Integrative Medicine for Pets

Pet care has come a long way in the past few decades. When I worked as a technician in veterinary hospitals 20 years ago (!) our diagnostic and treatment capabilities were rudimentary compared to what we can offer families now. As a profession, veterinarians have made enormous progress in areas such as advanced imaging, safer anesthesia, specialized surgical techniques, and intensive care. We are able to give our patients longer, happier, healthier lives than ever before!

One field that is still rapidly progressing is integrative medicine. As owners research conditions and advocate for their pets, there is an increased interest in complementary and alternative therapies. Conventional medicine certainly still has its place at the forefront of veterinary care but our profession is learning more about how to treat pets in a variety of ways.

At our hospital, we now offer acupuncture, laser therapy and some traditional Chinese herbal therapies. Other veterinary clinics have staff trained in chiropractic care and physical rehabilitation. Research has shown that multifaceted pain management is most effective. We have traditionally used pharmaceutical treatments and some supplements, but we are learning that integrative therapies allow us to minimize conventional drugs and maximize the comfort of our patients.

Skeptics of integrative therapies often point to a placebo effect. They say that people feel better after acupuncture treatments not because they are actually effective but because the patients strongly believe that the treatments will succeed. Animals, however, do not fall victim to the placebo effect because they have no expectations regarding the efficacy of a particular treatment. In fact, pets are often confused by their first session of laser therapy or acupuncture. They are unsure what is happening and may even resist, but we have seen numerous patients thrive following treatment and eagerly volunteer to begin subsequent sessions.

Adjunct therapies are used to treat a variety of different conditions such as arthritis and intervertebral disc disease, as well as accelerate wound healing and reduce inflammation. We do not see improvements in every case but owners often notice positive changes in their pets. They most often report an increased energy level, improved mobility and an overall better quality of life.

When these therapies first became available, I was a skeptic myself. However, after seeing patients go from being miserable to wagging their tails and purring again, I became a believer! – Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa

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