What am I missing here?

Tagging neisseria and Doc Lizardo to weigh in, but certainly open to anyone. Let it be known that I'm a huge skeptic of woo, and homeopathy is the worst woo of them all. So imagine my annoyance when I'm reading one of my trade publications, which is basically a digest of recent abstracts, and I see a writeup on a homeopathic remedy for arthritis. Excuse me? I looked up the actual study, but it was paywalled (this is why I read the free digest thing). I found a free one on the same topic though.

I tend to apply more scrutiny to this sort of thing than to a study about Western medicine. The first study I said, "pff, they didn't use force plates." You really have to use force plate analysis to make a conclusion about orthopedic pain in dogs. "Caretaker placebo" is very real and will confuse any pain study on animals. However, if you walk a dog across a force plate, the force plate won't lie about whether it's limping and on which leg. The other one I found, however, did use force plates. Small n, but n is always small in veterinary studies (thanks Obama, I mean IACUC and pesky ethics).

Here's the study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/P...

To summarize:
44 dogs with osteoarthritis (clinical signs + x-ray)
Three groups: Placebo control, the homeopathic remedy ("Zeel"), and carprofen (a very good NSAID for dogs). The homeopathic remedy is arnica, rhus toxicodenron, and some other stuff, less diluted than typical for homeopathy ("only diluted until molar concentrations of 10−5 – 10−12 mol/l"). Groups are blinded but the medications in the groups look different from each other.
Six variables measured: veterinary-assessed mobility, two force plate variables, owner-evaluated chronic pain index, locomotion visual analogue scales (VAS)
Evaluated 4 times at 4 week intervals; all evaluators (vets, owners, assistants) were blinded.
Intake of extra NSAIDs included in analysis; everyone was given carprofen to use if they felt like the dog needed more pain meds. Now, the carprofen looks different from the placebo AND the homeopathic drug - wonder how much that matters. It doesn't say what the owners were told about the appearance difference. Also, the "blinded" vets know what carprofen looks like. Usage of the extra drugs varied, and was up to 29% in the placebo group.

Significant difference between the homeopathic drug and placebo in the mobility index, the chronic pain index, the visual analogue scale, and one of the force plate variables. Carprofen had the greatest improvement and largest percentage of improved patients, but the homeopathic drug showed improvement over placebo in the above mentioned variables. The improvement on the force plate is what interested me most; all the other variables are very subjective.

Soooo.... the different appearance of the drugs is a problem, as is allowing everyone to use extra "gold standard" drug. But I feel like I'm squinting harder at this than I would at, say, a study of a new NSAID for arthritis. The Zeel is less diluted (although those concentrations don't mean much to me, I think about drugs in milligrams) than a typical homeopathic thing and doesn't rely on "water memory," which kind of puts it more into the herbal remedy category, which is the most plausible of "alternative medicine," especially since a lot of our drugs originally come from plants.

So, should I go easier on this study? Harder?

Incidentally, the American Veterinary Medical Association recently debated whether to take an official stance on homeopathy.... and decided not to.