Brick experiencing acupuncture

Here’s another personal post: I am exploring acupuncture for my dog, Brick, who’s been experiencing increased pain from the arthritis in his hips. Brick is a 10-year-old, male (castrated), 100-pound shepherd mix. He was diagnosed 5 years ago with osteoarthritis secondary to hip dysplasia. We’ve been able to keep the pain to a minimum through weight control, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (we use Rimadyl), and moderate exercise. But, his pain appears to have increased measurably over the past month or so. Given his age and size, I started looking for non-surgical options for handling the situation, and came up with three: adding another pain relief drug (like Tramadol), providing injections of a joint support drug (Adequan), and acupuncture. I opted to start with the latter two, knowing that I could always add Tramadol, if needed. 

The first thing to consider before starting any treatment regime is, “Is this treatment likely to provide the outcome I’m looking for?” To determine whether acupuncture is likely to provide pain relief, it’s important to know something about what it is and how it works. Acupuncture, which evolved thousands of years ago in China, is one of the oldest known medical treatments currently in use. Along with massage, meditation, and herbs, it is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which focuses on keeping the energies of the body in balance in order to cure or prevent disease. In acupuncture, the flow of energy (qi) is balanced through the precise placement of hair-thin, solid metal, disposable needles. Once the needles are placed, electric current may be added to increase the effect.  

But how does acupuncture work? As westerners, we are often looking for the scientific justification for our medical treatments; and we are not universally comfortable with accepting “to enhance the flow of qi” as justification. Yet, scientific studies have not led to consensus on the physiology behind acupuncture. It appears that needle placement may stimulate the release of endorphins (“feel good” hormones often associated with physical exercise) to reduce the sensation of pain and cortisol to reduce inflammation. But there may be more to it than that.  

What ailments are usually treated with acupuncture? In human medicine, acupuncture is used to treat anxiety, headaches, arthritis, weakness/paralysis, and many other conditions. In veterinary medicine, it is most often used to treat arthritis, feline asthma, intervertebral disk disease, and diarrhea.  

If you conclude that acupuncture may benefit your pet, work with your vet to find a reputable acupuncturist. The person you are looking for will be a licensed veterinarian who has completed extensive training in acupuncture. Because only a minority of veterinarians will have this training, the ones who do are very willing to advertise the extent of their experience and, often, the specific training program they completed. This makes it relatively easy to find a qualified practitioner.  

Most veterinary acupuncturists will have been trained in many aspects of TCM. Other therapies, such as herbs, might be offered during the course of treatment. Consult with your vet about whether these adjunct therapies would be a desirable addition to your pet’s overall health program. You’ll want to be careful to keep each vet updated on any prescriptions or supplements provided by the other; some drugs and herbs simply don’t mix.  

Both of the vets will monitor your pet’s progress. You should expect, though, that your pet will receive at least 6-8 weeks of treatment and it may take several sessions to see any significant improvement. So far, Brick has had two acupuncture sessions, which he handled very well. I have not seen dramatic improvement; but it’s still early.