suitable as a general treatment”. Efficacy has “hardly ever” been proven, he adds.

Animal owners should be responsible and go to a veterinarian, he says. “You can’t use pellets to treat purulent pneumonia.”

According to Weidacher-Bauer, animal homeopaths are not opposed to a standardised professional qualification. This, however, should not come from traditional veterinary medicine. She is also skeptical of conventional vets being trained in homeopathy, doubting they actually believe in the practice.

Yet that is exactly what Maleen Schaumburg has done. The 52-year-old veterinary surgeon undertook an additional three-year course in homeopathy.

“Already in my first years as an assistant veterinarian, I wasn’t happy with the way the same medicines were always being used in the acute therapy, regardless of what was wrong with the animal,” says Schaumberg, who is a member of the Society for Holistic Veterinary Medicine. “I began to be interested in alternatives.”

The veterinarian, who started her own practice in Friedberg, Germany, in 2004, usually treats animals that are very old or chronically ill. “They have often already passed through many veterinarian and animal homeopaths and often have a very bad prognosis. I can really help them with homeopathic therapy and improve their quality of life.”

Schaumburg says at least 95% of her treatments are homeopathic. “However, there are always cases where you have to intervene with conventional medicine. As a veterinary surgeon trained as a homeopath, I can tell when it’s necessary to switch treatment.”

Homeopathy isn’t just used for pets. “The use of homeopathic remedies in agriculture is no longer unusual,” says Bernd Weber, spokesman for a farmers’ association in Germany. Pellets are used for cattle, pigs and laying hens. “With quite a lot of success, some farmers swear by it,” he explains. However, the products administered must be approved and carefully documented. – dpa/Carolin Eckenfels and Göran Gehlen