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Acupuncture, massage therapy, and your pet

If you’ve ever delighted in alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage, you know how fabulous you feel after a session. At first thought, acupuncture and massage for our pets may seem like superfluous pampering; however, there are proven positive effects that both pet and owner can benefit from.

Heather Loenser, DVM, emergency veterinarian in Lebanon, N.J., says, “I am a strong proponent of acupuncture and physical [and] massage therapy when performed by a veterinary professional trained in these areas.”

Acupuncture involves inserting small needles into specific points in the body to stimulate healing. In Loenser’s own experience, using acupuncture for her three elderly pets (two dogs and a cat) significantly decreased their pain when used in conjunction with traditional pain medications.  Acupuncture can also aid in certain diagnoses. For one of Loenser’s dogs, the acupuncturist was able to detect a potential brain tumor by the way he responded to the needle placement.

Acupuncture is recommended for the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems (such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury)
  • Respiratory issues (asthma, for example)
  • Skin conditions (for example, allergic dermatitis)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, for example)
  • Certain reproductive issues
  • Minor sports injuries

As noted by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, when choosing a veterinary acupuncturist there are two crucial criteria to keep in mind:

  1. The acupuncturist must be a licensed veterinarian
  2. The acupuncturist should have had formal training in veterinary acupuncture.

It is illegal to administer acupuncture in most countries and states without a proper license.

Acupuncture can aid in treating, and possibly diagnosing, ailments and diseases. It improves circulation and decreases inflammation in many conditions, including arthritis. Acupuncture also strengthens the human-animal bond; both pets and their owners feel good about the sessions and benefit from the time put into it.

Negative side effects of acupuncture are rare. Sometimes a condition will worsen during the 48 hours following treatment, but this is typically an indication that physiological changes are occurring, including nerve stimulation, increased blood circulation, and relieved muscle spasms. When this type of therapy is used in conjunction with a medical treatment, it can reduce the occurence of side effects and minimize the potential need for certain medications.

Most pets feel no pain when the needles are inserted, and many will become completely relaxed, possibly even falling asleep.

Acupuncture is typically administered as a treatment, so it won’t often be included in an overall preventive care plan for your pet. Therapeutic massage, however, could be considered for your pet’s overall health and vitality.

“Individuals specifically trained in [therapeutic massage] are exquisitely able to uncover subtle areas of discomfort and early muscle atrophy—symptoms that may go undiagnosed [during] a routine physical exam,” says Tracey Jensen, DVM, DABVP (C/F), CVA, president of the American Animal Hospital Association.

Massage can help with rehabilitation after an injury, muscle atrophy, cramps, and circulation problems.

Whether you’re considering acupuncture or therapeutic massage, you should take your pet to a veterinary professional who has been specifically trained in the therapy you’re seeking. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian before introducing any complementary therapies into your pet’s routine.  

Bekka Burton is a freelance writer and English language teacher who lives with a diva in the form of a tortoiseshell cat.

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