For many years after its invention around 1796, homeopathy was widely used in people and later in animals. Over the intervening period (1796-2016) pharmacology emerged as a science from Materia Medica (medicinal materials) to become the mainstay of veterinary therapeutics. There remains today a much smaller, but significant, use of homeopathy by veterinary surgeons. Homeopathic products are sometimes administered when conventional drug therapies have not succeeded, but are also used as alternatives to scientifically based therapies and licensed products. The principles underlying the veterinary use of drug-based and homeopathic products are polar opposites; this provides the basis for comparison between them. This two-part review compares and contrasts the two treatment forms in respect of history, constituents, methods of preparation, known or postulated mechanisms underlying responses, the legal basis for use and scientific credibility in the 21st century. Part 1 begins with a consideration of why therapeutic products actually work or appear to do so.