The waiting room was crowded with a German Shepherd, a pair of Australian Cattle Dogs, and a 9-year-old Labrador Retriever mix. They sat quietly on the floor (their humans on couches) as they each waited for their acupuncture appointment with South Florida holistic veterinarian Dr. Joyce Loeser.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world. The Chinese treatment started more than 2,000 years ago and is popular among humans who seek alternatives to traditional medicine. Today, more pet parents are turning to holistic options such as acupuncture for their dogs.
Based on the principle that energy flows from the body’s organs, acupuncture uses fine needles to stimulate the energy, or Qi. Just as in people, veterinary acupuncture is used to treat a variety of canine conditions and disorders, including muscle and skeletal abnormalities, various injuries, and neurological illness.
Princess is a mixed-breed dog who suffers from a bad back. She receives weekly acupuncture with Loeser and is improving with each visit.
“Acupuncture for dogs has become more mainstream, and alternative modalities have become more accepted as people start questioning their own health care,” said Loeser who has treated dogs with acupuncture for a multitude of problems. “They start looking at alternatives for themselves, and that leads them to looking at alternatives for their dogs.”
Loeser said her clients have included dogs with conditions related to back surgery, ACL tears, and muscle spasms.
“Yorkies are commonly born with many genetic abnormalities including luxating patellas,” Loeser said. “This can cause a variety of problems that acupuncture can help.”
Deborah L. Prevratil, executive director of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, said acupuncture can also help pain, lameness, disc issues, allergies, and arthritis, among other issues.
Asked about costs, Prevratil said, “Depending on where one practices, a cost per visit can be between $40 and $100 for small animals, but prices may vary by region.”
Loeser talks to the dogs while she works on them. She uses small-gauge needles, and the procedure is not painful to the dogs.
“Most dogs take to it really well,” said Loeser. “And there’s no placebo effect in dogs. Either you see a response or you don’t. Some dogs show remarkable response in just a few sessions.”
Sometimes she uses electric acupuncture, where an electric current is passed between pairs of needles to stimulate the muscles.
“People are looking for ways to extend their dogs’ quality of life,” said Loeser. “I often joke that we call this place the ‘last chance ranch’ because I often work on dogs people have almost given up on. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a dog walk back in the door who previously, literally, was unable to walk.”
Prevratil echoes this, adding that whereas acupuncture was once seen as a last resort, it is becoming more accepted.
“Before, acupuncture was often used as a last resort for pet owners,” she said. “Now, the benefits of using integrative medicine are widely accepted, and more and more pet owners want what is best for their pets and seek out many types of care that are complementary to Western and Eastern medicine.”
Scanlan said the foundation started in 1992 with 30 members, whereas it now has 900 members. Every year, she said, about 150 vets become certified in acupuncture. Prevratil of the IVAS, her organization has certified more than 3,000 veterinarians as acupuncturists.
Ellen McLaughlin O’Connor of Apopka, Florida, has a mixed-breed dog named Sydney who is 16 and had begun to get atrophy in her back legs. She was having trouble walking and standing. Sydney had also begun to have accidents in the house. When Ellen took her to her regular vet, she was told it was because of the dog’s age and not much could be done without excessive tests. Because of her age, the vet recommended against intervention.
Ellen’s sister was using a holistic vet at that time, so Ellen researched holistic veterinary services. Dr. Christine Cichra in Orlando performed ultrasound, blood, and urine tests. She also started a regimen of chiropractic and acupuncture treatments on Sydney.
“I noticed an immediate difference in my dogs mobility and her ability to stand on her hind legs,” said McLaughlin O’Connor. “As a result of the tests, the new vet diagnosed Sydney with cancer as well as a urinary tract infection. We treated the urinary tract infection successfully and we are choosing not to have an operation for the cancer.”
She said she takes Sydney to the holistic vet every two weeks for acupuncture and chiropractic treatment.
“She is so peaceful during the treatment,” McLaughlin O’Connor said. “I actually lay on the floor with her during the treatment, and they play music, so it’s very relaxing.”
The difference in agility and stamina following treatments is noticeable, she said.
“It’s my way of nurturing her during this last stage of her life,” she said. “I would highly recommend both acupuncture and chiropractic treatments to any pet owner.”
Asked whether acupuncture can do more harm than good in certain situations, Prevratil said, “Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of veterinary treatment, with almost no side effects.”
Just the same, she said it’s crucial that it be provided by a licensed practicing certified veterinarian in acupuncture.
By ensuring this, Prevratil said, “the owner can be assured that the veterinarian has gone through rigorous training. Human acupuncturists do not have to be physicians, whereas acupuncturists for animals need to be licensed veterinarians in the U.S. in almost all states.”
Here are some other benefits of canine acupuncture:
Has your dog received acupuncture treatments? Were they helpful? Would you consider acupuncture for your dog? Let us know in the comments.
Top image: Acupuncture needles by Shutterstock.
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About the author: Jennifer Cohen is a long-time animal advocate. She lives in South Florida with her husband Brian, their human twin daughters Sydney and Alexandria, their dogs Jake and Max, their parrot Sam, and their hamster Elliot, all rescues. Follow her on Twitter.