By Dr. Becker
As an integrative veterinarian, I routinely employ alternative healing therapies in my practice with a great deal of success.
So I'm always taken aback when someone (in this case the writer of the Wink News article linked below) describes an important modality like acupuncture as an expensive 'splurge' – especially if the patient is a pet.
Though there are to date very few scientific studies available that prove beyond all doubt veterinary acupuncture works, or perhaps more importantly why it works, the fact is -- it works. It benefits animals in much the same way it benefits humans.
I see its advantages every day with my patients, as do veterinary acupuncturists and their pet owner clients across the country and the world.
Dr. Grace Li, one of four integrative vets at the Tin Hau Pet Hospital in Hong Kong, grew up in Canada, graduated from veterinary school at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and studied veterinary dermatology at Australia's University of Sydney. Dr. Li's view of acupuncture in her practice:
"Coming to me can be almost a last resort for animals and their guardians. What I'm doing may be different, but when I see that it leads to improvements for pets, then I know I'm on the right track.
"To me, it's so obvious. When I do acupuncture on a recumbent dog, one who can't stand up, and then after a few acupuncture treatments, he's walking, happy and more energetic, that's a spectacular response.
"When acupuncture helps to solve bad-digestion, chronic-diarrhea or skin-problem cases, then I know my treatment plan works. Although my patients can't talk, the results are clear. The pets' guardians see the impact for themselves."
Western medicine has conditioned us to look for the quick fix. With alternative therapies, including acupuncture, results are often not seen immediately and require more frequent and longer treatments.
There certainly are situations in which we see immediate improvement with acupuncture, but as a general rule the benefits of acupuncture are cumulative over a series of treatments.
In other words, pet owners should prepare for a journey rather than a quick trip around the block.
Non-drug, non-surgical alternative therapies like acupuncture call on the natural healing ability of the body to repair itself and return to a state of balance (good health). This is an entirely different approach than that of traditional medicine, which typically involves blasting away at the problem with powerful drugs and scalpels.
Should You Consider Acupuncture for Your Pet?
Acupuncture isn't appropriate or successful for every patient, of course, or for every condition, disease or situation.
A partial list of conditions proven to respond to veterinary acupuncture includes:
- Hip dysplasia
- Traumatic nerve injuries
- Degenerative joint disease
- Lick granulomas
- Allergic skin conditions
- Disease of the spinal cord
- Reproductive problems
- Endocrine disorders
- Immune function
- Systemic inflammatory conditions
A person's decision to pursue acupuncture for an ailing pet depends on several factors which might include:
- Personal experience with acupuncture; openness to alternative medicine
- Satisfaction/dissatisfaction with traditional medical treatments
- Knowledge of/experience with drugs and their side effects
- Age or condition of the pet and associated risks of drugs or surgery
Costs for veterinary acupuncture vary from practice to practice. Costs will also depend on your companion's health status, the complexity of the problem, and how long your pet has suffered with it.
An average cost for a single session ranges from about $50 up to $200. Since more than one treatment is usually required, many practices offer packages which can save clients some money.
Setting the Stage for Successful Acupuncture Therapy
The success of acupuncture depends on several factors, including:
- The practitioner's expertise
- The duration and intensity of the condition being treated
- The number, length and consistency of treatments
- How your pet's body responds to the treatment
The most important first step for you as a pet owner is to find an acupuncturist who has received formal training, is licensed, has a track record of success with the procedure, and with whom you feel comfortable.
Your pet's condition should dictate the acupuncture points used, the needling technique, and the amount of time the needles remain in the animal's body.
Statistically, animal acupuncture succeeds at the following rates:
- About 25 percent of patients have major improvement, up to the point of fully curing the condition.
- About 50 percent of patients experience significant improvement, but with some symptoms remaining.
- The remaining 25 percent have no response to the treatment at all.
These results are fairly typical in the art of alternative medicine. Finding the type, or more often types, of treatment needed to unlock a healing response in your pet is the goal.
Sometimes the first therapy tried is the key and there is immediate and dramatic improvement in your pet's condition. More often, there is a period of trying different modalities and combinations to determine which is most beneficial for that individual.
In my practice, Indiana, a soon to be 14-year-old stomach cancer survivor who is also managing thyroid, adrenal and kidney disease, struggles with joint pain. Indiana's parents tried hydrotherapy and laser therapy to help provide relief for her aching body, but nothing seemed to be working. Indiana has had regular electro-acupuncture treatments for 6 months now, and her parents believe it is helping to keep her quality of life maintained by successfully reducing arthritis pain.
Millie is an 8-year-old cattle dog mix suffering from hormone-induced urinary incontinence. Her owner did not want to use drugs for this condition, instead opting for regular acupuncture sessions to stimulate pudendal nerve tone (which helps to control the external urethral sphincter and keep urine from leaking out of the bladder). Consistent treatments have prevented additional leaking and improved the quality of life of both dog and owner.
There are countless other animal acupuncture success stories as well. The following are a few more worth sharing:
Jester the cattle dog, from the AKC Canine Health Foundation:
Charles Brown believes acupuncture helped significantly reduce pain and increase the quality of life for his ailing cattle dog, Jester. Jester suffered from a number of health problems and was on so much medication he was unable to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which typical Western veterinary medicine uses to treat pain. Brown recalls the dramatic effect Jester's acupuncture treatments had on him, stating "He hobbled into the office for his treatment, and afterwards, I was amazed that he walked normally, almost the way he walked before he was ever diagnosed with arthritis."
Ben the chocolate lab, from the Animal Wellness Center, Davis, California:
Ben, a 10-year-old chocolate Lab, came in to see us pulled by his owner in a little red wagon. He had lost his right rear leg to cancer several years before. Shortly after the surgery Ben went down -- he could no longer support himself on his remaining three legs. I examined him and found that both front legs had sore elbows and weak shoulders, and his remaining hip was very weak, as well.
Ben received acupuncture treatments weekly for five weeks. By the fifth week he stood and walked for the first time in years. Ben is up walking on three legs, and doing well. Ben marched in the Davis May Day Parade accompanied by his owner, who pulled the little red wagon as a precaution in case Ben went down. But Ben surprised us all by walking the whole way without missing a step.
Beau the standard poodle, from the Arbor Pointe Vet Hospital, Canton, Michigan:
At age 14 and 75 pounds, our dog Beau had been diagnosed with arthritis in one knee and an inflammation of the spinal cord that was weakening his hind legs. Even with several medications for the pain, he was still pretty uncomfortable, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to get up once he was lying down.
Acupuncture treatment with Dr. Petty has been a tremendous help. We know the pain is much reduced because he is once again running, playing and barking happily. His stamina for long walks has returned, his hind foot no longer drags when he walks, and he no longer groans in pain when he lies down or stands up. Without a doubt, acupuncture has given him back a quality of life that we thought was gone forever.
Kettle the cat, from Holistic Veterinary Care, Oakland, California:
Kettle is a 15-year-old feline that loves to careen down hallways and snuggle on his owner's lap. After a routine checkup at the beginning of the year, Kettle was diagnosed with renal failure. The owner had heard only distressing news about CRF, so by the time she came to see Dr. Richter she was understandably upset.
The owner agreed to bring Kettle in for his first acupuncture appointment and has continued to do so once a month ever since. Today, the senior kitty's kidneys are functioning much better and Kettle is back to his feisty and demanding self.
And finally there's Froggy's Tale: An Acupuncture Success Story – too long to include here, but a truly inspirational story I think you'll enjoy.
If you'd like to see acupuncture being performed on pets: