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Acupuncture Embraced by Pet Owners

Thuthan Van Nubbinth is an 11-year-old special needs cat with a cleft lip, nub tail and two crinkle ears. She was adopted 3 ½ years ago, and shortly after she arrived at her forever home, she began having severe digestive issues. Over the course of a few months, she was in and out of different veterinaries and emergency rooms. After many vet visits Thuthan was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic urinary tract infections and arthritis. Thuthan’s health began to decline. 

“It had gotten to a point where she was really really sick, we were considering quality of life and ready to go out on a limb because she was on her fourth or fifth round of antibiotics” says owner Olivia Lopez. 

Olivia was open to try any methods that could help Thuthan and shortly after found Dr. Lisa Lancaster, veterinary acupuncturist, and faculty member at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. who did not guarantee a positive outcome but was willing to help bring Thuthan comfort through acupuncture. Thuthan was receiving weekly visits from Dr. Lancaster and after a couple months Thuthan was recovering. Olivia believes the combination of acupuncture, antibiotics, and a change in Thuthan’s food brought her back. 

“She not only got better but she has started to thrive underneath that care and regimen” Through her journey Thuthan has become quite popular not only at her hospital but she has also gained a following through Instagram and has gone viral on TikTok.  

“She’s really got everyone kind of wrapped around her little paws” says Olivia.

Acupuncture has been a part of the ancient practice of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years and has become a form of therapy in western medicine. This form of therapy has been embraced by patients who suffer from pain related issues. With further research it has been found that acupuncture can be practiced on any mammal and treat an assortment of ailments. Acupuncture is the practice of using small solid sterile needles and inserting them into specific parts of the body that correspond with anatomy. These specific parts are also known as acupuncture points. By inserting the needles into these acupuncture points they will stimulate the nervous system.  

“The things I treat the most are tendon or ligament injuries. A lot of neurologic patients, animals with neurologic disease respond beautifully to acupuncture, you can also treat various metabolic diseases like allergies, kidney disease, or gastroenteritis. All sorts of things have points that correlate with corresponding parts of the body” said Dr. Anna Leavitt, veterinary acupuncturists at Healing Balance Veterinary Care. 

“Acupuncture can also help the immune system, it can help healing, whatever is wrong, an infection or a wound, acupuncture can assist, said Dr. Lancaster  “If there is an injury or a wound the body is out of balance because it needs to heal back, acupuncture can help with that,” she says.  

While acupuncture can be used to treat pets of all ages it is most commonly used in senior and geriatric pets. Older pets are prone to a variety of health problems and painful conditions that can benefit from acupuncture. Like Riesling a 16-year-old Labradoodle who has developed ataxia and degenerative myelopathy. His owner Christiane was told dogs with this diagnosis may have another year and half or until their hind legs fail them to the point of immobility. After his diagnosis Riesling began weekly acupuncture and chiropractic treatment with Dr. Lancaster. 

“Since his diagnosis he’s lived for another three years, so he’s already double of what is expected for dogs with that diagnosis and I completely attribute that to all the treatments he is getting” says Christiane. 

Acupuncture has helped Riesling with the tightness in his body due to his neurological disorder and has also improved his appetite. While acupuncture has not cured his neurological disorder Christiane believes it has helped slow down the progression of the disease. 

“I would do just about anything for Riesling and yes, I think that acupuncture has been a really great addition to his maintenance, because he is ridiculously old,” said Christiane. 

For many pets it might seem difficult to lay calmly during acupuncture treatment but veterinary acupuncturists like Dr. Leavitt have experience with pets and their different personalities. For some needles have a calming effect. Others need a treat to relax.  

“One of my tricks is taking containers of baby food and putting them in the freezer turning them into doggy popsicles, the owner will hold the baby food and that will very often keep food motivated animals, which are most of them in place,” says Dr. Leavitt.  

Acupuncture between dogs and cats is very similar but Dr. Holly Foster of Acupuncture for Animals believes cats tend to be more challenging than dogs during the process and can take longer to acclimate to acupuncture. She says she takes thing slower when introducing acupuncture to a cat to gain their trust and to accomplish as much as possible during each session, since cats don’t sit still for a long period of time. 

“With cats I always think, these are the ten needles I want to get in, what are the most important ones because when cats are done, they are done!” says Dr. Foster. It is common for Dr. Foster to insert about three needles during the first sessions, she wants her cat patients to feel comfortable and safe during their acupuncture treatment. 

Veterinarians like Dr. Lancaster and Dr. Leavitt offer mobile services, where they go to the pet’s home to do treatment. This can bring many pets’ comfort and can also be accommodating for senior pets who have low mobility.

“I love treating animals in their own home, they are generally so much more relaxed and comfortable, and I can see the environment that they are living in which is really helpful when you’re talking about dogs that might need modifications to make life a little easier for them” said Dr. Leavitt.

When considering acupuncture for your pet it is important to recognize that acupuncture cannot replace your pet’s medication and works as an additive to your pet’s medication regime. 

“It’s not in place of regular medicine, so when I say acupuncture can help healing if there’s an infection, you are still going to take antibiotics and acupuncture might help the body return to balance sooner” says Dr. Lancaster. 

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