Dr. Richmond Explains
Benefits of Acupuncture
for Your Pet
Acupuncture has been used to help people and animals for more than 3000 years. It is effective for many different physical and emotional disorders. For example, musculoskeletal problems (like arthritis), neurologic deficits (paralysis), metabolic and hormonal imbalances, allergies and allergic reactions, intestinal problems, and even generalized anxiety and separation issues are a few of the disorders for which acupuncture is used. Acupuncture is a safe method of treatment and complements most Western medical treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, pain medication, and antibiotic use. And because of its safety profile, it is an excellent adjunct treatment for most ailments. However, it is important that the acupuncture is done by a certified veterinary acupuncturist who can diagnose and treat the animal properly.
Probably the most widely recognized benefit of acupuncture is its pain relieving qualities and its anti-inflammatory effects. These effects are very strong and documented in literature. In humans, acupuncture has been used as a substitute for anesthesia during dental surgery, and for pain relief during child birth. During an acupuncture treatment, the body’s natural pain killers, beta endorphins and beta encephalin, and its natural steroids, cortisol, are released. This combination has a profound effect on animals who suffer with arthritis of the neck, back, hips, and legs; hip and elbow dysplasia, strained muscles (like those of agility dogs), disc disease, neurologic deficits (including paralysis and weakness), and many other musculoskeletal disorders. Acupuncture also can reduce the discomfort and inflammation before and after orthopedic surgeries that involve ruptured ligaments or fractured bones. Acupuncture treatments can strengthen the animal before surgery, and acupuncture can increase the speed and the quality of recovery after surgery.
Neurologic deficits or neuropathies respond extremely well to acupuncture. Animals with paralysis or nerve deficits from an injury, animals with intervertebral disc disease, and animals that have undergone spinal surgery have been treated with acupuncture and have amazing results. Animals with these disorders that could not walk are then able to go for daily walks again, leap up into their owner’s laps, and climb back up onto their favorite place on the couch without pain and discomfort. It is one of the few treatment modalities that actually helps nerves to regenerate if there has been injury to the nerves.
Acupuncture works to strengthen the immune system in several different ways. It enhances the level of white blood cells—specifically, natural killer cells that rid the body of invading infections. Acupuncture also regulates the level of antibodies and increases blood circulation both of which have a role in supporting the immune system. Acupuncture is therefore an excellent addition to any immune strengthening regimen for animals with acute or chronic infections.
With certain health conditions (for example, arthritis and skin allergies), acupuncture treatments can be effective enough to reduce or even eliminate the need to take pharmaceutical drugs.In traditional Western medicine, animals with arthritic pain or skin allergies are often treated with steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. These medications can adversely affect the liver or kidneys. Some animals already have an organ dysfunction, like liver disease, and because the liver metabolizes most drugs, taking steroids and anti-inflammatory medications stresses the liver even more. The animal feels relief from the pain or the allergy, but the liver is damaged.
Immune system. Acupuncture is therefore an With certain health conditions (for example, arthritis and skin allergies), acupuncture treatments can be effective enough to reduce or even eliminate the need to take pharmaceutical drugs. In traditional Western medicine, animals with arthritic pain or skin allergies are often treated with steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. These medications can adversely affect the liver or kidneys. Some animals already have an organ dysfunction, like liver disease, and because the liver metabolizes most drugs, taking steroids and anti-inflammatory medications stresses the liver even more. The animal feels relief from the pain or the allergy, but the liver is damaged.
Other treatment modalities used along with acupuncture are electrostimulation and laser therapy. Electrostimulation is a gentle electric current that is attached to the needles to give a specific area of muscle a mild massage. The effect of the stimulation reduces muscle spasm, decreases pain in strained muscles, and helps nerves regenerate. Laser therapy is a light wave that penetrates the soft tissue to reduce inflammation and improve circulation. This can hasten the healing of superficial wounds as well as deep into the muscle and joints. This is beneficial for wounds that are not healing well, and it can speed the recovery of musculoskeletal disorders in athletic or competitive animals. Both these modalities complement acupuncture to give a more complete and effective treatment.
In addition to being a doctor of veterinary medicine, earning my degree from UCDavis in 1997, I am a certified veterinary acupuncturist, trained through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, and currently becoming a certified canine rehabilitation therapist through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. After 10 years of practicing in a traditional veterinary hospital where I integrated acupuncture and other natural treatments, I opened Natural Veterinary Therapy in Pacific Grove in 2007. I treat most common ailments by integrating traditional and natural medicine. I use acupuncture, naturopathic medicines, natural supplements, wholesome foods, and physical therapy. We also have the only underwater treadmill for small animals on the Monterey Peninsula.
