From herbs to acupuncture

New trends in pet health

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: Sundance, 12, receives acupuncture from Dr. Susan Rogers-Swaney at Veterinary Alternatives in Yellow Springs; photo: Evan Leis

True or False: Acupuncture can help dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives. The answer is true.

About 4,000 years ago, acupuncturists discovered a way to transpose acupuncture points used on humans to animals. The results were impressive and the method dubbed “Transpositional Acupuncture” has been used with great success ever since. In recent years, not only has Transpositional Acupuncture gained in popularity in the West, but other forms of alternative healing have, too.

From Chinese herbal medicine to Reiki to Cranial Sacral massage, methods that were once used only on humans have become commonplace in maintaining good health and promoting healing in animals. For diseases and injuries ranging from chronic arthritis to allergies, diabetes and gastrointestinal disorders and traumatic injuries such as paralysis, burns and even pregnancy, alternative therapies provide relief and promote healing when surgery or modern medicines are either too dangerous or won’t be beneficial.

So do alternative therapies actually work? Casey, a gorgeous, well-mannered 12 year-old Terrier/Shiatsu mix, would answer with a resounding “yes!” Casey first went to see Dr. Julia Servaites of Veterinary Alternatives in Kettering, after his owner, Pat Murray found him hunched up and in a lot of pain. He took him to his regular veterinarian, who told him the problem was muscular and gave him some medicine. The medicine didn’t work and after sitting with him for hours on end while he whimpered in pain, Murray became desperate for answers. He started digging and found Doctor Julie Servaites. Dr. Servaites took one look at Casey and knew it was an allergic reaction resulting in seizures, not a muscular issue. She treated him with some gentle acupuncture therapy and Casey was fine in no time.

Casey and his owner now visit Dr. Servaites for acupuncture regularly to treat his allergies and back pain with amazing results. As active and playful as he is, you would never believe Casey is 12 years old, a true testament to the value of ancient wisdom. In fact, a large percentage of Dr. Servaites’ patients are elderly, which she attributes to the fact they are living much longer because of the better health maintenance and faster healing times that alternative therapies provide. Casey’s owners, Pat Murray and Shirley Meyers agree.

“It’s really amazing to think that I almost put him down because he was in so much pain, now look at him,” Murray says. “He’s a brand new dog!”

Casey isn’t an isolated case. He and thousands of other animals across the country have been saved by alternative medicine when other, more traditional treatments failed. In fact, a wall in the hallway at Bigger Road Veterinary Clinic has a collage of happy pets who were treated successfully.

So what exactly are alternative therapies, anyway? Simply put, alternative therapies are methods of healing or disease prevention that are not taught in orthodox medical schools such as those in the United States. They include acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage therapy, Chinese herbal medicine, reiki and so on.

Some therapies, such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, date back thousands of years while others, such as laser therapy and underwater treadmills, are more modern.

How it works

Each modality has its own special contribution to overall health and healing. Some forms, like acupuncture and reiki manipulate the body’s electrical field to unblock areas of energy flow (also known as “Chi”) to restore the body to maximum health. They operate on the premise that the body’s many electrical functions, such as neural activity in the brain and electrical impulses like those in the heart and nerves, create an electrical field around the body, sometimes called an “aura.” The unobstructed flow of energy in this field is considered vital to optimum health. When an area becomes blocked, the blockage manifests as disease.

Once thought to be rubbish by early Western doctors, new understandings of the how the body works as well as the discovery of electricity have helped change the way we think about and treat the body.

But not all alternative medicine is based on ancient wisdom. Other, more modern forms of alternative therapy including laser therapy and underwater treadmills, using modern science to treat illness and maintain good health. In fact, underwater treadmills help prevent joint damage by keeping muscles strong, help contribute to weight loss in obese pets and help competitors in dog shows keep fit when it’s too cold or too hot to exercise outdoors. It’s also used to rehabilitate animals who have had serious knee, hip and spine injuries and who are paralyzed. Over 16,000 dogs have been treated using underwater treadmills in the past 11 years, according to Canine Underwater Treadmills, LLC.

K Laser therapy, cleared by the FDA in 2002, is another modern invention that uses infrared light to aid unhealthy tissues by increasing the amount of activity the cells produce. This leads to better nutrient flow, which helps the cells heal and function better. The result is that pain and swelling are decreased, which helps contribute to a much shorter healing time. It is often used to treat ailments such as osteoarthritis, post-traumatic injuries, post-surgical pain, burns, chronic pain, wounds and much more.

The procedure is entirely painless and animals often find that the subtle warmth the procedure creates is soothing. The laser is small, quiet and entirely non-invasive. Like acupuncture sessions, pet owners can relax and enjoy some quiet bonding with their pets while they are being treated, even if that bonding time consists of the pet snoozing in their laps.

Perhaps the most common and well-known therapy, though, is nutritional counseling. According to Dr. Megan Strahler DVM, of Bigger Road Veterinary Care, “Nutritional counseling is the cornerstone of good health.”

