For the past few years, Grace, nearly 14, has been suffering from seizures, a thyroid condition and spondylosis, a painful condition of the spine that affects the mobility of her middle and lower back.
Even with contemporary medicine and therapy, her mother, Val Hartouni, says most days Grace can’t even make it up and down the stairs or into the car without whimpering, if at all.
“I knew the treatments weren’t working as effectively as they could be, and we needed to try something different,” she says, scratching Grace’s head, as the Siberian husky—about 98 in people years—looks up at her owner with pained, crystal-blue eyes.
We’re on the tile floor of a treatment room at , where Grace is about to undergo her bi-weekly acupuncture treatment, which she’s been doing for just over a year.
A severe migraine sufferer who turned to acupuncture for relief from her own aches a couple of years ago, Hartouni said she had the idea to try the same for Grace.
“Acupuncture is the only thing that would work for me, so I was hopeful that this might be a good option for her too,” she says.
Grace lies on a soft blanket, comforted by our cooing voices and a handful of meaty treats nearby. As her vet, Dr. Lauren Brower, a resident at the hospital and of Laguna Beach, begins to insert needles—about the length of a sewing needle—into the dog’s placement points, Grace appears relaxed and unfazed.
Brower explains that although she always uses Western medicine first, she believes in complementing treatments with alternative therapies when possible. And she always assesses a patient through a modern exam, blood work and radiograph X-rays before implementing any alternative (Chinese) treatments.
“I really do think there is something to it,” she says. “It’s a slower process to healing, and it doesn’t work for all pets, but most have a positive response.”
Having tried acupuncture herself, Brower says she knows firsthand that it can be effective. She even performs it every couple of months on her own Chihuahua, Stella, who suffers from tummy troubles.
She’ll insert about 25 needles along Grace’s head, back and hind today, which she’ll leave in for 15 minutes. The number of needles and duration of time, she says, varies according to the patient and ailments.
“This type of treatment is really great for conditions like joint pain, gastro-intestinal problems, skin diseases and asthma in cats,” Brower says. “But it can really be used for almost anything.”
As Grace waits patiently and with little complaint, Brower attempts to simply explain the theories of Chinese medicine.
“A person's—or pet’s—health is influenced by the flow of chi (energy force) in the body,” she says. “Chi consists of all essential life activities including spiritual, emotional, mental and physical aspects of life. It flows through the body along pathways, comprised of two parts (yin and yang). Yin and yang are opposites, but, when in balance, work together. Any upset in the balance leads to disease.”
Acupuncture points, she continues, are specific locations where meridians—in which energy flows up and down—come to the surface of the skin and are accessible by acupuncture needles. Flow of energy can be redirected with these needles, therefore creating balance and wellness.
“New (scientific) studies have shown proof that acupuncture has measurable response and that stimulation of various points result in specific changes to the central nervous system,” Brower says. “We know that it has pain-relieving properties and can also measure increased levels of serotonin (calming agent), cortisol (natural steroid) and endorphins (pain control).”
And one of the main advantages, she says, is that acupuncture has significantly fewer incidences of adverse effects compared to medications used to treat the same conditions.
“It provides another option when we have run out of options in Western medicine, or when a patient cannot tolerate the medications to treat disease,” she concludes.
As she begins to pluck the thin silver sticks from her patient—making sure not to miss any that may be hidden in the thick grayish-black fur coat—Grace already appears more energetic than when she came in.
She hops to her paws, scurrying her owner out the door as if to shout “Let’s go, I’m ready to play!”
Hartouni says this is typical of her visits.
“On the way here, I had to lift her into the back seat,” she says. “Post-procedure, she can always do it herself. And then she goes home and plays with our new puppy, which she normally doesn’t have the energy to do.”
For more information about pet acupuncture, or to discuss alternative treatments for your pet, click up the Canyon Animal Hospital site link in the story.