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Pet Health

Alternative Therapies For Pets

Val Cairney April 30, 2021 15


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Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  So, in keeping with my series on natural alternatives and complementary care for our pets, I’d like to explore the different types of treatments that we can get for our pets to help with their overall health but more specifically when they need that extra care. 

As humans we can venture off for a massage, or to the chiropractor or have a Reiki session or see a naturopath or homeopath etc. etc.  But, I wonder how many people know that many of these type of treatments or modalities are available to our pets?  Well, they are, so I’m going to explore some of these options and maybe you just might find the one that could be just the ticket for your pet.

Chiropractic

As I began with natural supplements, with something we are quite familiar with, I thought I would do the same and begin with chiropractic for dogs and cats.  As we know, chiropractic care for humans has been around for a long time.  It is estimated that chiropractic care for dogs began around 1989.  According to Dog Wheelchair Life.com, chiropractic therapy for dogs, “is a natural way to treat musculoskeletal and neurological discords by manually adjusting the spinal column. The philosophy behind it says that when the spine is aligned correctly, the joints and limbs in the body move without weakness or pain and the organs work like they should.”  I have a bit of personal experience with chiropractic for a dog.  My Rottweiler that I had for his whole life, many years ago, started to have a limp and of course we didn’t know why.  I took him to the vet where he had x-rays and even an exploratory surgery to see if there was something wrong with is cruciate ligament.  It turned out nothing was evident that would be causing the limp.  The vet I had at this time was a small animal vet but she was a very accomplished equestrian.  She had a friend who was a horse vet who had ventured into chiropractic for horses, finding this to be very effective.  So, my vet referred me to her, thinking that perhaps chiropractic could be the answer as the anatomy would be the same, just on a smaller scale. I went once a week to have him adjusted and it was noticeable within 2 treatments that there was a significant difference in his walking as the limp was less pronounced.  After about 6 treatments, he was walking quite normal so all I can say here is that in my opinion, chiropractic for my dog at the time, returned him to normal mobility.  As the vet pointed out to me, big dogs especially, easily can pop something out of alignment with a simple fall so it would stand to reason that an adjustment could really help.  Some of the conditions that dog chiropractors handle are: weakness in limbs, accidents and injuries to the spine, limping, stiffness or unsteady gait, reluctance to move, arthritis and pain when moving or being touched.  They can also look at urinary incontinence, digestive conditions and changes in behaviour.  Cats too can benefit from chiropractic care.  Considering many cats are quite the climbers and can get into some odd situations, they too can get themselves out of alignments and feel unwell.  Researching a feline chiropractor in this instance will be needed.  The best thing to do if you think that your dog or cat could benefit from chiropractic is to research the accredited animal chiropractors in your area.  In Ontario for example, one such accreditation is from The Veterinary Chiropractic Learning Centre.  This is a professional teaching organization that offers veterinary chiropractic training or veterinary spinal manipulative therapy to both veterinarians and chiropractors who have graduated from accredited schools and maintain current licenses.  

Massage

Another treatment that often goes with chiropractic is massage.  Who doesn’t like a good massage?  I don’t think I would have half the mobility I have without my monthly massage.  But, what about our pets?  A professional pet massage like humans is the deliberate manipulation of skin and muscle and other soft tissue with a focus and intent.  The goal is to have relaxation, relief from pain and greater flexibility.  There are quite a few videos on line to show pet parents how to give a pet massage and these can be quite fun and bonding for you and your pet.  But, if you are dealing with an injury or arthritis or surgery recovery, I think looking to a professional would be the best idea.  In most cases unlike the animal chiropractic an animal related degree is not necessary.  As I said, there are quite a few video’s on line to show how to do a pet massage, but you can also look into the various programs that you can enroll into to become certified as an animal massage therapist.  I actually have a certification in equine massage taking the course and doing the practical evaluation.  So, look into the different programs in your area for not only a certified practitioner, but also to see if there are any programs you would like to take.  

Acupuncture

So now let’s go a little deeper with treatments for pets and look at acupuncture. Acupuncture falls into the Chinese medicine therapies.  According to hillspet.com, Acupuncture for pets, like for humans, is an alternative medical practice that involves inserting very small needles into the skin to stimulate points on the body and produce a healing response.  According to the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, “each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated.  This technique has been used in veterinary practice in China for thousands of years to treat many ailments.”  So, there are many conditions where acupuncture can be indicated.  For example, paralysis, allergies and pain.  Other areas for small animals and large animals are sore backs, dermatitis, respiratory problems and can be significant when treating injuries.   As the Veterinary Acupuncture Society points out, “in most countries, states and provinces, veterinary acupuncture is considered a surgical procedure that only licensed veterinarians may legally administer to animals.”  So, if you are thinking of going this route, there is homework to do.  It wouldn’t necessarily stand that a human acupuncturist would have the animal anatomy knowledge to perform acupuncture correctly on an animal.  For this reason, veterinarian acupuncture should be performed by a trained vet.  In conjunction with this, a proper diagnosis would be needed so obviously a conversation with your vet would have ensued.  In most cases, this ancient Chinese practice is used as a complement to the conventional or western treatments being used.  In Chinese medicine the “meridians” are a focus.  This is the paths through which life-energy or qi (chee) flows.  Along the meridians lie the acupuncture points which are stimulated by needling or pressure. The idea is to restore the energy balance in the body and promote healing.  Inserting needs and giving them a bit of twist and having a pet sit for 20 minutes or so with the needles in place can be a very tall order.  When the needles are placed there can be a bit of a sting but after there is usually no sensation from the insertion point.    An alternative to the needles if this just doesn’t work, is Acupressure.  Similar to Acupuncture, acupressure applies pressure to the acupuncture points.  This can be an option for pets that do not tolerate acupuncture but also for areas that are hard to reach.  

