Friday, 11 March 2005

Treating Fox mange with mumbo jumbo

A couple of years ago, the Mammal Society, once the leading organisation for the scientific study of mammals in the UK actively promoted the homeopathic treatment of wild mammals. All members of the Society were sent a leaflet advocating using homeopathic doses of arsenic at a dilution of 30c which (according to information on the very informative website) could require several billion litres of water to effect such a dilution.

The Mammal Society claimed that "a few drops of the homeopathic treatment are placed on something sweet, such as a jam sandwich, which is scattered around the garden. A full course of treatment will take around three weeks, although an improvement can usually be seen in a few days." How they know it is the dilute water and not the jam sandwich (or anything else) that effects the cure was not made clear.

The then Chairman of the Mammal Society claimed that "This particular treatment has been tested extensively by the Fox Project and the National Fox Welfare Society and all the data that have been collected show that it works. It certainly seems to be at least as good as Ivermectin, but has none of the associated problems, and is a treatment that can be used by members of the public without the need for veterinarian intervention. So if all the data suggest that it works, I think it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that people try it if they have no other treatment they can use."

Finding out the basis of these claims is nigh on impossible, and the Mammal Society seemed reluctant to even discuss them, let alone provide data alleged to have been collected. Among the few pieces of quantifiable data available, are the costs recorded on the web site:
"In the year 2000 the society sent out in excess of £18,295 worth of treatment free of charge. This homeopathic treatment of Arsenicum alb & Sulphur 30c helped over 3,659 foxes. Already in the last six months of 2001 we have sent out in excess of £9,120.00."

When one member of the Mammal Society queried the Society's position, the Chairman (Professor Stephen Harris, of the Department of Zoology, Bristol University) wrote:
"I am inundated with e-mails that waste my time and I had rather viewed the correspondence on mange and homeopathic treatments as falling into that category. Hence I have not exactly rushed to respond to the request for hard data since part of the aim of the current study is to collect just such data." In fact as the earlier quotes demonstrate, Professor Harris is actively supporting this "research", despite the fact that the manner in which the so-called study is being conducted, does not appear to be able to collect any hard data -- only anecdotal information, mostly from untrained sources. It's the sort of 'data' most reputable scientists would run a mile from.

Keeping an open mind is certainly important, but what next? Cynics within the Mammal Society have suggested some possible lines of future research for Professor Harris and his Bristol team. They could investigate the influence of zodiac signs on the breeding cycle of rams (Aires spp.), bulls (Taurus spp) and goats (Capra spp.). They could use dowsing to trace mole runs and other subterranean mammal runs. And Feng Shui might be very helpful as a tool for improving catch rates in mouse traps. Or perhaps Bristol University might carry out a study on food combining as practiced by competing populations of bank voles (Clethrionomys) and wood mice (Apodemus). The possibilities are endless, and have about an equal scientific basis. Most scientists would agree that letting people practice alternative medicine, is a human right akin to the freedom of worship. But like religion, the fact that it has virtually nothing to do with science is self evident. But then some scientists presumably must pray to get the research results they want. Keeping an open mind is one thing, but as it has been said on many occasions, not so open the brain falls out.


  1. I have used Homeopathy since the age of 5, my father was qualified to dispense. At no time in the last 40 years have I visited a doctor, or had any vaccinations. During this time I have been treated for Measles, Mumps, Chicken Pox, Whooping Cough, Influenza many times, Coughs, Colds, Asthma, Hayfever, etc, without any recourse to doctors and their drugs. I have never used any painkillers, or cough medicine other than natural products. I have also treated more than 60 sick and injured hedgehogs by the same method and all have survived. To those who think Homeopathy does not work then I am happy for you to keep relying on our WONDERFUL!!! NHS (god help you) and the brilliant scientists who brought us Thalidomide and all the other dangerous drugs with horrendous side-effects, many worse than the problems they are treating. Animals have no knowledge of the placebo effect and therefore cannot be making themselves better (as the scientists would have us believe) when given Homeopathy. I suggest the people trying to slur Homeopathy and make it out to be quack remedies would do better to use them in conjunction with conventional medicine, something I completely support.


  2. As a chronic hayfever sufferer I was once, many years ago persuaded to use a homeopathic treatment, but it had absolutely no effect whatsoever. But I do believe they can work for some people; however, I can find no published eveidence, that stands up to any sort of scrutiny, that homeopathy works any better than a predicted placebo effect. As far as treating hedgehogs and other wildife is concerned, I can find absolutley no evidence, other than purely anectodatal. I have looked after many injured and sick birds which have recovered, by treating them with nothing other than warmth and drinking water. There is no logical reason why a homeopathic treatment should be any more effective than water.

    For those that advocate homeopathy, reflexology, or any of the other 'alternative' treatments, all is required is some experimental proofs of effectiveness. These are all completely lacking. I also criticise the practioners for dressing up homeopathy etc in a pseudoscientific language, in an attempt to explain how it works, but they are explanations that are not plausible to anyone with a scientific knowledge.

  3. I had a fox in my neighborhood suffering from advanced sarcopic mange. I didn't have the time to mess with ivermectin dosing, so I decided to give the homeopathic treatment a try. After about six weeks of the remedy and jam sandwiches, the fox now has a beautiful, full coat. I know it is the same fox, because I saw the hair growing in. I live in a Maryland USA suburb.

  4. I do have to agree with the article.

    The argument I've used XXX since I was a child and I've never been ill is similar to the contention from smokers that their uncle lived to 80 smoking 60 a day. Its poor science to extrapolate theories from anecdote.

    As it happens I stumbled over this site because I was looking for a cure for mange for animals, and all the high hits seemed to be offering homeopathic "cures". Very frustrating.

  5. I am firmly opposed to the Mammal Society promoting homeopathic "medicine". I have treated several foxes for mange, as documented on my blog ( and to begin with I went along the alternative route. The fox's condition continued to deteriorate. I rang the Fox Welfare Society and was given advice that set all the alarm bells from my science degree ringing.

    So I got some ivermectin from London Wildcare. The fox recovered almost immediately. To those who say homeopathy works: with respect, you cannot prove that with a sample size of one and no controls on other factors, like daily provision of food, changes in the weather, etc. If you have a fox with mange, I strongly recommend speaking to credible rescue groups and giving some credible medicine.

  6. The Mammal Society claimed that "a few drops of the homeopathic treatment are placed on something sweet, such as a jam sandwich, which is scattered around the garden. A full course of treatment will take around three weeks, although an improvement can usually be seen in a few days." How they know it is the dilute water and not the jam sandwich (or anything else) that effects the cure was not made clear.


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    Alternative Medicine

  7. my french bulldog who was highly allergic and had suffered the embarrassment of wearing a lamp shade for 3 years caught mange when we moved to Ham ,I found this web site 3 years ago and used the remedy of ars. alb. and sulphur 30c and used it as indicated on instructions not only did his mange diappear but so did his skin problems and therefore no more itching more lampshade!!! im as stumped as the rest of you but my vet no longer makes money out of me!!