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Alternative Treatment Options for Dogs and Cats

When a veterinarian tells us there is nothing more that can be done for our dog’s arthritis other than pain medications, our cat with kidney disease is only offered a low-protein diet and subcutaneous fluids, or a pet diagnosed with cancer faces surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, other options are available.

Alternative therapies have been gaining popularity over the past several decades, not only for people, but also for their pets. Treatment options such as acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and whole food nutrition therapy are becoming more widely available. These therapies are helping thousands of animals in combination with traditional conventional medicine.

Based on the original theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture and other versions of acutherapy are among the oldest medical procedures in recorded history, while animal acupuncture is somewhat newer. It involves the needling of certain spots on the body that regulate the stream of energy, or qi, which flows through and nourishes the tissues and organs. Today, we do not have a full understanding of the neurologic or biochemical basis of acupuncture, but that is changing as the results of studies are published on a regular basis.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, qi runs through channels called meridians, which can be thought of as rivers of energy. These rivers can become blocked, and needling releases the obstruction. In scientific terms, needling specific points leads to the release of chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain. These chemical mediators can change the perception of pain and lead to the release of other chemical substances that influence organ function. This improved chemical communication stimulates healing.

There are many approaches to treatment, but veterinarians are the only acupuncture professionals trained to understand both the traditional Chinese principles and the scientific aspects of acupuncture therapy in animals. There is good evidence that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, respiratory, urinary, dermatological, reproductive, neurologic and behavioral disorders, as well as stress. In cancer patients, acupuncture can be extremely effective for the alleviation of pain and fatigue; the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders such as nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite; and the improvement of quality of life.

Chinese herbal medicine can provide benefits that conventional treatments don’t yet offer. One crucial advantage is that it does not rely on single chemicals or drugs. Herbal formulas, and even individual herbs, contain dozens of active ingredients that work synergistically and simultaneously on multiple aspects of a problem. Only with multiple compounds can the dynamic and multifaceted nature of chronic disease be addressed.

In order for Chinese herbal medicine to be effective, the correct Chinese medical diagnosis has to be assigned to the animal’s symptoms, signs, tongue color and pulse character. Then an appropriate herbal formula is chosen based on not only the diagnosis, but also the animal’s particular circumstances. When accurately prescribed, conventional drugs and surgeries can be used in addition to herbal medicines to enhance a pet’s well-being.

Many veterinarians believe that complete nutrition is not available from a bag or a can, in much the same way that humans need fresh fruits and vegetables for the unidentified phytonutrients that are thought to prevent cancer. The use of whole food nutrition as a therapeutic tool can result in vitality being restored to companion animals.

One of the most important things to understand is the difference between synthetic vitamins found in dog food or over-the-counter supplements versus whole vitamin complexes. A fully functioning vitamin is an extremely complex organic compound that is essential for the maintenance of life and health. It not only contains the identified organic vitamin nutrient, but also consists of enzymes, coenzymes, trace element activators (minerals) and antioxidants in a protein matrix. In this whole-food form, nutrition can be used to treat almost any disease.

Dr. Jennifer Luna-Repose is a veterinarian offering veterinary acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and Nutrition Response Testing at Alternatives for Animals, located at 919 Moraga Rd., in Lafayette. For more information, call 925-283-6160.

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