Reiki

Let’s look at another alternative treatment we can do with our pets.  Reiki by definition “is a healing technique based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient by means of touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the body and restore physical and emotional well-being.”  Reiki for animals can help with pain, boost the immune system, decrease healing time after surgery or illness, remove emotional or psychological blocks that are impeding physical health, reduce stress and promote relaxation.  Human Reiki sessions are usually an hour on a massage table in quiet surroundings.  For animals this is a bit different.  A practitioner will sit on the floor and invite the animal to share in the Reiki session.  If the dog for example, readily approaches the practitioner then the practitioner can the move to touching the dog in a serious of positions.  Once the dog has taken the energy it needs, more than likely it will just get up and walk away.  The session is ended.  If the dog does not want to be touched, this does not mean that the session cannot take place.  Reiki can be done from a distance as well, so the pet may be able to receive Reiki this way.  So, for dogs in particular that are very nervous, experience anxiety are very fearful or aggressive, it is possible Reiki could help with this.  A cat that is nervous, pee’s where it shouldn’t is fearful, can also benefit.  Pet’s that are in recovery from surgery or illness or from past trauma can also benefit.  Because Reiki is unlocking the flow of energy, similar to acupuncture, this energy flow will allow the body to have access to healing and in whatever way that is needed, Reiki will address this.  Does it always work the way we want it to?  Not necessarily.  Reiki will go where it is needed, so whether we know where that is to go or we don’t, healing and well-being, being sent to our pets can only be a good thing.  

Cranial Sacral Therapy

Now let’s look at another practice, called Cranial Sacral Therapy.  According to Animal Wellness magazine.com, Cranial Sacral Therapy is an energy medicine as well that involves a very gentle and subtle application of hands-on healing  By utilizing the electromagnetic points within the palms of your hands and fingertips, it is possible to balance the pulse of an animals meningeal system and release constrictions.  The meninges refers to the membranous coverings of the brain and spinal cord. As animalwellnessmagazine.com points out, the CSS or cranial sacral system consists of the cranium or skull bones, the sacrum at the base of the spine and all the membranes and fluids around the brain and spinal cord, including the nerves, vessels and organ systems.  Interesting with CST is that is works with the rhythm similar to the animal’s heartbeat but is a result of the pumping of cerebral spinal fluid rather than blood through the heart.  Cranial Sacral Therapy can be highly effective at treating both acute and chronic injuries in dogs.  It can be very beneficial for keeping dogs in musculoskeletal balance which can play a vital role in joint and skeletal health.  It can keep their bodies flexible and mobile as they get older and help with muscle atrophy.  Some of the conditions that Cranial Sacral Therapy can address are: hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament injuries, behaviour problems, blocked tear ducts, pre and post-surgery and seizures.  Generally a session of CST will be about 45 minutes and generally 3 to 5 treatments can address an issue but every case is unique so more treatments may be warranted.  Again, you would want to find a certified practitioner in this modality, someone who has completed the protocols and advance techniques to make sure your pet is getting optimum and safe treatments.  

Myofascial Release

Now I want to look at another treatment called Myofascial Release.  Animal Neuro-myofascial release is a technique used on large and small animals to release and align the bodies.  According to VOM Technology, the term “myo” refers to the muscle and the connective tissue that surrounds and attaches the muscle… the fascia, hence the term myofascial.  This treatment can be beneficial for range of motion, recovery, improve strength and performance and return muscles to normal function.  So, to define a bit further, skeletal muscle tension can be associated with subluxation.  Subluxation would be described as a spinal vertebra that is out of position to the other vertebrae resulting in functional loss.  It was found that there were lines of correction in domestic animals that, if released would allow the muscle and tendon fixations associated with the subluxations to relax.   This technique is a soft tissue technique that utilizes a specific tool for neurological stimulation and myofascial release.  According to www.holisticanimalstudies,orge, The practitioner uses the specialized tool to put motion into the soft tissues surrounding and adjacent to the vertebral column and other joints. This creates a combination of neurological input and soft tissue releases that allows the animal’s body to “reset” itself leading to an improvement in posture, range of motion and gait. Although a tool is used, this is not considered a chiropractic technique because the tool is not moving bones, it is used to release soft tissues and provide neurological input through quick impulses. There is a fair bit to look into with this technique and a certified practitioner is the one to contact if this is something you would like to move forward with.    

