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4 Holistic and Alternative Therapies for Dogs

'Holistic has become a buzzword of late but its definition is actually very simple. Holistic is based on the idea that no single part can be understood except in relation to the whole." explains Jelena Stojanovic from Balanced Dogs. Accordingly, holistic therapy focuses on the overall health of a patient and involves all aspects of health such as physical, emotional and spiritual.

More attention has been focused lately on natural and holistic lifestyle methods both for our family and for our animals as they are all about maintaining health and preventing disease through a state of balance in eating, drinking, work, rest etc. 

What is Holistic Therapy when applied to Veterinary Care?

A positive change that has resulted from a more holistic view in general is that veterinarians now consider the effects of nutrition, lifestyle and environment on animal health and disease and explore new methods of disease prevention and alternative treatments that enable the body’s innate healing capabilities to function maximally.

Alternative veterinary therapies heal your pet using a whole body approach. They are applied “holistically” involving an individualised approach to the animal’s unique needs as opposed to traditional veterinary medicine applying evidence-based recommendations for what works most of the time for a group of patients.

Some of the most popular natural and alternative veterinary therapies include Veterinary Acupuncture, Physical Therapy and Massage, Traditional Chinese Medicine as well the use of Herbs, Nutrition and Nutraceuticals.

1) Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), although relatively new to the Western world, is a medical system that has been used in China to treat animals for thousands of years. 

TCVM teaches that the body energy (called Qi) flows rhythmically around the body through meridians or channels on a twenty four hour cycle. It also proposes the theory of Yin and Yang (eternal opposites) of which Qi and every dynamic system is composed.

Health depends on the proper balance of Yin and Yang. Imbalance between Yin and Yang or disruption of the rhythm of Qi flow gives rise to disease.

In Chinese Medicine theory, disease is understood as an imbalance in the body, and diagnosis proceeds through identifying the underlying “pattern” of disharmony

Pattern diagnosis differs from conventional Western medical diagnosis in that it takes into account not only disease signs but how these signs relate to the individual patient. TCVM practitioners will consider the temperament, sex, age, activity, and environment of an animal along with the animal’s particular disease signs. 

Though the terms Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture are often used interchangeably, acupuncture is actually only one of four modalities of TCVM, the other three being: 

  • Herbal Medicine
  • Food Therapy and
  • Tui-na Massage technique 

2) How does Veterinary Acupuncture work?

Acupuncture is an energy based system of healing that addresses and activates self-healing powers of body. 

of acupuncture points influences flow of energy within the body along the channels, moves stagnations, resolves blockages, supplies emptiness with new energy and relieves fullness. As a result, we can reduce pain and revive disturbed organ functions. 
During acupuncture treatment, fine needles are inserted at precisely localised acupuncture points and retained there for a certain amount of time, depending on patient’s condition and indication.

To avoid injury to the underlying tissue (nerves, blood vessels, joints or organs) this treatment should only be performed by trained and qualified veterinary acupuncturist. Veterinary Acupuncture and TCVM can have helpful or supportive effect with these conditions:

  • Movement disorders 
  • Growth and development disorders of bones and joints 
  • Geriatric problems (such as Arthritis, Dementia, Incontinence etc) 
  • Chronic disorders of respiratory tract, skin, gastrointestinal tract, urogenital tract, cardiovascular system, eyes and ears 
  • Allergies and immune system disorders 
  • Hormonal disturbances (such as Diabetes Mellitus, Cushing's Disease, Thyroid problems etc) 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Tumours 
  • Psychological/emotional problems (such as pathological fear, anxiety etc) 
Also, acupuncture can reduce the dosage of conventional pharmaceutical drugs that may be necessary in veterinary treatment of certain medical conditions.

Basic requirement for a successful treatment is a thorough medical history, examination and TCVM diagnosis. Application of standardised needling formulas without knowledge of their background carries the risk of exacerbating the disorder instead of improving it. 

However, if done by experienced veterinary acupuncturist and TCVM therapist, needling specific points leads to the release of chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain which stimulates healing, improves circulation and reduce pain.

3) The Benefits of Physical Therapy and Massage for Dogs

Physical therapy is concerned with the prevention, management and treatment of movement and allied disorders. It involves detailed assessments and treatment programmes that involve hands-on therapy along with remedial and strengthening techniques using exercise plans to restore normal function and range of movement to musculo-skeletal system. 

It may also include use of instruments such as laser, ultrasound, electric nerve stimulator, faradic stimulator etc. 

Dog massage or canine myofunctional therapy (CMT) is inseparable part of physical therapy. 

