Healthy Pets

Alternative Medicine Techniques

posted: 05/15/12
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Treatments other than conventional western medicine are usually considered "alternative therapies." They usually are not backed by scientific data but by years of use. Some alternative therapies date back thousands of years. As more people use alternative therapies for themselves, they are also seeking them for their pets. The alternative therapy treatments include, but are not limited to, massage, acupuncture, herbology, homeopathy, and chiropractic. The American Veterinary Medical Association has established guidelines for veterinary acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathic, and holistic medicine.

If you seek an alternative treatment, discuss it with your veterinarian first to make sure no harm will result from the trial. Discontinue use if results are negative. Get referrals from your veterinarian, family, or friends who have used the type of treatment you are seeking for your pet. States vary in their requirements regarding who can treat animals. A person may need to be a licensed veterinarian in that state to legally treat the animal. Check with your state government or state veterinary medical association to determine what is legal in your state.

Traditional Chinese medicine has used acupuncture to treat a wide variety of conditions for about 3,500 years. Acupuncture is said to stimulate the body's natural healing processes which in turn help the body heal itself. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that acupuncture stimulates the flow of energy forces that nourish tissues, stimulate blood flow, and enhance the body's systems. Acupuncture has been used both as a preventative measure and to help treat diseases.

According to ancient Chinese medical theory, the life force (called qi or ch'i) flows through the body via 14 invisible channels known as meridians. They regulate all physical and mental processes. Opposing forces within the body, called yin and yang, must be balanced to keep ch'i flowing properly. The meridians run deep within the body's tissues and organs, surfacing at some 360 places identified as acupuncture points, sometimes called acupoints. Certain meridians are identified with organs such as the bladder or liver, and the points all along such meridians are believed capable of affecting the associated internal organ. Stimulating these points is said to balance and restore the flow of ch'i.

The word acupuncture is derived from the Latin 'acus' needle and 'pungo' puncture. The puncture refers to the insertion of tiny needles at very specific points on the surface of the body. The needles used are smooth and solid and very thin. Some people say they feel a brief slight sensation upon the insertion of the needle into the precise acupuncture point. The depth of insertion, type of stimulation, and duration of treatment vary according to the disease or the condition being treated. Needles should be sterile and only used once.

In modern veterinary acupuncture, multiple systems of treatment are used. These include the classical needle alone, needles used in conjunction with electrical stimulation, or stimulation using a specific type of laser. Gold beads, surgical staples, or magnets are sometimes put into acupuncture points to provide permanent stimulation.

Many western theories exist to try to explain the reported effects of acupuncture, however no one theory explains all the effects. One thing specifically is known: acupuncture does cause the release of endorphins, compounds that have physiological effects resembling morphine.

In humans, acupuncture is most commonly used for the treatment of pain, paresis, and paralysis. Acupuncture helps provide short-term relief of pain. In some human studies, long-term relief has occurred as well. Patients may show a better response after each treatment or a good response which lasts for a short period of time and increasingly longer on each subsequent treatment. Acupuncture should not be expected to cure an underlying problem. Human research is underway to determine for which physical problems acupuncture works well.

Research studies on the effects of acupuncture on animals have not yet been performed, but anecdotal information suggests it may be helpful in certain conditions. Acupuncture has been used in the treatment of pain, hip dysplasia, chronic digestive disturbances, lick granuloma, epilepsy, and other miscellaneous conditions in pets. Some pet owners have noted an improvement in attitude in their pets before any physical improvement is seen. This may be due to a reduction in pain or some unknown factor.

'Chiropractic' comes from the Greek words for 'practicing with the hands'. When the vertebrae, the bones of the spine, are not aligned correctly, the joint, muscle, nerve, connective tissue, blood flow and function of an area can be affected. Chiropractic is a system of manipulation and adjustments of the bones of the spine to deal with subluxations and the secondary problems derived from them. The word 'adjustment' is normally used in describing the specific, quick, high velocity and controlled thrust on the specific joint that is being manipulated. It restores the normal range of motion to the affected joint and releases the pressure to the surrounding tissues.

