Homeopathic nosodes have been in use in humans and animals since the 1800s. Today, the Food and Drug Administration considers them a prescription item, requiring veterinarian involvement for animal use.
Joyce Harman, DVM, MRCVS, of Harmany Equine Clinic in Virginia defines a nosode as “a homeopathic remedy made from diseased tissue. A good example would be, say, strangles, where you have a lot of pus-like material that comes out of the nose or out of the lymph nodes; it is made into a homeopathic remedy through the process of dilution and succussion. It’s diluted anywhere from 1 to 30 to 200 times. It’s shaken – or succussed– between each dilution.”
These homeopathic remedies, which can have a shelf life of 100 years, are made in liquid form. For ease of use, the remedy is commonly sprayed on sucrose or lactose pellets. While nosodes have been in use for more than 200 years, the nosodes for today’s modern diseases have been around for only about 20 years.
DO NOSODES WORK LIKE VACCINES?
Robin Cannizzaro, DVM, CVA, of Wholistic Veterinary Care in Florida, points out a bit of a discrepancy in what people think of nosodes. “They’re often considered homeopathic vaccines, which is a misnomer, because they don’t act the same way as vaccines,” she says.
Kimberly Henneman, DVM, FAAVA, CVA, CVC, of Animal Health Options in Utah elaborates on this difference, “They work according to classical homeopathic principles in that they stimulate the body’s response to similar disease processes. They do not work by directly challenging the body’s immunity to stimulate either cellular immunity or antibody production [as vaccines do]. The actual physiological mechanism of action has not yet been elucidated,” Dr. Henneman continues, “however new physics research is showing that solutions made according to homeopathic principles, dilution and succussion, change the crystalline and electromagnetic nature of the water in which they are made.”
One theory is that nosodes work by creating an artificial disease in the body. “There’s one idea that homeopathic medicines may occupy a space, a resonance that the natural disease would occupy should the animal come into contact with the natural disease,” offers Dr. Cannizzaro. “If at the time the space is occupied by the nosode, then the disease has no place to settle and reside. If there’s no resonance with the patient whatsoever, then it just kind of disappears and nothing much happens.”
Dr. Harman offers her explanation, “We’re putting into the body a very, very dilute substance that really puts a picture into the body, an energetic picture that triggers a healing response. It’s sort of like turning a switch with this very dilute energetic substance that says to the body ‘you need to fix this problem.’ With a nosode, what we’re doing is trying to tell the body energetically that it’s capable of dealing with a bug.”
Dr. Harman cautions against simply substituting nosodes for traditional vaccines: “There are vets out there who are touting ‘here, buy my nosode package, give nosodes for your horses as a vaccine,’ and all it’s really doing is substituting two different things that are really not the same; you’re still using the Western mindset of ‘we have to give this vaccine because it’s March 1.’ You’re not thinking about treating the animal holistically.” It is for these reasons that no one should undertake giving their horses nosodes without the advice of their veterinarian.
An important difference between vaccines and nosodes is the use of nosodes does not give you a measurable titer, used to assess antibodies in the body. While a vaccine will create titers, a nosode will not as it does not stimulate the immune system in the same way.
“Nosodes really are not a substitute for a vaccine; they really have a different purpose, but people tend to think of them that way,” says Dr. Harman.
“Each nosode you give is a treatment,” says Dr. Harman. “It’s triggering a response in the body, and that response might be good for the body, or it might not. Anytime we start throwing piles of homeopathic remedies into horses, or any animal, without the need for it, we run the risk of getting horses very difficult to cure from whatever diseases they do get because the energy of the body is so confused.”
“We would make the decision based on the animal’s health history and exposure risk,” Dr. Henneman says. “Giving a nosode to an animal with underlying constitutional disease can cause an adverse reaction which can worsen matters. Sometimes, based on vaccine titer status, a nosode is unnecessary.”
WHEN TO USE NOSODES
All three veterinarians interviewed for this piece agree that the best time to use a nosode in is the face of an outbreak. Dr. Cannizzaro says, “A nosode is more effective if you have an outbreak. If we give a vaccination, it’s going to take anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks for the immune system to mount a completely appropriate response to the vaccination.” Oftentimes when you have a disease outbreak in a barn, horses not yet showing signs of illness may already have the bug in their system. Dr. Harman explains, “If you go in and vaccinate those horses in the rest of that barn while they might be incubating the disease, there’s a very good chance you’ll have some very, very sick horses, because it’s sort of like the vaccine crosses with the disease.”
RESEARCH IS SPARSE
While holistic veterinarians know that nosodes, if used appropriately, do work, there is little scientific research to back up their results. “There is a biological reaction that occurs in the patient,” says Dr. Cannizzaro, “so you can’t say ‘OK, well it doesn’t do anything,’ because we watch tumors disappear, we watch sarcoids disappear, we watch lamenesses get better, colics go away, and there’s absolutely positively something that happens.”
Dr. Harman points to cases in animal shelters that use nosodes on their dog populations, most of which come in already sick with kennel cough and parvovirus. “[The shelters] know what their case rate was previous to nosodes, and they can see that drop by 50-80% after the nosode use. That’s been repeated time and time again. We’re never going to have access to that kind of data in the horse world,” she says.
The best way for horse owners to keep their horses healthy is to make a plan with their vet, and concentrate on getting them healthy to begin with. Dr. Harman says that to really help protect our horses we should, “Spend our time and energy on having their immune system as healthy as possible, and then use a nosode if there’s a risk of a disease in your area.” Owners should make an appointment with their holistic vet, and after a health evaluation, decide on an overall plan of action to keep their equines in top form.
While the use of nosodes, and homeopathy in general, isn’t mainstream, horse owners should be aware that they have options when it comes to veterinary care and disease prevention in their horses. Perhaps Dr. Cannizzaro says it best, “If we don’t empower people with different choices, they never will make different choices.”
Homeopathic nosodes are designed to be absorbed into the body through the mucus membranes. In horses, the most common way to give them is orally.
Dr. Harman describes her process: “There are many ways you can give homeopathic remedies, and there’s this whole religion about ‘don’t touch them, don’t give them with food’...If you take a horse who has a long mouth, and they chew their food very well, all you have to do is get it in their mouth. I would say I feed 90% of mine in a little bit of food. By the time the horse chews the food, they have absorbed the remedies in the mucus membranes.”
Dr. Cannizzaro counters, “Really, there’s no mystery to not handling the homeopathic pellets. If you handle them too much, you might actually rub the medicine off of the pellet...All of the medicine per se is pretty much impregnated on the outside of the pellet.” She says while you can feed the pellets in some food, “We want to reduce the greatest number of variables when you’re going to give a homeopathic medicine, and when you mix it with food, there is some controversy about whether or not there’s any kind of interaction between the food source and the homeopathic medicine.”
Dr. Cannizzaro suggests, “Either liquefy the pellets (dissolve them in spring or distilled water in a syringe) and then give them by mouth, or if the pellets are small enough, I just open the lower lip of the horse and I pour the pellets onto the lower lip, inside that pocket...Really, the most important thing is that the pellets dissolve.”
Jessica Bourgeois is a freelance journalist specializing in horses and animals. A lifelong animal lover, she’s done everything from apprenticing staff at Busch Gardens to research with Standardbred horses in college. Her particular areas of interest include equine care and health, farm management, and marketing. She can be reached at
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