When Western medicine fails…

dog acupunctureToday, I want to discuss alternative modalities with you. Let’s talk about dog acupuncture.

One of my passions is teaching pet owners, like you, how to keep your pets healthier throughout the course of their lives. Luckily, especially if we start early enough, most of that can be done with the right food, supplements, and environment. Things you can do from home.

But sometimes, we need something else. Sometimes, bodies get out of balance and we need a little bit of help getting them back to normal.

That is where some of the alternative options come in.

In our society, we often don’t think about health until something goes wrong. We don’t think about keeping the inflammation reduced in our bodies, or keeping our bodies balanced, until they’re not. And I’m not just talking about a simple infection that hits every once in awhile (although if we’re susceptible to those, it’s often a sign we’re starting to get out of whack). I’m talking about the case of diarrhea that won’t go away, despite all the meds the vet gives us for our dog. I’m talking about the chronic skin issues that don’t want to heal, or metabolic disturbances. I’m talking about any of those problems that may start slowly at first (or sometimes they start all at once, as the inflammation finally hits threshold and we see symptoms), but then nothing the vet does gets them to go away completely.

When these things happen, you still have to look at the diet and nutrition. As we’ve discussed in many other blog posts, you can never get the same level of improvement if you don’t look at the diet.

But sometimes, it takes more than that.

Unfortunately, I learned this from personal experience. Boomer had diarrhea for 2 years, starting when he was 2 years old. I also went through some major health issues that took years to resolve. So I started looking into alternative modalities out of sheer desperation.


Acupuncture was the first modality in which I became certified. And when I started the class, I had no idea what acupuncture could do. I literally had never seen or experienced it. But I knew it could help with painful dogs, and as the owner of a dog with severe hip dysplasia (my rottweiler Wazzu could barely walk by the time he was 2 years old), that was enough for me to get started.

When I walked into that first class, I didn’t realize I was entering a whole new world.

Within a few days, my eyes were opened to possibilities that I hadn’t even known existed.

First of all, learning acupuncture was like going to vet school all over again. Because I attended a course that taught both the Western scientific rationale and the Chinese methodology, I had to learn a whole new system of diagnosis.

In Chinese medicine, you don’t think about things like inflammation, bacteria, viruses, or arthritis. You think about things like Qi, yin and yang balance, and the five organ systems.

You think about whether the body is balanced, whether one system is excessive or deficient, and how that affects the other systems.

You look at the body as a whole, and realize that every part of the body impacts the balance of the other parts of the body.

It’s a whole different way of thinking than I was originally taught.

And it provides a whole different method of treatment than what we’re used to in Western medicine.

This was revolutionary for me. And for many of my clients, as we started applying it to their patients.

We started treating cases that up until then, I had no way of treating.

We started reducing doses of medications because the acupuncture made such a difference in their bodies.

Not only were we using acupuncture to reduce pain in arthritic older dogs, but we were using it to treat internal medicine disorders. We were using it to boost immune systems, reduce anxiety, and treat allergies.

Wally the non-Cushing’s dog

One of my earliest cases was a dog named Wally. He was older, and he was showing all the classic signs of Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s disease is an overproduction of the stress hormones (cortisol) by the adrenal glands. Basically, the adrenal glands are out of control. It can be because of an actual adrenal gland growth, or it can be based higher up in the brain.

Either way, the symptoms are similar. Constant panting (especially at night), excessive drinking and urination. Often these dogs will develop a pot belly from the muscles in their body redistributing.

Wally came into the clinic several times for these symptoms. The only problem was that every time we would test him, he came back normal. He did not have Cushing’s disease, according to his blood tests.

We ran the tests several times, several months apart. And we tried a few things, but nothing was helping. I didn’t know what to do for him, Western medicine doesn’t really have many options for those symptoms if Cushing’s isn’t actually the problem.

Luckily for Wally, this was while I was taking my acupuncture class, and his owner was up for experimenting.

Cushing’s disease in Chinese medicine is a form of yin deficiency. Yin in the darker, wetter, cooling side of the yin/yang balance. When the yin is deficient, it’s like the air conditioner inside of them is broken so they’re hot and dry. So they pant, and they drink water by the bucket.

The first time I did acupuncture on him, I barely even knew what I was doing. I was only halfway through the class. Luckily, one of the major benefits of acupuncture is that it’s very rare to actually make things worse. It is a very safe method of treatment.

So I stuck some needles in. I treated him for a liver imbalance (based on his breed and personality, we’ll talk more about that later), and I treated him for a yin deficiency.

And in the first session, his owner saw improvement. His panting decreased, he started sleeping better.

Over the next few sessions, she also noted that he wasn’t drinking as much water.

This was revolutionary for me. If he had tested positive for Cushing’s, we would have treated him as we always did, started him on a medication that basically suppresses the adrenal glands. If overused, that medication can actually damage the adrenal glands enough to send them in the wrong direction.

Adrenal glands that cannot produce enough stress hormone are actually MORE dangerous for the dog than adrenal glands overproducing. So basically, the medication isn’t a great choice for anyone.

But we would have put him on that medication, because that was the recognized treatment.

The fact that he DIDN’T test positive meant I had to experiment, reach outside of the box.

And the results were fantastic.

We saw dramatic improvement, and we didn’t even have him on potentially dangerous medications.

But, he wasn’t Cushinoid. What about the dogs who ARE positive for Cushing’s?

Well, as always, I will never tell you to discontinue medications without consulting with your veterinarian.

But I will say, I have since treated a couple of dogs who are positive for Cushing’s. And it still makes a difference.

So what’s the moral of today’s story?

For chronic diseases, including metabolic imbalances, alternative modalities can go a lot further towards healing the body than Western medications.

Western medications suppress a problem. Balancing the body can help it heal.

If your dog is dealing with imbalances, it can be worth finding a practitioner in your area.

Have you tried acupuncture with your dog?

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