Proper nutrition helps keep the body running as efficiently as possible and provides the building blocks for healing, cell regeneration and tissue growth. There is even an old Ayurvedic Proverb that says, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

Happy Fido, happy you

From acupuncture to underwater treadmills, alternative therapies help our fuzzy (and not-so-fuzzy) friends in a variety of ways. First, they are much less invasive than surgery. For pets who suffer from diabetes, this can be a real life-saver. Having non-invasive alternatives also helps pets heal a lot faster, since their bodies can focus on healing the disease, not new wounds created by surgery. Another real benefit is that by not exposing pets to the many toxins found in modern pharmaceuticals, pet owners are helping them maintain their current health, while healing any ailments they may have. Alternative therapies are also very relaxing to animals. Reducing anxiety lowers stress levels and helps promote healing.

Says Dr. Julia Servaites, “Alternative medicine works when all else fails, it can reduce pain, anxiety and help with mobility.” But alternative therapies aren’t just used for treating illnesses. The main focus of alternative therapy is actually to maintain good health. By keeping pets relaxed, helping them eat properly and get the most exercise they can, pet owners are not only helping them to live longer, they are providing them with a much better quality of life. In fact, both Dr. Servaites and Dr. Strahler agree the majority of their patients saw a remarkable improvement in their quality of life after starting an alternative care program. Carmen Kolz, VT, BS of Canine Underwater Treadmills, LLC says, “Almost 85 percent of our clients are elderly with ages 9, 10 and 11 being the most common.”

There are two essential differences between “Western” and “Alternative” medicine. First, Western esoteric medicine primarily uses pharmaceutical medications and/or surgery to treat illnesses. The primary mode of thought in Western medicine is to treat and, when possible, cure illnesses. The downside is there are always risks with surgeries and medicines. Alternative medicine differs in that the primary focus is to maintain health, rather than wait until illness strikes. It also differs in the modalities in which illnesses are treated. Medicines such as Chinese herbs are usually only used in addition to (and only when absolutely needed) other treatments such as acupuncture, which helps heal the body without subjecting it to potentially harmful substances. Unlike Western medicine, which often poses risks to a pet’s health and safety, many alternative therapies are risk-free.

Reiki, for example, can never be misused or even done wrong. It is healing in its purest essence.

If we think of the body in terms of a machine, Western medicine would say, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Alternative medicine would say, “A well-oiled machine runs better for a longer time.”

More and more, doctors in the West are recognizing the importance of healthy habits and the connection between the body and mind. Alternative medicine is not an all-or-nothing form of medicine. Quite often, alternative therapies are used in conjunction with Western medicine as a way to speed the healing process and prevent illness from forming or coming back. For example, many pet owners will give their pet immunizations to prevent diseases and still take them in to run an underwater treadmill, or receive acupuncture to keep aging joints from becoming stiff and sore.

Even owners of competitive animals like show dogs are finding that alternative therapies work in a number of different ways. Therapeutic massage, reiki, K laser therapy and acupuncture for example, all help ease muscle pain after a strenuous workout, which will encourage the animals to continue their fitness regimen and alleviate any suffering they may experience, while pharmaceuticals like Glucosamine Chondroitin help repair damage to joints and ligaments.

Know before you go

Regardless of how pet owners choose to treat their pets medically, there are a few things they should always keep in mind. The first is their quality of life. Sometimes, pets reach a point where even alternative therapies can no longer help them achieve a suitable quality of life. The question then becomes one of a more ethical and moral choice.

The second thing to consider is cost. Unfortunately, some alternative therapies are still not covered by pet insurances. It’s always a good idea for pet owners to check their policies to make sure that services are covered before making a decision. Last, but certainly not least, pet owners should always monitor their pet and adjust therapy/treatment accordingly. Like people, pets respond to therapies differently. While some pets like our furry friend Casey, may love acupuncture, other very active pets may be annoyed by having to stay in a single room for any length of time. As with any form of health care, always do some research before trying something new.

For more information and treatment options, contact:

Bigger Road Veterinary Alternatives (Kettering Location)

5655 Bigger Road

Kettering, Ohio 45440


937-435-1319 (fax)

Bigger Road Veterinary Alternatives (Springboro Location)

730 N. Main Street

Springboro, Ohio 45066


937-514-7782 (fax)

Veterinary Alternatives (Centerville Location)

21 E. Ridgeway Ave.

Centerville, OH 45459


937-528-2759 (fax)

Veterinary Alternatives (Yellow Springs Location)

111 N. Winter St.

Yellow Springs, OH 45387


Canine Underwater Treadmills, LLC

754 North Main (US 741)

Springboro, OH 45066



For pet owners to enjoy themselves:

The Earth’s Center

27 1/2 East Main Street

Tipp City, OH 45371


Reach DCP freelance writer  Lisa Bennett at

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Lisa Bennett
Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at

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