Understanding Acupuncture and Acupressure for Dogs
Holistic medicine, including acupuncture, is a very controversial subject. There are passionate opinions on both sides. Opponents claim that if “alternative” treatments really worked, they would be more widely accepted and many illnesses and ailments would have been cured long ago. These treatments have not been thoroughly investigated nor tested for efficacy or safety and in some cases may actually be harmful.
Proponents feel that holistic treatments provide a more “natural” way to heal the body in a world full of chemicals, preservatives and synthetics. Many times, alternative treatments are used to augment more traditional treatments and are not commonly used as the only treatment.
The final decision to add these treatments to your pet’s current regime should be decided between you and your veterinarian. Remember, these treatments are best used in conjunction with traditional medicine and should not be used to completely replace proven, effective treatments.
Acupuncture for Dogs
The use of many holistic treatments now compliments conventional medicine available for your pet. Acupuncture and related therapies used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine have not only become routinely used by western physicians but veterinary practitioners as well. Acupuncture is being used more frequently to help manage chronic pain and illnesses in dogs and cats. A variety of conditions may respond to the use of acupuncture either as a primary treatment or in combination with conventional medicine.
How Does Acupuncture Work for Dogs?
The use of acupuncture is based on the belief that a vital life force, called chi (pronounced chee) flows through the body through a series of pathways known as meridians. Stimulation of points along these pathways causes the body to release natural pain relief chemicals called endorphins. Other effects produced may involve the release of anti-inflammatory and euphoric substances, increased circulation and decreased inflammation. Neurotransmitters, serotonin and prostaglandins are other substances that have physiologic effects and may be influenced under the stimulation of acupuncture. The precise mechanisms are unknown, but the goal in acupuncture is to balance chi, to increase it in some meridians and decrease it in others. Unbalanced chi is thought to be the cause of disease.
The insertion of tiny needles, sometimes as fine as a hair, is made at specific points. The process is barely perceptible and many pets feel nothing at all. A mild electrical current is sometimes applied, or the needles may be rotated in place or moved up and down to achieve the desired effect. Where the needles are placed is dependant upon what is being treated. A trained veterinary acupuncturist can determine these sites with accuracy. The average treatment takes from 20 minutes to 1 hour. Relief may be evident as soon as the first treatment is completed; however, results may not be noticeable for 2 to 6 weeks depending on the severity of the problem. In some cases, the animal may not show any improvement at all. A typical regimen would start with 1 to 2 treatments per week. Once the condition is managed, sessions may be scheduled at less frequent intervals. If no results are achieved after 10 sessions, treatments are usually suspended. Not all patients are helped by acupuncture. There is debate in human medicine as to whether the resultant pain relief experienced in people is due to a placebo effect. Since pets have no psychological or emotional expectations of the treatments, improvements can be interpreted as successes.
Common Reasons for Acupuncture Treatment for Dogs
The most common reason acupuncture is sought for a pet is for pain control. Pain associated with osteoarthritis, muscle spasms and degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia and intervertebral disc disease can negatively influence the quality of your pet’s life. There is a genetic tendency toward the development of many of these problems in certain breeds. Also, as pets age, arthritis can affect the elbows, knees, hips and spine. This can cause pain, swelling and limited range of motion making it hard for your pet to lay or walk comfortably. Even urination and defecation can become uncomfortable, as squatting may be painful. Other conditions treated with acupuncture include allergies, chronic kidney disease, digestive disturbances, epilepsy, cancer and some skin problems.
Acupressure, Massage and Reflexology for Dogs
Your veterinarian may discuss additional options for pain management in addition to acupuncture. Acupressure is a variation of acupuncture, but gentle to firm manual pressure applied to specific trigger points is the stimulus for endorphin release. Reflexology is a form of acupressure and is accomplished by the stimulation of areas of the body that are not the site of the pain. For example, the ear may be rubbed to achieve the relief of elbow pain. If this sounds implausible, remember, that when a fetus is developing, all organs and tissues are in close approximation and many share their nerve supply. As the fetus grows and organs separate, they take their shared nerve supplies with them, often maintaining these distant connections.
Massage involves the manual stimulation of specific muscle groups to increase circulation, decrease swelling and increase range of motion. This is especially helpful in patients with arthritis. It may be accompanied by the use of warm or cold compresses. Most dogs love a good massage but your cat may question your motives initially. Despite early resistance many cats learn to appreciate the relief massage can bring. Do discuss these options with your pet’s doctor if pain or illness has become a factor.