They work together in animal rehabilitation and help reduce pain as well as enhance recovery from musculoskeletal injury, surgery, degenerative diseases, age-related diseases and obesity

Dog massage is generally the manipulation of soft tissues of the body and it encompasses a vast range of techniques, some of which have been patented and named after a particular practitioner (such as Bowen technique and TTouch).

Some techniques concentrate on specific areas of treatment while others are more general and cover the whole body. However, what they all have in common are the effects after the treatment:
  • Increased blood flow 
  • Muscle fibre realigning 
  • Enhanced lymphatic drainage 
  • Tissue tension adjustment 
  • Myofascial release 
  • Pain relief 
  • Toxins removal 
  • Improved body self-healing ability 
  • Improved neural activity 
  • Reduced stress and improved relaxation 

During the initial assessment, before treating the dog, massage (CMT) therapist will perform patient evaluation, which involves observation of dog’s posture, gait assessment, palpation exam and collect information on dog’s previous medical history to adequately plan specific massage treatment.

Massage therapy is generally a pleasant experience for the patient and rewarding for the therapist since the dog can clearly demonstrate where he enjoys the massage and where more or less pressure or a different technique is required, as well as when sufficient massage has been received in one place or one session.

4) Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Herbal Medicine, as well as Acupuncture are parts of a larger healing system called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

The origins of Chinese herbal medicine in China can be traced back at least 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest health care systems in the world. Chinese Herbal Medicine, along with the other components of Chinese medicine, is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang and aims to establish fundamental balance and harmony between the two within the body. 

Chinese herbal therapy uses herbal ingredients in particular combinations or formulas to treat particular disease patterns and can be used in conjunction with western veterinary medicine to treat chronic conditions. 

Proponents of herbal medicine can be used to relieve pain, help improve and restore organ function, and strengthen and support the immune system. 

Herbs can act on the body as powerfully as pharmaceutical drugs and should be treated with the same caution and respect. Clinical strategies are based upon diagnosis of patterns of signs and symptoms that reflect an imbalance (TCM diagnosis).

In addition to providing effective treatment for a wide range of health disorders, Chinese herbal medicine may also be used to assist with general health maintenance and disease prevention. By strengthening and enhancing normal body functions, the immune system is boosted and a general sense of well-being promoted.

Chinese Herbal Therapy is commonly used in fusion with Acupuncture and Massage Therapy. 

Be inspired by Charlie's Story ...

Charlie is an-eleven year old Staffy, who has been my patient for 3 years. He was diagnosed with multiple joints arthritis when he was only 2 years old. When I started treating him it has progressed to severe grade, significantly affecting his mobility and quality of life. He was very sore, had a limp in his right front limb when climbing the stairs and he started losing muscle tissue in his ham string and gluteal muscles. 

After his initial TCM and physical assessment and canine myofunctional therapy/veterinary acupuncture treatment, limping on his front leg disappeared and he was very relaxed and sleepy the rest of the day. 

I have continued treating him regularly with acupuncture and massage, along with his medication prescribed and good diet, helping him manage pain and ensure maximum muscular preservation, proper circulation of blood and Qi and improved mobility. 

Over the years of having him in my care, I have also treated him with veterinary acupuncture for his Damp Heat condition, trigeminal neuralgia, post-surgery recovery and skin issues. Both owner and I were very pleased with the results achieved in treating all those conditions. 

Together we have gone through some tough times, especially in the winter time, but due to his regular massage and acupuncture treatments Charlie is still an energetic and happy dog having few more years of ball chasing and beach walking ahead of him. 

written by Jelena Stojanovic, March 2018 (all rights reserved)

Jelena from Balanced Dogs  is a Veterinary acupuncturist and canine myofunctional therapist that treats dogs at comfort of their own home throughout Sydney Metro. 

She holds a Master of Veterinary Science degree obtained in Europe, certificate for canine myofunctional therapy course from the National College of Traditional Medicine in Victoria, postgraduate study with College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies for Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Certificate in physical therapy course for veterinary professionals from Dogs in Motion and certificate for Dog Behaviourist from the Companion Animal Behavioural Institute.

Additionally, she has done more than 3 years of volunteer work at Jacob Leezak Dog Psychology Center, treating dogs with various mobility impairments, psychological and emotional issues. She does home treatments for All Natural Vet Care clinic and she also volunteers at Monika’s Doggie Rescue helping dogs in need.

She has over 10 years of practice in holistic treatment of animals, through veterinary acupuncture, physical therapy and dog massage, herbal therapy and dietary advice.


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