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Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine Right for Your Dog?

As a puppy, Powell fell onto his back from a six-foot-high concrete abutment. Since there were no broken bones, bleeding or detectable internal injuries, our conventional vet declared him “fine” after a brief exam. But as years passed, Powell developed unsteady hindquarters and an exaggerated curve at the injury site, and a touch on his back near the affected area would elicit a low growl of pain. Would a CAM treatment plan have spared our dog discomfort and decreased mobility in his later years? At this point, of course, it’s hard to know. But as a general rule, rather than waiting to start treatment after an injury or illness, periodically consulting a CAM practitioner for the equivalent of “well puppy” check-ups can also be beneficial.

What Are the Options?
Canine CAM options are as varied as those available to their human counterparts. Reiki, massage, herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic, nutrition—you name it, there’s probably a practitioner willing to offer it for your dog (see the sidebar for sources of more detailed information on a range of approaches). What follows is an overview of three of the more popular modalities: veterinary acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic care.

Acupuncture is actually one facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a 3,000-year-old healing system. Though acupuncture is the most familiar to Westerners, TCM also utilizes acupressure, herbal medicines and food therapy to achieve balance in people. With certain modifications, these same treatments have been effectively used with dogs.

Dr. David Gilchrist, B.V.Sc. (Hons) Dip AC, has both taught and used acupuncture in his Australian veterinary practice since the late 1970s. He explains that the Chinese believe that when an animal or person is healthy, there is an efficient circulation of “chi” (energy/life force) along well-defined channels (meridians) on the skin. These meridians overlay important vascular structures and are connected to internal organs, muscular and joint structures, and the nervous system. An imbalance or interference with this flow can result in heath problems. By stimulating certain points along the meridians, usually with thin needles or a special laser, the practitioner manipulates the chi, activating physiological processes that help the body restore its own health.

Dr. Gilchrist says that acupuncture is especially effective with “all sports medicine complaints, including muscle tears, bruising, joint damage, aches and pains.” This applies to racing animals in particular, but also to any performance animal.

“Common conditions such as hip dysplasia, cruciate rupture, attitude/anxiety/biting, epilepsy, kidney dysfunction also respond well,” he continues. “Failing eyesight can be improved, dry-eye eliminated, the cardiovascular system improved, chronic infections nonresponsive to antibiotics (such as chronic cystitis) can be resolved…” Says Dr. Gilchrist, “The list is really endless.”

Homeopathy is a subtle and complex, modality that treats the patient at the energetic level. Homeopathic remedies are ultra-diluted preparations of common, sometimes even toxic, substances. Though diluted to the point that little to none of the original material remains, they retain the imprint or “frequency” of the original substance in an energetic form. The remedy works on a deep level, stimulating the body to initiate its own healing process

Homeopathy can be a decidedly puzzling approach. Whereas it’s fairly easy to make the connection between symptom and treatment with other CAM practices—your dog falls, you take him to a chiropractor, or your dog has a digestive problem and you consider acupuncture (though technically, either of these conditions could be treated with a variety of CAM options)—homeopathy seems almost counterintuitive, working on subtler, more systemic levels and following a different healing model than that to which most people are accustomed.


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