Hydrotherapy for Animals
Owing to the success documented in human physical therapy, hydrotherapy has been integrated into veterinary medicine for more than 100 years. The earliest patients were horses, as these were highly valued animals needed to maintain peak physical condition and have an expeditious recovery after injury.
Next, the veterinary profession integrated hydrotherapy into practice to include canine patients (and occasionally cats). Today, hydrotherapy has become one of the most important modalities within the quickly expanding and highly specialized field of canine rehabilitation. Veterinarians, registered veterinary technicians, and human physical therapists can complete a certification program to become a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner. These practitioners then go into the field to help animals with many neurologic or musculoskeletal disorders.
Hydrotherapy uses an underwater treadmill, a swimming pool, or a whirlpool. In either case, the animal is supervised in the water at all times. Frequently, animals (especially cats and small dogs) will wear a life vest specifically designed for this activity, especially if they are neurologically or physically challenged. Normally, a ramp or a lift is available to help pets in and out of the water, which helps reduce any anxiety they may have entering the water. An underwater treadmill has a set of jets that increase resistance against the animal, different speeds at which the treadmill belt can rotate, and the treadmill belt can be set on an incline to increase the difficulty of the exercise. Frequently a patient will benefit from using all three types of water modalities; the underwater treadmill, the whirlpool, and the swimming pool. Although each type of hydrotherapy has its own specific therapeutic effects, there are many benefits that all hydrotherapy treatments give a patient.
Hydrotherapy exercise improves muscular strength and endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, and range of motion. Hydrotherapy also re-educates muscles, stimulates new nerve pathways, and improves psychological well-being. Postoperative patients can quickly return to exercise after surgery using hydrotherapy in their postoperative period. Animals treated with hydrotherapy gain these benefits without having to endure the pain they normally would feel were they not supported by the warm water.
The benefits of hydrotherapy are due to many different effects that water has on the body. First, the warm temperature of the water relaxes muscles, decreases pain, reduces muscle spasm, increases circulation, and increases the range of motion of the limbs. Hydrotherapy units and therapeutic swimming pools are generally kept
between 85 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Animals that are not very mobile with severe conditions are treated in warmer water, and animals that are stronger and exerting themselves more, must be in slightly cooler water to avoid overheating.
Second, the buoyancy of the water greatly reduces the impact on the joints and provides assistance to animals with poor balance and coordination due to neurologic or musculoskeletal disorders. Animals with partial paralysis are more willing to walk in the water than on land owing to this buoyancy. In an underwater treadmill, if the water is at the height of the hip joint, the weight bearing of an animal is only 38% of their total body weight. In a swimming pool, there is even less impact on their joints (which is ideal for animals experiencing severe joint pain). These modalities allow animals to continue to exercise and strengthen their muscles despite painful or fragile postoperative joints.
Third, the hydrostatic pressure of the water reduces swelling by creating pressure in all directions to the body and limbs under water. This prevents body fluids from pooling in the lower extremities. The hydrostatic pressure also helps reduce the patient’s pain perception, allowing them to exercise more comfortably.
Fourth, the resistance of water is 60 times that of air. During exercise, this resistance provides an excellent environment for muscle strengthening and improved cardiovascular conditioning. Whether exercising slowly or quickly, the resistance will have a beneficial effect on the body. In the underwater treadmill, the jets can be turned on to add turbulence, which increases the resistance even more.
Disorders that benefit greatly from hydrotherapy include arthritis, postoperative fracture repair, postoperative joint repair, neurologic disorders (eg, paralysis or weakness from an impinged nerve), weakness due to muscle atrophy, soft tissue injuries, and overweight animals. Using hydrotherapy, pets can also gain strength and prevent muscle atrophy before neurologic or orthopedic surgery. Even healthy competitive animals can benefit from hydrotherapy by strengthening muscles and conditioning the cardiovascular system.
Hydrotherapy has many full-body benefits for many disorders and is beneficial for both acute and chronic conditions. After a full examination, a treatment protocol should be designed by a physical rehabilitator in conjunction with the supervising veterinarian to maximize the benefits of the hydrotherapy treatments.
Dr. Annette Richmond is a doctor of veterinary medicine, earning her degree from UC Davis in 1997. She is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist, trained through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. She is a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute in Colorado. After working 10 years in general and emergency medicine, she opened Natural Veterinary Therapy in 2007. She treats most common ailments by integrating traditional and natural medicine. The following modalities are used to treat many types of disorders: physical rehabilitation, acupuncture, chiropractics, massage, naturopathic medicines, herbs and wholesome diets. They feature an underwater treadmill for small animals as well as non-anesthetic dentistry.