Are Alternative Pet Therapies Safe?

By: Deborah Linder, DVM, DACVN  |  Are alternative pet therapies safe?

Should you try acupuncture, massage or other physical therapy for your pet?

Dog

Alternative therapies abound in the human world, where you can choose from a wide variety of holistic and alternative treatment plans to cure what ails you. Herbal remedies, acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy, Reiki—all are designed to help heal the body and soul using methods of healing that don't necessarily involve medical practitioners.

Likewise, alternative therapies are becoming increasingly popular for pets too, as owners seek to help alleviate pain, promote healing or treat anxiety with options tailored specifically to the unique needs of dogs and cats. As such, cat and dog acupuncture has become easier for the average pet owner to provide as an option to their pets.

Is it Worth Trying Dog or Cat Acupuncture?

Of the many alternative remedies available to choose for your pet, many dog and cat owners claim to see the most noticeable benefits in cats and dogs treated with acupuncture. As with human acupuncture, cat or dog acupuncture is the practice of inserting small needles into specific points on your pet's body to produce a healing response. While the thought of willingly sticking a handful of needles into your body to help with pain may seem counter-intuitive, acupuncture is commonly used for muscle or skeletal problems in dogs and cats (as well as humans!). It is safe and, anecdotally, it may help relieve pain by increasing blood circulation, relieving muscle spasms and releasing natural pain-controlling hormones. If you think your pet might benefit from trying acupuncture, seek out a vet who is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, or go to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture website to find a vet with the credentials to practice acupuncture.

Consider Other Forms of Therapy Too.

It may be worth trying pet acupuncture if you have a dog or cat experiencing pain or discomfort that can't be relieved via more traditional methods prescribed by your vet. However, there's little research to support the benefit claims of pet acupuncture. And it's often not cheap—for pets or humans. Alternatively, if your cat or dog is in pain, consider pet physical therapy, like stretching, treadmill walking or swimming. In most cases, physical activity is often the best remedy for pain and discomfort—particularly when administered via a trained pet physical therapist. Research shows that, two months after knee surgery, dogs that had physical therapy were twice as likely to be fully recovered than those that received only pain meds and rest. Look for a specialist with formal training, such as the Canine Rehabilitation Certificate Program or find a practitioner through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute website.

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