One topic that comes up occasionally in gecko circles (and other pet circles as well), is: when and how can “home remedy treatments” be given to our pets? While each owner ultimately must decide for themselves; there are some things that can be done at home, others that never should be done at home, and some that might be done under veterinarian supervision only. Most things truly fall into this third category, as there has not been enough research done into naturopathic, homeopathic, and supplemental medicine in the herpetological field. It can be difficult enough to find an exotics vet, let alone one who is versed in alternative treatment modalitites. This is an area that I feel is strongly deserving of more research and more practitioners. As a community, I feel it is our responsibility to work together to try to help these measures along, whether that means giving of time, resources, or practices.
Medicine as a practice throughout the centuries has a very strong traditional tenet of: Primum Non Nocere – “First, Do No Harm.” This has been attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates, but the origin of this tenet is not entirely certain. A closely related concept is “Sometimes the cure is worse than the ill.” We must take into consideration the gravity of these tenets when considering treating the creatures in our care. They depend on us for everything, for their very lives.
Medicines, homeopathy, and cures in general
- Poison or drug? It’s a matter of dose, generally. No matter what the compound is, pharmaceutical or plant-derived, it alters the physiology of an organism. Unless you are familiar with the chemistry of a compound and the likely molecular reactions on a cellular level with your pet, don’t do it. This can be as simple as knowing that you need to keep the calcium-to-phosphorous ratio correct to maintain healthy bone growth and prevent Metabolic Bone Disease; or it can be as complicated as the case illustrated below.
- The main principle behind homeopathy is that “like cures like”. If you can provoke the system with an infinitesimally small stimulus, your body will counteract it by correcting the stimulus as well as the underlying problem. I have seen it sometimes work, and sometimes fail, and I think it has to do with individual genetic predispositions with the result that some people do better with herbs and some better with drugs.
- There is no such thing as “cure” that can be brought about by external remedies. Drugs or herbs work to help the body return to an acceptable level of homeostasis. A diabetic on insulin is not “cured”, but they can live a more normal life than they would otherwise.
An example of a home remedy that might be safely used is the “gecko slurry” or “gecko soup” recipe (Golden Gate Gecko’s Slurry Recipe) that many of us who participate in forums are familiar with (formulated by Marcia McGuiness of Golden Gate Geckos). This is a nutritionally-based treatment designed to provide a high-calorie diet for an ailing individual. It was designed to provide intense yet balanced calorie, vitamin, and mineral supplementation. Substitutions of ingredients may alter its nutritional profile, safety, and effectiveness.
Recently on one of the reptile forums where I am a member, there was a suggestion of using a pulsatilla homeopathic remedy to treat symptoms of the enigma syndrome in leopard geckos (generally a hotly debated subject). This gives us an example of why it is so important to understand what we can do. With that in mind, anything that could treat the enigma syndrome symptoms and provide relief should be considered.
After consideration of all the variables, my last thoughts on the subject are as follows: if I were looking to treat, pulsatilla would likely not be my first choice, given that the caustic alkaloids of the Ranunculaceae are generally very toxic to mammals (which have much faster metabolisms to clear them out than do reptiles). Since homeopathic remedies, as mentioned above, use miniscule proportions of an active ingredient, it may be something to watch. But I would never consider doing this without veterinarian supervision.
However, I find the idea of treating the syndrome with nervines intriguing, and something well worth looking into. Perhaps something milder like passionflower, motherwort, or jatamamsi would have a positive effect as an infusion in their water, but this also would have to be under a vet’s supervision. Another thing to consider might be fatty acid supplementation, if it is a nerve-related issue. The last thing that comes to my mind would be something along the lines of GABA or DMAE (amino acids that can help the nervous system in some cases).
My disclaimer here is that I don’t have a framed piece of paper to Third-Party Certify that I really know anything in this world, so this is based only on my rampant late night readings of all things integrative in medicine. A healthy curiosity, a strong dose of caution, and the chemistry entries on Wikipedia can help you go further in your understanding; it can help you bring questions to your vet that they might not otherwise have considered. You need to respect their many years of training, but sometimes, a well-thought out theory might just help them treat your beloved pet a little better.
Just because something works in people does not mean it would work with reptiles, but sometimes, it might. I need to learn more about gecko physiology and metabolism, to be sure. I hope to be able to learn more in the years to come so that I can contribute to what we know about these amazing and beautiful creatures.