When it comes to treating arthritis in our beloved pets, we are not as confined within the standard realm of treatments as many pet owners think. Watching our pets age faster than we do is difficult enough but add to that the pain and stiffness of joints that comes with advanced age and we all begin to search for immediate, effective and safe ways to treat our trusty companions. However, there is good news in this scenario; and it’s called Integrative Veterinary Medicine.
Integrative Veterinary Medicine acts in many different ways: “Integrative” means the use of both conventional veterinary medicine and alternative veterinary medicine such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicines, food therapies, physical therapy and other modalities within the field of TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine).
Before the 1970s, when TCVM became a more accepted mode of treatment in the United States, veterinarians were relegated to the use of veterinary NSAIDS (non steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs) and pain medications to treat arthritis. But these drugs are of little use when a pet has compromised liver and or kidney function due to age or disease. The treatment becomes as difficult to manage as the arthritis itself.
We’ve all heard about the benefits of Glucosamine supplements for joint health in humans and they can be just as beneficial for our pets. However, they work even better when used in combination with acupuncture and/or underwater treadmill therapy. Supportive therapy such as underwater treadmill exercise strengthens soft tissue structures of the joint. The buoyancy of the water lessens the effects of gravity on the arthritic bones while building stamina in the muscles around the joints.
Acupuncture is invaluable for treating most cases of arthritis. Only a few cases are beyond the effectiveness of acupuncture. It is not uncommon for us to see a dog carried into our office with the support of a belly sling or even on a gurney and eventually watch them leave under their own power. The degree can vary from slight improvement to actually walking. Selections of appropriate Chinese herbal medicines enhance the benefits of acupuncture. Only a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) should perform acupuncture on pets. These acupuncturists are licensed veterinarians who have taken at least 130 hours of formal training from an accredited veterinary college or veterinary continuing education provider such as The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, in Ft. Collins, Colorado, or the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, in Reddick, Florida. Animal and human anatomy differ enough that a human acupuncturist should no more practice on an animal than a disc jockey should be expected to ride a racehorse.
“Once thought of as a hocus-pocus therapy, the American Veterinary Medical Association now regards acupuncture as an integral part of veterinary medicine,” says Allen M. Schoen, DVM, MS, editor of the textbook Veterinary Acupuncture: Ancient Art to Modern Medicine. You don’t have to understand the Chinese concept of a central life force- the Qi or Chi (pronounced “chee”)- to know that it works. Qi flows smoothly along pathways in the body called meridians and is stored in major organs. When the body is healthy the Qi is in balance. When Qi is out of balance there can be disease in the body. Acupuncture taps into the body’s Qi and restores cellular energy harmony.
Acupuncture is a very serious therapy and is always initiated by the veterinarian taking a thorough history of the patient and completing a conventional physical exam plus a traditional Chinese veterinary exam. This includes observing the color and nature of the patient’s tongue, palpation of the femoral pulses as well as palpation of meridians to search for reactive acupuncture points. At this point it is important to ask questions about anything you don’t understand and discuss a treatment plan with the veterinarian. Keep in mind that you will be in the room with your pet during acupuncture sessions. This helps to keep pets calm and relaxed.
One of the most frequent questions asked by clients when considering acupuncture for their pets is, “Does it hurt?” No, it does not hurt. The needles we use are disposable, hair-thin, sterile and are placed slightly below the skin in specific anatomical locations called acupuncture loci. The needles stimulate the release of endorphins and other pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory hormones into the bloodstream. Most of the anxiety comes from the owners transferring their worries on to the pets that pick up on the nervous tension. I have noticed that owners who’ve experienced relief from their own human acupuncturists exude a calmness and appreciation for this therapy that transfers to their pets. These pets usually fall asleep during acupuncture sessions and are happy to return for more therapy.
While some problems resolve after a few treatments, more serious or persistent conditions require a longer period of treatment. Beginning with greater frequency, most treatments taper off as a balance of Qi is restored. Maintaining good health may require only a few treatments a year. We know we’ve been successful when owners describe seeing their pets revert to their usual types of behaviors and activities, signaling that their comfort zone has been restored.
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