How do you spot early arthritis symptoms in your dog? What can be done to relieve pain and restore a decent quality of life?
How do you spot early arthritis symptoms in your dog? What can be done to relieve pain and restore a decent quality of life?
. Dr Tracy Lord, D.V.M. had the opportunity to treat sea turtles in a rescue centre that had mobility problems.
About a year ago the dedicated folks at the Marine Stranding and Rescue Center in Virginia Beach, VA brought two sea turtles in to a clinic where I was working for evaluation and possible acupuncture treatments. Both turtles had problems with mobility. There was a small green sea turtle named Frosty who was about the size of a dinner plate and a large loggerhead sea turtle who weighed upwards of two hundred pounds. His name was Atlantis. We decided to give it a try as other therapies were not improving the turtles’ conditions. Amazingly, we found references to a few acupuncture points in turtles..
On every pet care website and vet blog you can read about how beneficial acupuncture is also for pets and animals.
Still there are many of us who stay pretty sceptical:
Answering just this, nobody can give you any guarantees, as always, concerning everything medical and veterinary.
Every patient is a unique individual that responds and reacts to treatment in its very own, unique way. This is a fact and every veterinary acupuncturist will know about this (and hopefully explain this to you at the beginning).
Determining the Success of Acupuncture Treatments for Your Pet
My advice to pet owners is to find an acupuncturist who has received formal training, and is licensed (this is extremely important).
The success of acupuncture depends on a few factors, including:
• The practitioner’s expertise
• The duration and intensity of the condition being treated
• The number, length and consistency of treatments
Statistically, about 25 percent of patients have an amazing response to acupuncture, showing major improvement to the point of a full cure.
Another 50 percent experience dramatic improvement, but with some symptoms still present.
The remaining 25 percent have no response at all.
What these results highlight
The art of medicine — matching up the type of treatment needed to successfully unlock a healing response in your pet — is an important part of deciding what modality to pick.
Sometimes a certain technique works immediately and dramatically. More often there is a period of trying different methods of healing to determine what procedure or combination of procedures provides the most benefit for the animal.
Dr Karen Becker mentions in her article cited above one point which I think needs a bit of explanation:
I always make sure my own clients understand that not every medical condition will need the same timely length of a treatment.
There are conditions that get treated with a single point stimulation for a few seconds and there are other medical problems that require a longer stimulation on different acu points.
The actual length of a treatment session is determined out of the experience of an animal patient’s response to its acupuncture treatment(s). Adjusting a treatment plan to an individual’s condition and response is what takes expertise, practice and experience.
A brilliant idea is to take short videos (on your smartphone, for example) and send this to your veterinary acupuncturist a couple of days after every session.
This is a most valuable help for a practitioner, as you won’t have to describe things in detail and your vet will get an opportunity to see for her-/himself how your pet is doing.
After a few weeks or months these video snippets can be arranged to a longer sequenced video and the progress can be seen very clearly.
Do you think taking short videos of your pet after an acupuncture treatment is something you could do to help increasing efficiency of a treatment plan?
Leave a comment below, because I am interested in your opinion.
In part 1 of pain management and pain behaviors of pets we discussed how pain is expressed in body posture and activity levels.
Besides being able to see if your pet is limping or reluctant to move, it’s helpful to be able to recognize in how much pain an animal actually is. This can make it easier to judge, if it is better to see a vet sooner than later.
In some cases pet owners unknowingly and unwillingly would prolong their pet’s suffering simply because they are not able to decide just how severe their pet’s condition actually is.
Pets are making noises usually in a mild – severe painful situation. However, the intensity of this behavior depends on the individual animal, some are vocalizing when experiencing very mild pain, some would not start to whine or growl before they feel severe pain.
It is often also associated with an animal’s exhausting ability of protecting itself against its near environment/ other animals around it through escape or avoidance of confrontation.
Increasing anxiety will also lead to vocalization.
How do pets express themselves vocally?
Dogs usually would groan, whimper, whine or start to growl.
Cats groan or growl, but often purring is a sign of being un-well and in pain, which is often mistaken as feeling comfortable and well!
Sound effects used on this page Source 1 (Dog growl, cat scream, angry cat) and Source 2 (whining/whimpering dog).
2. Appearance and Facial Expression
Dogs start to focus and express a fixed glare. with their head down. Their appearance is glazed, they show a depressed expression. Often they may be oblivious towards the environment and they usually appear ungroomed.