Laser Therapy

Another treatment that is innovative and has gained popularity in recent years is Laser Therapy.  Now here is a fun fact that I’m not sure everyone knows, but laser is actually an acronym for “light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation”.  According to www.aahaorg this refers  to a unit that emits focused, penetrating light beams in three forms.  There is monochromatic, which is light that is a single wavelength, Coherent, which is photons that travel in the same phase and direction and collimated which is photons that travel in a single straight beam.  So basically lasers use light waves of a specific wavelength to cause photobiomodulation or the alteration of cellular and tissue physiology.  Light absorbed by cellular components stimulates electrons and activates cells to promote growth, proliferation, migration and repair.  The laser therapy helps tissue repair by causing, endorphin release, vasodilation which increases blood flow to bring oxygen and cells involved in the healing process, muscle relaxation, decreased inflammation and faster healing and repair.  Now this is interesting because laser therapy is particularly useful for pets with liver disease who cannot take medications, cats, for whom only a few pain-control medications are approved, and older pets with diminished organ function.  In this treatment the laser wand is slowly moved back and forth over the damaged tissue, producing a warm, pleasant sensation that most pets seem to enjoy and find relaxing.  Sessions usually last 15 to 30 minutes and the number of sessions depends on the injury.  Chronic conditions may be treated weekly and surgical incisions and open wounds often require daily treatment.  So because using improper settings and durations can cause thermal burns to tissues and beams directed at eyes can cause permanent damage, everyone during a treatment, pet included must wear protective eye wear and the practitioner should be certified to do the practice. 

Homeopathy

I’d like to touch a bit on homeopathy for pets.  Homeopathics is part of the alternative medicine area.  According to trupanion.com, homeopathic medicine for cats and dogs is a holistic method using natural substance to stimulate the body’s natural healing process.  It can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions.  Homeopathy concentrates on care of the whole animal with methods that are specific, gentle and sympathetic to the body’s needs.  Homeopathics are come in tiny while pellet or liquid form.  It is important not to handle the products and to drop the pellet or the liquid straight into the pet’s inner cheek.  Homeopathics work very differently in that dosage is what is needed.  1 pellet or 10 pellets or more could be the dose.  The dosage is the amount needed until the pet feels better and if nothing is happening, then the dosage is stopped.  I think it best to consult a veterinarian with homeopathic experience or a homeopath educated in homeopathics for pets if going this route.  Homeopathics can be very effective and this is a great area to do some research to find alternatives for many different conditions some as simple as fleas.  

Aqua Therapy

My next therapy to look at is a real fun one and that is Aqua Therapy for Dogs or Hydrotherapy for dogs. According to vetinfo.com, aquatic therapy for dogs is a form of rehabilitation and athletic conditioning.  In both cases, canine aquatic therapy prevents injury, lessens pain, strengthens muscles and restores or enhances mobility.  And another benefit of this therapy if for dogs that need to lose weight.  When overweight, playing and running on land can be very difficult but, playing in water and swimming is great exercise and could be just the ticket for weight loss.  Some facilities also have underwater treadmills so the dog is still walking, trotting or running but the buoyancy of the water protects the joints and the resistance of the water increases the workload.   There are many different types of aqua therapy facilities for dogs so you would have to do some research as to what is available in your area.  Facilities can offer indoor pools that have a therapist in the water with your dog, or you can go in the water with your dog, there are play pools and therapy pools, and exercise pools, it is quite extensive, so if this is something that appeals, have a look at Aqua Therapy for dogs and what is available in your area.  

Recap

So let’s do a recap of some of the alternative and complementary therapies available for our pets.  Beginning with chiropractic for pets, massage, acupuncture, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, Myfascial release, laser therapy, homeopathy and aqua therapy, you can see that there are quite a lot of alternatives we can look to for our pet’s health.  So, that leads me to my pet peeves section.

Pet Peeves

There is no doubt that pet lovers will do just about anything for their pet’s well-being.  There is nothing worse than watching a pet become sick or begin to succumb to different elderly afflictions.  As many do, the trips to the vet become more and more frequent and the medications pile up as do the bills.  I’m reminded of what Joanne Carr from Omega Alpha said, about wishing that we can all play nice in the sandbox, and this is where looking at alternative therapies with a veterinarian that is open or even better, certified in some of the complementary therapies will open a whole new world for pet care.  What’s wrong with exploring massage or acupuncture for a pet in pain when the medications seem to be making the pet feel worse?  In my books, nothing!  And you know, if looking into homeopathics or reiki is just too out there for you, well that’s fine, but let’s not roll our eyes at those who do want to try something different, because remember they are only trying to do what is best for their pet.  There can be trepidation when trying something new and that’s fine, because you know what do.  Do your homework, research, call practitioners, ask your vet, because as I say, knowing is caring.

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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