Acupuncture brings Relief to Pets

Lori Aratani of the Washington Post, 07/12/2009 reports on how acupuncture is successful in treating pets. She describes a situation involving care for a middle aged dog called Bilbo. The prognosis wasn’t good - he suffered from a whole host of ailments: itchy skin, weakness in his back legs and a loss of appetite. Bilbo’s regular veterinarian told his owner, Abe Haspel of Annandale, Va., that there wasn’t much that could be done because the feisty pug was getting old and his condition would only continue to deteriorate.

But three years later, Bilbo is feistier than ever. Haspel credits monthly acupuncture treatments for the change. “He’s more energetic, and his allergies have disappeared,” Haspel said.

Atarani tells us that although some in the veterinary profession are skeptical of such treatments, Americans’ growing fascination with alternative medicine is influencing the kind of care their pets get. Veterinarians once shunned because of their belief that such alternative therapies as acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help animals struggling with arthritis and allergies are finding growing acceptance from some peers and an eager reception from pet owners. Others, encouraged by greater demand for the services, are scrambling to incorporate such treatments into their conventional practices.

“Anything you can treat with Western medicine you can also treat holistically,” said Jordan Kocen, a veterinarian who specializes in alternative therapies at SouthPaws in Fairfax, Va.

Acupuncture helps pets
Image Courtesy:Washington Post

Like their human counterparts, dogs, cats and rabbits are all good candidates for alternative treatments, Kocen said. He said that acupuncture can help a dog suffering from arthritis and that a cat’s asthma can be treated with homeopathic remedies.

The booming interest in alternative care is fueled in part by owners who have tried alternative therapies themselves. Others turn to acupuncture and homeopathy when traditional medicine has failed to help their pets. Sometimes, it’s the humans who end up taking a cue from their animals.

“People see how acupuncture works for their pets and suddenly they’re asking if I can recommend a good acupuncturist for them,” Kocen said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says it is “open” to the consideration of alternative treatments. For the past several years, the association has offered workshops about alternative treatments at its annual conventions, according to Craig Smith, a veterinarian and association staff member. But the group’s policy also says that “claims for safety and effectiveness ultimately should be proven by the scientific method.”

Alternative treatments were not always an accepted part of veterinary care.

Mark Haverkos, a veterinarian who is also an animal chiropractor, said he was almost expelled from Ohio State’s veterinary school in the 1980s after treating a horse with acupuncture. Monique Maniet, a holistic veterinarian in Bethesda, Md., remembered some colleagues dismissing her as the “voodoo doctor.”

“Now I have the respect of specialists who refer to me when everything else conventional has failed,” she said.

There is no official count of veterinarians who provide alternative care, but anecdotal evidence suggests the demand is growing. Maniet remembers when only about 30 doctors attended the yearly holistic veterinary conferences she frequented; today, more than 800 attend.

She also tells us that pet insurance covers some alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, which can start at about $95 a session. Owners generally pay out of pocket and are reimbursed.

Kocen carries an electronic clipboard on which he quickly scans his patients’ records and scribbles observations about their health. The needles he uses to treat the various dogs, cats and rabbits that visit his office are the same kind used to treat humans.

On one recent day, Debra Graves brought her middle-aged border collie Ginny to Kocen for an acupuncture tune-up. He stroked the dog’s back and gently felt along her spine. Then with quick motions, he stuck several needles into her skin. Ginny barely batted an eye.

“We come every three months,” said Graves, whose drive to Kocen’s office takes over an hour. “After a session here, she runs like a puppy."

Washington Post
July 12, 2009