Alternative medicine for pets: Vet uses acupuncture, laser therapy and holistic medicines to treat pet illnessesDecember, 2011 Posted in Business
For most of her patients, needles are less of an issue than staying still.
Dr. Lori Braun’s patients aren’t human. They meow, bark and sometimes downright howl.
“Veterinary acupuncture comes with its own special set of challenges,” said Braun, a veterinarian with the Aumsville Animal Clinic. “First, I have a patient that doesn’t understand why I’m putting needles in them, while staying in one place. How confusing and frustrating for the animal. Thankfully, most settle down once the needles are in place. I’ve had several patients come close to falling asleep during the treatments.”
After getting her bachelor’s degree in zoology from Washington State University in 1993, Braun spent a decade working at several zoos as a zookeeper for a variety of animals and managing exhibits.
“I enjoyed working with the animals, but found myself frequently frustrated with the job and wanting a different challenge,” she said. “After spending time with a couple of the vets I worked with, it became clear to me that was the career I should work towards.”
Braun attended St. George’s University in Grenada, graduating as a doctor of veterinary medicine in 2006. She completed her clinical training at Auburn University in Alabama.
“During my first year of vet school, I attended a workshop on Tui Na, a form of massage that is often used in conjunction with acupuncture, and was introduced to the Chi Institute,” she said. “I’ve always believed that integrated medicine, combining different medical modalities and styles, made the most sense for people’s overall health, so it was the logical next step for me once I finished my degree.”
Today, Braun treats her animal patients with acupuncture, laser therapy, holistic medicines and a lot of love.
“The biggest highlight of acupuncture to me is its safety,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to hurt an animal with acupuncture, which correlates beautifully with the phrase many people associate with the medical field – ‘first do no harm.’”
Braun also appreciates how acupuncture integrates with other treatments, she said.
“I frequently ‘preach’ the strength of multi-modal therapy, especially with chronic diseases like arthritis or kidney failure. There’s rarely that ‘silver bullet’ cure-all. We use multiple types of therapies to get the best results for our patients.”
Braun likened treating an animal with multiple therapies to treating a person’s bad back by using the services of a chiropractor, massage therapist and physical therapist.
“Finding that combination of therapies is the key to comfort,” she said. “The same can be said for an animal with bad hips or knees.”
Acupuncture sessions can last up to 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the location of the injury/condition and the severity of the inflammation. The benefits are that treatment can increase circulation, causes the body to release inflammation-relieving cortisol, may increase the functionality of the animal’s immune system, and stimulates the release of endorphins, which help control pain, according to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture.
The success of a canine arthritis acupuncture session can depend on the temperament and behavior of the animal at the time of the appointment. Braun’s patient, Snickers, was fearful and had a hard time keeping still at her first session. The dachshund, a breed known for back problems, was a bit less scared at the second visit.
“Needle placement is generally pain free,” Braun said. “Some points can be a little ‘strong’ at first, though once the needle is in place, the discomfort goes away.”
To ease Snickers’ anxiety, Braun switched to laser therapy for the next two sessions.
“The dog doesn’t have to stay still as long with laser treatments,” she said.
Laser therapy is generally used to stimulate blood flow to an area as well as acupuncture points, she said.
By the dog’s fifth visit, Snickers had calmed down significantly, and the treatment given was again acupuncture. The treatment appointments were reduced, and the dog was able to stand a little more steadily on her hind legs. She faces more treatments, which hopefully will add to her comfort and quality of life, Braun said.
But there are challenges, she added.
“Not all animals are necessarily happy to be at the vet – for any reason,” she said. “Some may not like having certain parts of their bodies handled. I need to find ways to work around these ‘speed bumps.’”
For owners, there are no real medical downsides to acupuncture, Braun said, but some may find it financially challenging.
“Also most owners are in tune with their pets and are able to assess the progress,” she said. “It depends, of course, on what the animal is being treated for. A dog with an acral lick granuloma – skin lesion – that is being treated, I can see the improvement. A dog with a spinal injury or paralysis, we can monitor progress with objective neurological examinations as well as subjective observances of how well the dog is able to move.”
Braun said a dog with arthritis is a bit harder to assess.
“That’s where I really rely on the owners to tell me how the pet is doing,” she said. “Is it limping less? Able to go for longer walks? Going up and down stairs with more ease?”
Braun advises owners to be prepared for a minimum of four treatments.
“Acupuncture is a more subtle and gentle modality, and while some animals will show improvements with just one or two treatments, most show response after four or five visits,” she said. “Also, I recommend a consult prior to treatment to discuss what issues the animal is having and how acupuncture can play a role in therapy.”
Braun has only worked with dogs and cats, but she said horses and other large animals respond very well to acupuncture therapy.
“So do birds!” she added.
The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture recommends taking your dog only to a licensed veterinarian who has completed a formal training program in acupuncture.
“If you are seeing an acupuncturist that is affiliated with a vet clinic that is not your regular location, make sure you let your vet know, so they can work along with the acupuncturist to develop a good treatment plan for your pet,” Braun added.