Acupuncture Treatment for Pets, an Effective Natural Alternative

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When a pet is suffering from a chronic condition or recovering from surgery or injury, pet owners face a tough choice. Long-term care can be expensive and multiple trips to the vet are stressful on the animal. So if you are following the vet’s instructions and still feel your pet could be doing better, it might be time to consider acupuncture.

I have not yet tried acupuncture on my cats, although I go regularly myself and have had very positive results. It’s part of what piqued my interest in the practice as a possible alternative healing modality for pets.

I talked with Dr. Katie Steneroden DVM, MPH, PhD, DACVPM and owner of Full Circle Mobile Veterinary Acupuncture, to find out more about acupuncture for animals and how it can help with chronic conditions, injury recovery or as a wellness tool. Her business focuses on in-home acupuncture care for pets and she is also certified in chiropractic care for animals. Dr. Steneroden’s additional training as a veterinary epidemiologist specializing in veterinary public health issues has given her the opportunity to contract with universities, government organizations and animal welfare organizations regarding public health concerns related to animals and work in countries worldwide.

Let’s Start with the Basics, What is Acupuncture?

According Dr. Steneroden, acupuncture is the stimulation of specific areas known as acupuncture points on the body with very fine needles that are sterile, thin and of very high quality. When acupuncture points are activated, the body reacts with a complex cellular and nervous system response involving the brain, spinal cord and blood vessels. This initiates the release of neurotransmitters, including endorphins, serotonin, and other chemicals that help the body function, and also influence pain control, inflammation and other biochemical processes.”

So, in essence, the needles help stimulate certain physiological changes that allow the animal’s nervous system to come back into a state of balance. This enables your pet to release stress and heal more effectively because they are in a state of peace and calm — the optimal state for maximum healing by the body itself. The needles are not painful to the animal, and pets often fall asleep during treatments.

Acupuncture is recognized by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) as an accepted and scientifically valid treatment modality — in case you have any doubts of it’s effectiveness as a “real” treatment. Dr. Steneroden said that acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when administered by a properly trained veterinarian.

What Conditions Can Acupuncture Treat in Animals?

All animals can benefit from acupuncture in improving their general state of health and quality of life, but there are common conditions acupuncture may help improve, including: immunological disorders, neurological issues, (such as seizures or paralysis), as well as gastro-intestinal, dermatological, and emotional challenges. Pain, arthritis, allergies, stress, anxiety and wellness care for cancer patients are some of the most effective uses for acupuncture treatment in pets. For a more complete list, you can check out Dr. Steneroden’s website.

She also mentioned some pet owners simply choose to use acupuncture proactively for their pets to optimize good health or minimize problems associated with aging. Dr. Steneroden personally focuses on small animals including cats, dogs, bunnies, guinea pigs and has done work on some horses.

After a treatment, most animals are a bit tired and should be allowed to rest for 48 hours. It’s not uncommon for an animal to experience more pain at first as the healing process gets stimulated. She said improvements in an animal’s condition usually start to show up at about day three post- treatment, and the number of appointments needed for each animal varies based on condition.

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The Huge Benefit of In-Home Visits

Truth? In-home care is less stressful for pets and more convenient and flexible for pet caretakers. Dr. Steneroden also finds it easier to create a treatment plan if she can assess the lifestyle and living environment of an animal, including activity level, slippery floors etc., and can offer useful suggestions for pet owners about small environmental changes that can help the healing process.

At home visits also take the stress out of getting an aging or ill pet into the car and off to multiple visits in an office. Animals are a lot more comfortable in an environment that is familiar to them, especially if they don’t feel well. Plus, they get more healing time if you aren’t disrupting the post-appointment resting period to travel.

In addition to her personal practice, Dr. Steneroden also does volunteer acupuncture work for the Larimer Humane Society and Pets Forever,  the Colorado State University sponsored non-profit program designed to help low-income elderly and disabled Larimer County residents get access to resources and health care for their animals in their homes. The organization also provides dog walking with the pet and/or pet owner, transporting animals to vet appointments and various other services. Both volunteer opportunities allow her to come to the animals, which is best for the healing process.

“Being able to work with both animals and humans, providing direct care and comfort to individual animals, while contributing to the big picture of animal and human health, is a dream come true for me, it’s a really beautiful mix, says Dr. Steneroden.

Understanding the Balance Between Pets and Human Health

As inhabitants of the same household, it’s important to look at the relationship between you and your pets in the day-to-day. You know all that love animals give you unconditionally, especially when they know you are feeling low? They may be trying to take on some of your healing for you. If you’ve been stressed, ill, frustrated, sad — your animal may also be feeling those things along with you. I know when I’m having a bit of a tough time my cats spend more time around me than usual or sleep with me more at night.

An animal’s natural gift of unconditional love can also sometimes mean they exhibit physical symptoms related to the emotional state in the home. That’s why it’s so important to watch how your own stress levels may be affecting your animals. In fact, it’s one of the ways you can really help take care of each other.

For more information about acupuncture for animals, you can check out the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture or Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Integrative Pain Management and Natural Healing. 

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  • http://www.freshairfortcollins.com Chloe

    Yeah! Craig’s sister is a vet who has her acupuncture certification and is working on her chiropractic now, too. It’s been great for Charlie who had a bad leg and is an old boy who probably has lots of other aches and pains.

    • Katrina Pfannkuch

      Nice! It’s great to hear how much it can help, especially with old age issues. Animals can’t tell you exactly what’s going on or where a pain originates, so acupuncture treatments can really help revitalize injured areas.