Pet Acupuncture: Treating Animals With Human Therapies

There is a growing movement to treat animals with the best human treatments.

ByABC News
February 7, 2013, 5:19 PM

Feb. 7, 2013— -- There is a growing movement to treat animals with the best that human medicine has to offer, including physical therapy, hydro-therapy, and even alternative therapies -- acupuncture, to be precise.

When dog owner Joe Bowerman's beloved Shitzu, Snoot, was suffering from chronic back problems, which is common among the breed, and became paralyzed, Bowerman started looking into acupuncture treatments.

"He couldn't use his back," said Snoot's vet Leilani Alvarez of Animal Medical Center in New York City. "Acupuncture works primarily with the central nervous system, so there really isn't an equivalent conventional medicine."

Three million people in the United states use the ancient Chinese therapy for debilitating pain, to help them quit smoking, and more. But at Animal General Hospital, also in New York City, veterinarians are using it extensively for cases like Snoot's.

There, three acupuncture treatments a week cost a $100 a visit.

"You make sacrifices for the things you care about, things that you love," Joe said. "We all do it in a different way. This guy has given me great companionship, and I didn't want to lose him so I made those sacrifices for him."

Delilah's owner Mark Rindler swears that acupuncture made all the difference for the dachshund.

"She has a bad back, a back neck ... and acupuncture saved her life," he said. "We almost had to put her down last August she was in such bad shape. Medicine didn't help."

While animals can't verbalize whether the treatment works or not, their owners said they could see a difference.

"I know it was acupuncture because the other stuff didn't work," Rindler said. "After these treatments, she was like a little puppy again."

But there is a lot of skepticism too. Some veterinarians say there is no science to prove that sticking dogs with tiny needles is good medicine. David Ramey helped shape the guidelines for alternative therapies for animal treatment plans for the American Veterinary Medical Association and said the root of the issue is "there is no consensus" on if acupuncture has any effect on the animal's health.

"You will find some studies that show there is an effect, and you will find that there are studies that show there is no effect whatsoever," Ramey said. "Another half-truth is that there is no such thing as an acupuncture point. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that there is such a thing anatomically."

But even critics can agree that the best medicine for pets is a lot of TLC, which doesn't cost anything and yet, is still priceless.

"I think they should spend time with their animals and take them on walks and massage them and pay attention to them," Ramey said.