An adjustment can result in immediate total relief of symptoms or partial relief. Sometimes the pain relief may be only temporary; the animal may move a certain way again, cause a maladjustment, then be in pain again. This may necessitate multiple trips to the veterinary chiropractor.

In the last few years, an instrument called an 'Activator' has been used on animals. It is a spring-loaded device which looks like a syringe which when tripped delivers a high velocity short stroke. It may create less apprehension for the dogs and cats than normal hands-on chiropractic and allows multiple adjustments to be performed much more easily.

While chiropractic therapy is normally thought of as a method of pain relief, it should be remembered that since all of our organ systems are controlled by nerves, any disruption of proper nerve flow will also affect function. The correction of vertebral subluxations may improve the health of some internal organs such as the heart and gastrointestinal system.

Homeopathy is system of medicine which determines the underlying energy pattern of the animal, and what can be done to bring the energy level back into balance. Homeopathy was used by the Greeks, long ago, and was formalized by a German physician, Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700's. There are six basic principles of homeopathy according to Christina Chambreau, DVM, a veterinarian who practices homeopathy:

- The body heals itself by producing symptoms in an attempt to recover balance.

- An energy imbalance exists prior to the development of physical symptoms.

- Disease is on ongoing process which started at birth; it is not just separate, acute episodes.

- To produce healing, all symptoms and the individual animal must be taken ito account.

- Disease could be likened to an iceberg; we may only see the symptoms above the water, but there is also a lot going on beneath the water. 'Like cures like'. Homeopathic remedies cause symptoms similar to the symptoms the animal is showing. For instance, an animal that has vomiting and diarrhea would be treated with a plant, mineral or animal substance which causes similar symptoms. The remedy would be stronger and similar to the imbalance observed in the animal, and would replace the illness, causing a cure.

- The goal of homeopathy is to cure not only the symptoms of disease, but all changes in the energy balance of the animal.

- The type of remedy is determined by first identifying the severity of the symptoms, and subsequently identifying which will be treated first. Then, the study of a number of reference books explaining the many properties of the various remedies will help determine which remedy to choose.

Homeopathic remedies are extremely diluted solutions of assorted herbs, animal products, and chemicals. The more dilute the substance, the higher the potency. That's right; it may be confusing, but the more dilute the remedy, the higher the potency, and the less frequently it is given.

Homeopaths often recommend natural diets, eliminating any type of processed food. They also advocate vaccinating as infrequently as possible.

Massage is useful to help sooth overworked, tired muscles. Massage will not cure serious disease. In humans, multiple types of massage are used. These could also be used in animals. Some of the common types include effleurage (long, slow strokes), petrissage (kneading and rolling muscles), friction (steady pressure across muscles fibers without moving across the skin), and percussion (drumming hands over broad areas of the body). Warm or cold treatments may be used in conjunction with massage, depending upon the condition. The massage could be over the whole body, or concentrate on specific areas which may correspond to certain acupuncture points. Massage encourages healing by promoting blood flow, relieving tension, stimulating nerves, and stretching and loosening muscles. It may enhance the immune system and lower blood pressure.

Massage should feel good, and the physical contact should be enjoyed by your pet. If for some reason the pet does not like the hands-on contact, discontinue it.

The philosophy of holistic veterinarians is to look at all aspects of the animal, and be open to using a variety of treatments. Holistic veterinarians often concentrate on nutrition and diet, the environment and lifestyle of the animal, and psychologic state of the animal in the treatment and prevention of disease. Communication between the animal, owner, and veterinarian are emphasized.

Holistic veterinarians use conventional and alternative therapies on a case-by-case basis. They recognize that the most modern veterinary techniques such as ultrasound, sophisticated laboratory tests, and surgical procedures are necessary in caring for an animal. Similarly they believe alternative medicine modalities such as herbal medicine, chiropractic, and others play a significant role as well.

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