Thanks to the art of modern medicine, we are all living longer and healthier lives. Fortunately, this is also true for our companion animals. As a result of living longer, older pets often develop a number of conditions such as arthritis and obesity, which can cause pain, affect mobility, and alter their quality of life. In veterinary medicine, we now have a number of noninvasive options such as physical rehabilitation, laser therapy and acupuncture, in addition to conventional medical therapy, to help our pets live their best and most comfortable life.
Physical rehabilitation adapts human physical therapy techniques and equipment to increase function and mobility of joints and muscles in animals. Using tools such as physioballs, balance boards, therapeutic floor exercise, and hands on techniques such as massage and joint mobilization, we are able to improve joint range of motion, muscular strength and endurance in our older companions and those recovering from orthopedic or neurologic surgery.
Therapeutic laser therapy (also known as “cold laser”) is another very helpful tool that has been shown to enhance healing and promote pain relief. Laser therapy uses light energy to penetrate deep tissues to promote cellular changes. The result is improved cellular energy and circulation, as well as enhanced healing and pain relief. This noninvasive treatment is very well tolerated by pets and can be highly effective in treating chronic conditions such as arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, as well as acute injuries (strains and sprains), wounds, and hot spots. Laser therapy is available at some veterinary offices and has interestingly been used for many years by athletics trainers in many major professional sports teams such as the Boston Celtics and New England Patriots!
Acupuncture is an ancient art that has been used in both humans and animals for more than 3000 years. Acupuncture is based on the belief that the healthy body is a perfect balance of “yin and yang” or Qi. When there is illness or pain, there is an imbalance in the body’s energy. Acupuncture seeks to restore this balance by the use of needles applied to specific points on the body. From a western perspective, research has shown that acupuncture triggers a number of changes in the spinal cord and brain that lead to the release of a number of chemicals such as endorphins- which are the body’s natural “pain killing” hormones.
Acupuncture is performed by veterinarians who have been trained and certified. It is very well tolerated by most pets and is usually painless. Many pets even fall asleep during treatment. The needles are typically left in place for 20-30 minutes and treatments are usually done weekly for 4 weeks to start and then tapered as needed for maintenance treatment. Many long term acupuncture patients are seen every 3-4 weeks to manage their conditions. Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of disorders, but is most commonly used for painful conditions such as arthritis, as well as neurologic conditions (weakness, disc disease, degenerative spinal cord disease). Acupuncture is not a “cure- all” but we do see positive results in about 80% of patients.
We now have a much better understanding of pain in animals and have many noninvasive options to approach its treatment. The best approach is most often a combination of several different modalities, but the goal is always the same – to promote the well being of our pets and help them to live long healthy active lives.
Written by: Dr. Pamela Levin, DVM, CVA, CCRT
Dr. Pamela Levin is a veterinarian certified in Acupuncture and canine rehabilitation. She is available for consultations at Burlington Emergency and Veterinary Specialists (www.bevsvt.com) in Williston, VT.