When our pets are in pain, we want to alleviate their discomfort as thoroughly and quickly as possible and with the fewest side effects. In recent years holistic, or integrative, veterinary medicine — a combination of conventional medicine and alternative therapies — has gained popularity among owners and veterinarians as a way to manage both chronic and acute pain in pets.
A survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in 1996 revealed that only 6% of responding pet owners had chosen alternative, or complementary, medicine in caring for their pets. The same survey in 2003 showed a 15% increase.
Holistic modalities include:
- Nutritional therapy — supporting overall health with vitamins and minerals
- Chiropractic — skeletal adjustments
- Flower essences — energy therapy using specific flowers to relieve symptoms
- Aromatherapy — the use of specific scents to induce relaxation and ease pain or distress
- Acupuncture — the use of thin, sharp needles inserted at energy points, or meridians, found in the body
- Acupressure — like acupuncture but using topical pressure instead of needles
Acupuncture is the most commonly used alternative therapy, although why it works is not completely understood.
“Though effects of acupuncture have been documented, the physiological mechanisms by which they are achieved are still under investigation,” explains Bridget Quatmann, DVM, certified veterinary acupuncturist at AAHA-accredited Roanoke Animal Hospital in Virginia. One theory, Quatmann says, is that the needles influence the nervous system.
Pets typically do not experience pain when the acupuncture needles are inserted. “Most pets seem to enjoy their treatments, with more than a few falling asleep on the carpeted floor of my treatment room after their needles are placed,” says Quatmann.
Richard Palmquist, Chief Medical Director and Chief of Integrative Services at Centinela Animal Hospital, an AAHA-accredited clinic in Inglewood, Calif., was skeptical of holistic medicine until he witnessed the results of acupuncture on a dog brought into a clinic unable to walk. After the acupuncture session, the dog was able to walk unassisted.
“The integrative movement is growing by leaps and bounds.” says Palmquist. “Clients are seeing firsthand that it works for them, and are willing to use it for their pets. Steroids and anti-inflammatory medications carry side effects and risk factors. Alternative pain medications such as herbs are safe and economical.”
Quatmann explains that for acute illness or trauma, a single acupuncture treatment is often sufficient, though with chronic pain and geriatrics, the treatments are periodic.
Quatmann charges $75.00 per session for her established patients, but cost and services vary widely. “I typically make food recommendations as well as exercise suggestions for all patients. I often use Chinese herbal therapies along with acupuncture and food therapy. Of course I still use Western diagnostics and medications — this is integrative, after all.”
Many complaints can be addressed with the use of holistic medicine. Your veterinarian can help you determine the best approach for your pet, taking into account age, medical history, general health, and mobility.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 2, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.