As I sat by the fire, hot chocolate in one hand and my 14-year-old Basset-lab mix by my side tucked in for the night – I pondered if I was doing everything in my power to help him through these cold winter months for his arthritic pain and his chronic back problems. He had already taken his pain medications for the night, eaten dinner (he never missed a meal!) and now was stationed (as he faithfully would every day) by my side. We fell asleep curled under our heated blanket watching some sort of Disney movie.
The next morning it was like a seed was planted in my brain. I furiously looked for programs that would help me assist my own dog and possibly so many more of my patients with their pain management and osteoarthritis. I realized that acupuncture and physical rehabilitation were skills I could add to my toolbox as adjuncts to pain management that could help so many patients. And so here I am, about 3-4 years later, certified in veterinary acupuncture. My beloved Maxwell (rest his soul) did indeed benefit from several acupuncture sessions and lived till the ripe old age of sixteen and a half till I lost him to cancer. However, I am now at a point in my veterinary career where I can say I could offer my patients way more than just a magic pill to take the pain away.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, steroids, opioids, joint supplements, etc. when indicated. However, if acupuncture can aid in pain management with rare side effects, potentially decrease the need for loading up on opioids, and most importantly aid in multi-modal pain management, then we can truly say we are doing everything we possibly can to manage pain in our pets.
So, let’s discuss what Acupuncture is, how it works and if it is right for your pet.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine sterile needles in specific points of the body. These points are highly innervated and highly vascularized (lots of blood and nerve supply) making them great points to promote healing, homeostasis and pain relief. Using his/her knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, your veterinarian certified in acupuncture will be able to perform an exam called “myofascial palpation” to locate sources of discomfort and dysfunction.
Each treatment is unique to each patient and its purpose is to stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms. In principle, acupuncture can affect the central nervous system leading to the production and release of endorphins and enkephalins which are the body’s natural pain killers. Often times repeated treatments can have a cumulative effect on chronic pain management.
Acupuncture treatment sessions can vary from patient to patient. Your veterinarian may insert anywhere from 1-60 needles per session and most dogs and cats tolerate their treatment and often enjoy their session, even falling asleep. For dogs that are reactive to needles, alternatives like laser therapy or aquapuncture (injection of sterile fluid into points) can be performed which is faster than dry needling.
Acupuncture must be performed by a licensed veterinarian that has undergone advanced training in acupuncture.
Like I said before, acupuncture is safe and there is evidence to support that it aids in pain management. It is often used as part of multimodal pain management plans and is supported by the American Animal Hospital Association. So come on in and see if it is right for your pet!