Acupuncture and hydrotherapy for your pets
00:00 15 January 2016
Rufus is a big dog but he doesn’t mind being turned into a canine pin-cushion. In fact, he becomes a bit of a pussycat, as Emily Rothery discovers
Acupuncture, derived from ancient Chinese medicine, is becoming increasingly accepted in western society as a treatment for both people and animals. When it comes to applying this system of healing, Appleby vet Helen Gould has a special touch.
Rufus, a seven-year-old Doberman, certainly seems to think so and his owner Shirley whole-heartedly agrees. ‘Rufus has had acupuncture with other vets who have been very good,’ she says. ‘But Helen has a magic touch.’
Rufus had surgery at the age of two after tearing his cruciate ligament. The vet who replaced and relocated the ligament and put a metal plate in his leg did a wonderful job but predicted that after about three years Rufus would get arthritis. He did - and almost to the day.
‘Despite surgery, Rufus has had a good quality of life and because he was so young I wanted to look at what could be done for him without using drugs,’ says Shirley. ‘When we recently moved to Cumbria one of the priorities, when choosing a home, was to find a good acupuncturist. I certainly found one in Helen.
‘In fact, when I bring Rufus for his treatment he starts to make happy noises in the car as we approach Appleby and he realises that he is on his way to visit the vet.’
Helen, the owner of Old Hall Veterinary Practice, qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 1987 and then travelled to China to study veterinary acupuncture for six months.
‘I have practiced it ever since,’ she says. ‘The technique is based on the belief that qi (pronounced ‘chee’) or vital energy flows around the body through channels called meridians. If the flow is disrupted it can result in disease or pain so acupuncture is used to increase or decrease the flow and restore the balance. It involves inserting very fine needles in specific anatomical points and has been found to influence nerve pathways, reducing pain responses and causing the release of endorphins.
‘Nearly all dogs really like acupuncture and will come for treatment wagging their tails. It’s a very relaxing experience for them. Not all dogs will lie down but Rufus is a rather a star. I treat both sides of his body to keep things balanced and he is always calm and obliging.’
Dobermans are often stereotyped as being ferocious but Rufus is clearly a loyal and affectionate boy and sits on the rug without fuss. Shirley is there to reassure him and as Helen quietly begins the treatment he begins to pant a little. ‘It’s a warming experience so dogs will often pant or blow bubbles,’ explains Helen.
As she continues to insert the needles into different parts of Rufus’s body his eyes begin to glaze over and he gradually slides to the floor and to a lying position. He is totally relaxed and makes no attempt to move until Helen takes the needles out indicating that the first side has been treated. Rufus, at this point, normally just stands up and happily turns over. Helen is treating the arthritis in his stifle, or knee joint in his back leg, and inserts 13 needles, which usually remain in place between 10 and 30 minutes, in different parts of his body.
Shirley tells me that Rufus also benefits from hydrotherapy. ‘I take him to Fylde Coast Canine Hydrotherapy in Blackpool where I grew up. It’s often said that Dobermans don’t like swimming but no one told Rufus that! He loves swimming in the warm pool and I feel that it helps to keep his body aligned and strengthen his muscles. It works well alongside acupuncture, which he has every two weeks. I will know when he needs his next treatment as he will become subdued.’
When Helen finishes the session Rufus quickly gets to his feet, full of energy and on high alert. ‘Most animals are sleepy after acupuncture but not Rufus – he’s a full on boy. But I treat all animals differently depending on their condition, personality and responses. Acupuncture can also be used alongside Western medicine with no side effects.
‘Most clients tell me that they can see a difference after treatment. They usually tell me that their pet is happier or that their dog can now jump into the car, which he hasn’t been able to do for months. Epileptic fits can be controlled and I have one little dog that hasn’t had a fit since starting treatment.’
Helen currently works with small animals using conventional medicine as well as acupuncture but has had success with larger animals too including horses, cows, sheep and goats.
Cat owner, Joanne Mills, explains how even the feistiest creatures can respond positively to Helen’s caring touch. ‘Just over a year ago my beloved 14-year-old Maine Coon, William, developed severe arthritis and, alongside medication, the vet advised a course of acupuncture. I have to admit that I was sceptical at first- my boy knows his own mind and if he doesn’t want to do something then there is no argument, it doesn’t happen.
‘With some trepidation Wills and I went along to his first acupuncture session – it was like magic. Helen should be renamed the “Cat Whisperer” as Wills adored her from the start. Her calm and caring manner relaxed him straight away and within five minutes he was stretched out on the cushion, eyes closed in a reverie of total cat bliss. The needles were duly placed – not a movement or flick of the tail from our Wills and he remained in a state of Zen-like stillness throughout the session.
‘The benefits were apparent immediately. William’s mobility has improved markedly and he has regained some of his youthful exuberance, which was fantastic to see. I am so grateful to have my boy back to his usual clumsy, endearing, loveable self.’