(Published in the Caymanian Compass Weekender, Friday, November 29, 2013)
Getting around had become increasingly tough for Peg, a much loved three-legged Cayman rescue dog. As a result of spending more than eight years walking on just three legs, Peg had been experiencing increasing shoulder and back pain. While prescribed pills and ointments helped ease some of the chronic pain, true relief has come in a more unusual treatment – acupuncture.
“When the vet suggested we try acupuncture, I was skeptical to say the least,” says Lesley Agostinelli, Peg’s owner. “But Peg’s pain was bad; it was at the point where he wouldn’t use one of his front legs due to the pain in his shoulder. I was willing to give it a go.”
As it happened, Dr. Colin Manson of Cayman Animal Hospital had recently returned from a specialist course in pet acupuncture, keen to offer an alternative solution to conventional medications to the pets under his care at his Crewe Road clinic.
Manson says pet owners are increasingly turning to alternative and natural therapies to help heal their four-legged companions. The ancient Chinese medical practice of acupuncture can help soothe a range of maladies, including hip dysplasia in dogs, cystitis in felines or even muscle strain in a rabbit.
“Acupuncture therapy has certainly filled a gap, adding to the resources that we already have,” Manson says. “It’s not going to work for every patient, but we have seen really positive responses in the short time we have been offering it at the clinic.”
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the body for pain relief, or in some cases to help with the treatment of disease. While Manson’s technique is based on a more Westernized approach, the theory is rooted in the traditional Chinese practice to manipulate the body’s flow of energy.
“The needles are placed in specific areas to block the pain messages and encourage the brain and central nervous system to produce more of the body’s natural painkillers,” Manson explains.
Manson first encourages the dog to get in a comfortable position, before feeling for tell-tale muscle knots and trigger points, areas where the muscles have thickened and spasmed. During a treatment, up to 30 needles can be used, although this will often depend on how well the individual animal tolerates the session.
Like Peg, most dogs tolerate the treatment well, becoming progressively more relaxed during the 30-minute treatment.
While acupuncture may not necessarily offer a cure for an ailment, Manson says it is often the emotional component of pain that acupuncture treats well.
“Pain is a complicated issue and it’s not always just a matter of medicating,” he explains. “Acupuncture has filled a huge gap in between what standard therapy can do and what we would like to have as a result. It doesn’t work on every pet, but we have seen really good results so far, particularly animals with ongoing pain issues.”
Manson adds, “Often an animal in pain won’t want to play ball anymore, won’t wag their tale. For some of the more debilitating animals, what we actually notice is not a change in their lameness, but a change in their attitude. They seem much more content, much more interactive and much more responsive.”
Indeed, it is this exact response that is seen so well in Peg.
“Peg has a new lease on life,” Agostinelli says. “There’s a real change in his character. He stands taller and has his spring back. The response really has been amazing.”