Rhus Toxicodendron for Dogs

The American Veterinary Medical Association discourages the use of homeopathic remedies including Rhus tox.
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Many dogs suffer from joint page as they age, which compromises their quality of life. While traditional veterinarians usually treat such pain with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and/or glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, some homeopathic advocates recommend a substance called Rhus toxicodendron, or Rhus tox, to treat joint pain. While researchers have not yet completed double blind clinical trials focusing on Rhus toxicodendron’s use for dogs, human trials indicate that it is less effective than a placebo.

Rhus Toxicodendron Described

Rhus toxicodendron is one of the former scientific names for Atlantic poison oak, presently identified by botanists as Toxicodendron pubescens. A shrubby North America endemic; poison oak serves as an important food source for many animals, but it can cause serious skin rashes in humans. Urushiol, the compound in the plant’s sap that causes the reaction, is incredibly powerful: As little as one billionth of a gram can cause the reaction. Experts disagree whether or not poison oak is dangerous for dogs. Some authorities regard it as harmful, but veterinarian Allison Dascoli argues that poison oak has never caused a documented case of dermatitis in a dog or cat. The ASPCA does not include poison oak on its list of plants that are toxic to dogs.

Homeopathic Use of Rhus Tox

Rhus tox is a homeopathic remedy prepared from extracts of poison oak plants. It is common in both human and veterinary homeopathy and is one of the most widely referenced concoctions. Primarily used as a cure for joint pain, homeopathic advocates also recommend Rhus tox for fevers, chills and flulike illnesses. According to the British Homeopathic Association, Rhus tox is a treatment for 11,400 out of 16,000 published maladies.

Contradicting Homeopathic Principles

Typically, holistic medicine proponents base much of their treatment philosophy on the principle that “like cures like.” In other words, a homeopathy advocate may treat bee stings with a bee venom extract, for instance. However, this principle does not apply to Rhus tox, which purportedly treats symptoms -- joint pain -- that have nothing to do with the problems caused by the original compound -- dermatitis.

Concocting Unconventional Cures

In the making of homeopathic products, the primary ingredient is often highly diluted. According to Healthy Pet Journal, an online reference for alternative pet medicine maintained by Dr. Larry Siegler, homeopathic concoctions might not contain even a single molecule of the original component. Siegler says that such remedies rely on something called the vital force to alleviate disease.

Critics of Homeopathy

The American Veterinary Medical Association harshly criticizes principles of some holistic medicine, including homeopathy. In addition to asserting that homeopathy is at odds with the “established principles of chemistry, physics, biology and physiology,” the AMVA issued a 2013 resolution declaring that homeopathic treatments were ineffective. They assert that even if a homeopathic treatment is not harmful, it may divert resources away from proven effective treatments.