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Daphne Livoni, M.S. L.Ac.
Office for humans in Oakland. Pets seen in El Sobrante, Walnut Creek, Greenbrae + Alameda, Contra Costa & Marin Counties.
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Fetch - The Paper

Exploring Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine & Your Pet’s Health

by Daphne Livoni and Barbara R. Saunders

Acupuncture combined with herbal therapy has been used for thousands of years in China, and increasingly in the United States since the 1970s. It treats a variety of symptoms and conditions in humans, from allergies to the control of drug cravings. Is it any surprise that it can be beneficial for our dogs and cats, too?

Acupuncture and herbs, along with cupping, massage, and several other techniques make up Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is based on the idea that health depends on the flow of "qi" (pronounced "chee") or "life energy" along a system of meridians throughout the body. When qi moves freely, the animal experiences health; when it is impeded, the animal experiences illness.

Animal acupuncturists come from a variety of backgrounds. The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society was founded in 1974 to train veterinarians. Non-veterinarian acupuncturists, who must work under veterinary supervision, typically hold graduate degrees in Oriental medicine and are licensed by the state.
Turning to acupuncture

How do you know if your pet is a candidate for acupuncture? Most cases fall into one of these three categories: Pain management, chronic conditions that have not responded to other treatments, and when a "boost" is needed to complement other efforts.

Studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective pain reliever. If your pet has surgery, an acupuncturist can administer local treatments during recovery to minimize discomfort. In cases of pain from chronic conditions such as hip dysplasia or arthritis in older dogs, treatment with acupuncture can often decrease your pet's need for pharmaceutical pain killers.

As in humans, chronic illnesses and symptoms such as allergies, asthma, skin disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and "lack of energy" can plague pets without a clear cause. Veterinarians and pet owners often employ a holistic philosophy to help improve the pet's quality of life.

In situations like this, TCM is a powerful adjunct to western medicine. Holistic practitioners consider the animal's diet, exercise, lifestyle, and stressors in the home. They gather the human companion's observations with questions like: "Does your dog like to sit on the cold floor? Or, does she curl up to the radiator?" "Does your cat have a picky appetite?" The information feeds into their understanding of that pet's unique physical strengths and vulnerabilities.

Sometimes acupuncture is used not to cure an illness but to help the animal sustain either a stressful course of veterinary treatment or to facilitate healing. TCM treatments can restore appetite and reduce nausea and diarrhea in dogs undergoing chemotherapy.

Because pets seem to be soothed by acupuncture treatments, acupuncture can also help patients that are suffering from stress or anxiety, including the "kennel-stress" experienced by long term shelter residents and geriatric pets that are experiencing multiple challenges or discomforts of aging.

Toke, a 13 year-old cat treated at Pets Unlimited for a thyroid condition, groomed herself excessively, vomited daily for no known medical reason, and lashed out at the people and pets in her home. After several months of holistic treatment, her guardian reported Toke's behavior had improved, and tests of her thyroid function put her "firmly in the normal range."
Real results

New clients are often apprehensive at about bringing pets in for acupuncture. Will their dog accept being stuck with twenty to thirty needles? Skilled acupuncturists use the same handling techniques that other veterinary professionals, groomers, and trainers use to make them feel at ease: a careful, initial approach and plenty of treats. The holistic facility is usually in a quiet environment. For the dogs, it’s like “spa day.”

Reverend Lovejoy, a five-year-old Pit Bull available for adoption at Pets Unlimited, is a regular patient. One of his rear legs had been injured and was amputated. After the surgery, he got in the habit of dragging his back end, so the remaining leg atrophied. The gait he adopted to compensate for his injury strained the other muscles in that area of his body. He was also a candidate for “phantom limb pain.”

Pets Unlimited shelter veterinarian Dr. Chris Anderson said, “We suspect ‘phantom limb pain’ when an animal cries out or turns his head in direction of the amputated leg, and we see nothing that would cause pain in the incision.”

Lovejoy is so relaxed during treatment he turns his attention to his usual agenda: getting attention from his human friends. His appointments are scheduled after a long day that includes water-based physical therapy or a visit to a senior citizen home nearby. On those days, he has been known to fall asleep during treatment. Though stairs still pose a challenge to him, Reverend Lovejoy runs, walks, and plays eagerly with his friends at the shelter while awaiting his forever home.
If your pet experiences a medical problem, ask your veterinarian if acupuncture or herbal treatments might help.

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