When it comes to our canine companions, most of us will do just about anything for them, especially if they are in pain. So if your furry friend has canine arthritis, you are probably wondering how you can help to ease his discomfort. Traditionally, arthritis pain in dogs is managed with medication. But more holistic treatments have been increasing in popularity during recent years, including acupuncture. Can acupuncture actually improve symptoms for dogs with arthritis? Let’s consider the facts.
Arthritis: The Basics
Simply put, arthritis is the inflammation of your dog’s joints. Unfortunately, it is a common problem for dogs of all ages but primarily affects senior canines. Normally, the interior of a dog’s joints consists of two bone surfaces covered with a thin layer of smooth cartilage that is lubricated with a small amount of joint fluid, allowing the two bones to glide over one another with minimum friction. In the case of arthritis, the cartilage within the joint changes or becomes damaged. This results in cartilage that is less smooth and ultimately causes the bone surfaces to rub together. This rubbing motion produces discomfort to your dog while further damaging the cartilage. Eventually, the increased friction prompts new bone to form around the joint, making the area stiffer and restricted in movement.
Most cases of arthritis develop as a result of abnormal rubbing within the joint caused by joint instability, abnormal development of cartilage, or damage caused by trauma, such as fractures. More often than not, symptoms of arthritis are undetectable to the naked eye. Rather, your dog’s changes in behavior will be indicators of his pain. For example, he may be less keen to exercise or appear stiff and begin to have prolonged periods of laying. Occasionally, a dog might continually lick an underlying painful joint and symptoms may worsen in cold or damp conditions.
As mentioned previously, the conventional way to treat arthritis is with medication. A veterinarian may prescribe steroids; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Etogesic, Rimadyl, Metacam, and Deramaxx; or other pain-relieving medications like tramadol, Galliprant, Amantadine, and gabapentin for those dogs with severe arthritis or if unresponsive to other medications. And while anti-inflammatory therapy works for most dogs, some may need to undergo surgery to replace the joint. Physical therapy and canine weight loss may also help to reduce symptoms.
Acupuncture for Dogs
Acupuncture is most well-known for its human applications, but in actuality, it is safe for use on canines as well. At its core, acupuncture is the treatment of conditions or symptoms via the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body which produces a healing response. Each specific acupuncture point has been well charted for both humans and animals, and the practice was conceptualized by ancient Chinese scholars. The location of stimulated acupuncture points, the depth of needle insertion, the type of stimulation applied to the needles, and the duration of each treatment session will be dependent on the patient’s tolerance, the experience and training of the practitioner, and the condition being treated.
There is evidence regarding the success of acupuncture for treating disorders of the reproductive, musculoskeletal, neurologic, pulmonary, gastrointestinal and dermatologic systems in veterinary medicine. In fact, the most common conditions that are treated include traumatic nerve injuries, canine intervertebral disc disease, degenerative myelopathy, epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders; asthma, allergic dermatitis, lick granulomas; and chronic pain such as that caused by degenerative joint disease such as arthritis. So yes, acupuncture for dogs can work to treat arthritis and its symptoms.
However, due to the potential for harm and differences in anatomy between dogs and humans, it is crucially important to seek out a practitioner trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM). This training will ensure that your dog is in safe hands when it comes to their acupuncture therapy. In addition, there are similar practices to acupuncture which can also be utilized if traditional acupuncture does not suit your pet. Acupuncture points can be stimulated by using techniques known as acupressure, moxibustion, cupping, or by the application of heat, cold, water, laser, ultrasound, or other means at the discretion of the practitioner.
The success of treatment with acupuncture will vary based on the skill of the practitioner, the disorder being treated, and the number and frequency of treatments. However, the earlier in the course of disease that acupuncture is applied, the better the response tends to be. Therefore, when treating arthritis, it is important to be vigilant in recognizing arthritic symptoms in your dog as most dogs will experience some arthritis within their lifetime. Overall, acupuncture is very safe and causes no undesirable side effects as some medications can. As a method of pain management, it can either be a great natural alternative to conventional western medicine or, since it doesn’t interfere with medications, it can be safely used in conjunction with traditional treatments.