Cats show abnormal facial expressions, with squinted eyes, dullness, depression and also poorly groomed fur.
Both, dogs and cats that suffer chronic painful conditions may loose hair and their coat looks scruffy, without a shine. Cats in particular stop grooming themselves, which results in a rough, unkempt hair coat.
3. Response of being Handled
There are two main responses to being handled: purposeful movement or passivity. Sometimes animals start to become aggressive towards anyone who attempts to handle or move them. This happens specially during examinations by a veterinarian or if you give first aid.
This can get as far as trying to bite and scratch the handler, often when we try to palpate a hurting body part. Pets may become also defensive when they try to protect the painful body.
Often they try to move away from a handler, as they want to avoid being touched at all.
Passivity occurs when a pet simply “freezes” during examination, or often you can observe how they look at or into the direction of the part of their body that is painful.
A lack of appetite (anorexia) does often occur when an animal is suffering from an acute or chronic painful condition.
Sometimes it is quite hard to determine, if anorexia is present because the animal is in pain or if there are other medical problems causing the inappetence. In this case it is always a good idea to let your pet check out by a professional.
5. “Accidents” in the House
Pets in pain may forget they are potty trained and this usually happens more often the more painful they feel.
The reasons could be feeling too weak or uncomfortable to go outside or use the litter box.
In case of an irritation or inflammation of the lower urinary tract (bladder and urethra) pets will most likely urinate very frequently and feel most uncomfortable.
Would you have known this?
Animals have got their own ways to experience and express pain. Sometimes they show a definite pain behavior that is fairly easy to recognize, but sometimes they don’t and still suffer pain.
Usually it is very difficult to judge just how much an animal suffers. However, there are some specific body positions and behavior patterns that will help you to recognize when your dog or cat is in pain and needs help.
The more intensive pain becomes, pets and animals will alter their body posture and their level of activity.
Postures that are indicating something is wrong in your dog or cat can be a tense or tucked up belly, lying or sitting in an unusual position or showing an abnormal positioning of body parts, for example an extended back leg when sitting down or an extended neck/head.
Some pets are resting in a position you would not see normally: lying on their sternum or being curled up. Also, if awake they may sit or lie in an unusual way or they act like a statue and sit in an upright position, avoiding any movement.
Some pets start to become restless or anxious and some can become rather aggressive.
Often they start to lick or chew the painful area excessively.
For your vet it is really important to know if you observe any changes to your pet’s normal behavior pattern. This information is very useful and usually only you, who sees and lives together with your pet 24/7 will be able to report anything that has changed lately.
Pets that try to avoid to move around suffer from moderate to severe pain. Not moving much is a protective behavior, if pain is induced by locomotion. If they have to move a little you will often see an abnormal gait, such as limping, stiffness or a stilted gait. Beside these signs pets may express pain also by showing more or less aggression or become quite vocal.
Abnormal movement does also include restlessness and continuos activity, circling, thrashing, etc.
On the other hand you can also see reluctance of moving around paired with unresponsiveness and depression.
If a pet does not want to lie down it’s usually because of acute and severe pain in the chest (thorax) or abdomen. Most dogs and cats with painful bellies are trying to sit for hours or get into the so-called praying position, where they put their fronts onto the ground and their back ends into the air.
They may also try to sit down frequently or avoid sitting down altogether and instead prefer standing for hours. If they fall asleep they usually sink to the ground and wake up suddenly (because of the pain) to go immediately back into their sitting or standing position.
Continuos activity and restlessness are signs of feeling uncomfortable. Dogs and cats that try to change body positioning very often, will be standing up and lying down in a different position again and again. Dogs and cats in severe pain will show this behavior, which goes often hand in hand with anxiousness and/or even aggression and in very bad cases they may become dangerous to manage.
Acute pain can cause a pet to become submissive and depressed. Depression is on the other side more associated with chronic medical conditions that are painful.
The more severe pain gets, the more often you will see a protective behavior and aggression even in animals that are normally never aggressive at all. Handling or even only touching your pet can result in your pet trying to bite you.
Dogs can become quite fearful and timid, whereas cats try to hide or escape to a place where they are not being disturbed and feel safe.
If bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments of extremities are injured you will usually observe lameness. This can be expressed in more or less obvious limping. Limping means less weight bearing which is helping to avoid more damage to the already injured area and tissue structures. Limping does also decrease the pain sensation that is associated with weight bearing.
Stiffness, reluctance to move and a stilted gait are often seen when your pet suffers from arthritis and/or osteoarthritis in the hips. Some dogs would try to shift more weight onto the front legs by positioning their front limbs more backwards.
Acupuncture for cats is becoming an option for gentle pain relief and pain management in cat pets.
There are many conventional pain relieving drugs available for felines, but many of them can cause severe side effects when they are used in the long term. Although there are more and more cat specific and very sophisticated allopathic drugs available, the management of chronic medical conditions is still challenging.
Most cat owners in practice are first of all skeptical, as they usually cannot see that their pet would sit still and relax during treatment. Now to their surprise, feline patients are usually good to needle! Especially, if they are for the time of an acupuncture session gently restrained or sitting on the owner’s lap, they don’t really mind.
Feline patients are usually very good “responders” to treatment. Their nervous system is very reactive and alert due to their nature of a predator. Stimuli set by fine needles at specific points over their body are normally quite effective and result in a good treatment response.
Having used acupuncture for cats in recovery after major orthopedic surgery and for cats with chronic musculoskeletal problems, it is remarkable how well these patients recovered.
One of my patients was a young cat that suffered a complicated fracture of the hind leg. After successful orthopedic surgery she started to lick that leg excessively and would not bare weight on it at all, even after a few weeks not. Her vet made a decision to try acupuncture treatment before thinking of amputating the leg and the patient got referred to me.
Not only that this cat would sit relaxed on a table during all treatments, but she also made a very speedy recovery and would start to use her leg after 3 -4 sessions. After 8 sessions, she could walk again very well and she stopped licking that leg finally.
Her owners have been very skeptical at the beginning and were very surprised to see their cat being so patient and relaxed during our treatment sessions.
With a proper diagnosis of the medical condition a cat suffers from, acupuncture can help to modulate pain, stimulate self healing processes and reactions within the feline body, stimulate the immune system and improve well-being.
Arthritis in cats, a medical condition that gets still often overlooked by owners and sometimes also by vets, is worth to treat with acupuncture. Usually we would integrate this alternative therapy into your vet’s conventional treatment plan and try to achieve good pain relief. Many patients may not even need conventional pain relief drugs any more or only sporadically.
Cats function differently and they are not “small dogs”. Unfortunately, they were considered as such for a long time, but as veterinary medicine gets more sophisticated a whole new world of feline physiology and pharmacology opens in front of us.
Where vets didn’t have a great choice of pain relief for their feline patients a decade ago, they have got now specific preparations with precise dosage at hands. Side effects are very much reduced through this, but still the long term management of certain medical conditions is challenging:
Therefore, gentle alternatives, such as cat acupuncture or cat acupressure may become an important pillar of the management of long term conditions.
Many veterinary practitioners offer nowadays canine acupuncture therapy. It is a treatment modality that is easily integrated into a conventional veterinary treatment plan.
For instance, dogs suffering from arthritic pain or recovering from surgery will show often dramatic improvement or a speedy recovery.
A lot of dogs that have got a chronic and painful medical condition can be helped to achieve a better quality of life with consistent, regular treatments.
They are usually becoming more active again which helps to:
Canine osteoarthritis can become very painful, especially when affected joints start to degenerate and cartilage wears off. Dogs suffering from this debilitating disease benefit from acupuncture therapy.
In more severe cases it should be combined with conventional anti inflammatory medication and effective joint supplements. Less severely affected canine patients may get pain relief without the need of NSAID drugs.
A lot of my patients are of older age and canine acupuncture treatment is in many cases not only relieving pain, but they seem to become more energetic again: their owners often find that they are keener to go for regular walks, have a good appetite again, regular motions and an all-over improved quality of life.
Fact is, if older pets‘ mobility improves, muscles will get stronger and their flexibility increases usually with regular exercise. Not to mention their weight can be controlled more easily.
Many retired racing Greyhounds seem to suffer from myofascial pain caused by trigger points, that are located in muscles of the shoulder belt. This is a very painful condition which may get better with needling acu points in these specific areas.
Especially rescued ex racing dogs may benefit from regular treatments. Cases of lameness that do not involve joints or bone structures, may get better or even get resolved over time.
Canine acupuncture treatment may help dissolve many common dog health problems. Just keep in mind, there are limitations and it is not a “cure-all” therapy.
Also, the more precise the actual diagnosis is, the better results can be achieved with acupuncture therapy as an addition to the usual treatment plan.