The phrase ‘alternative medicine’ gets tossed around a lot in the healthcare industry, but we seldom think to apply the many techniques talked about to our dogs. In reality, a dog’s physiology (how the body functions) is pretty close to a humans, and though not all of them, many treatments that work well with people can also have similar effects with our animals.
Acupuncture, for example, is an immensely popular component of western medicine, as is homeopathy. Both message and aromatherapy offer very effective stress relief, calming both owner and pet. When it comes to physical recovery, there are few treatments better than hydrotherapy; you would be hard pressed to find a therapist who is opposed to it.
Using needles to stimulate the body's pressure points, or Acupuncture, is an extremely old holistic form of treatment stretching back thousands of years! In fact, Acupuncture is still a very popular treatment in countless eastern countries (eastern medicine). Acupuncture is used in the United States as well, but isn’t as popular as it is in other countries.
Many ancient Chinese medical practitioners believed that ‘needling’ along various points of the body helped enhance the flow of ‘chi’, or energy, promoting better health.
Even if you don’t believe in ‘chi’, acupuncture does make sense from a traditional, physiological and scientific standpoint. According to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, specific needling in particular points helps stimulate the release of chemicals throughout the body's muscles, spinal cord and brain.
- Helps relieve joint and muscle pain
- Encourage healing after trauma or surgery
- Helps treat symptoms of disease, diabetes or cancer
Does it Hurt?
You’ve probably seen or are thinking of those television images of men with hundreds of needles protruding from their backs. In reality, acupuncture is meant to target specific areas, and rarely hurts people. People might report a dull ache along the needle insertion points, but even that is rare.
Of course, dogs don’t perceive or feel pain to the level a human does. In most cases your dog probably won’t even know there is a needle protruding from his skin at all, let alone feel any pain.
Physical therapy in water, or Hydrotherapy, is an extremely popular treatment for both humans and dogs. With water, you get a light resistance with the benefit of buoyancy; your body (or your dog’s) no longer needs to support itself under the full pressure of gravity.
Hydrotherapy is great for dogs that need a ‘low impact’ form of exercise. This can include aging pets, those recovering from injuries or even surgery. Hydrotherapy can even be beneficial for dogs suffering from a developmental disorder or underdeveloped mental condition. This is a great form of exercise for older dogs suffering from arthritis.
In a typical session of Hydrotherapy, your dog will be gently guided through a pool of heated water, around 15-30 minutes of either swimming or walking along a moving treadmill submerged within a shallow pool. Sometimes a harness or life jacket is used, depending on your dog’s comfort level or swimming skill.
Hydrotherapy helps too:
Offer gentle resistance
Most breeds already naturally love the water. Grey wolves, their ancestors, are very comfortable swimming. Even though some breeds are not good swimmers, like Pugs or Bulldogs (for example), lifejackets can provide much needed safety and the animals are always closely observed.
- Extremely popular, and effective treatment for various types of physical therapy or recovery
Perhaps one of the single most popular alternative medical treatments for dogs listed here, canine message is used by countless veterinarians and animal lovers alike. Just like human message, canine massage helps stimulate healing by doing things like:
- Enhancing blood flow in certain areas
- Relaxing muscles
- Improving nerve stimulation
- Offering stress relief
While both veterinarians and dog owners alike may argue as to its physiological effectiveness with healing, everyone can agree on two overwhelming things. Canine message simply feels good, and anything that feels good to the dog can help improve the bond they share with their owners, or even help them feel more relaxed at the veterinarian’s office.
Though canine massage isn’t often cheap, running from $50- $120 (USD) an hour in some areas, the specialist performing this treatment is both highly specialized and certified. Just like human therapists, there is quite a bit of education and experience that goes into becoming licensed to perform canine message.
Can Anyone Do This?
All that being said, with a little research, anyone at home can learn some simple touch therapy practices themselves! Where it wasn’t available before, anyone with internet access can even watch easy to follow videos online today.
- Improves relaxation
- Increases circulation
- Reduces stress
- Relieves anxiety
- Enhances pet-owner relationship
- Many other benefits
Not only does it work wonders with humans, the great scents aromatherapy has to offer can go a long way to offer stress relief for pets! Since their sense of smell is much more acute than ours, less is required for a similar outcome. Your veterinarian would surely be glad to discuss whether or not aromatherapy can help your pet, and a professional aroma therapist can easily help guide your dog any you through treatment.
We’ve all enjoyed that scented candle before, but he ancient art of aromatherapy depends on the understanding of the deeper effects of the scents plants, flowers and trees have to offer, how to effectively combine them, and most importantly- how to apply these scents for optimal benefits.
Aromatherapy also offers a secondary effect most owners wouldn’t think of right away. It relaxes the human!
You are probably wondering how that matters when it comes to our dogs, but the answer is actually quite simple. Out pets are easily able to read our body language, often better than other people do, and frequently mirror our own emotional state. If our dogs are in pain or distressed, our stressful, nervous emotions only work to amplify theirs. It is far better, and healthier for both parties, if the owner always remains calm, even cheerful.
- Helps relieve injury related stress for animal
- Helps relieve stress for human, in turn calming animal
Chinese Herbal Medicine
The Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine claims the use of herbal medicine in combination with western veterinary treatment has been shown to be very effective in treating chronic conditions on top of acute injuries. In fact, herbal medicine (homeopathic treatment) is a very popular, age old method used throughout the world!
Most accredited veterinary practitioners do note that Chinese herbal medicine is best used in combination with western veterinary treatments as part of a longer-term plan. Certain herbs can cause side effects when used in conjunction with medications, so it’s important that treatment is monitored by a doctor of veterinary medicine, and not just anyone.
Supporters of herbal treatments claim it can do things like offer pain relief, help repair and restore damaged or degraded organs, and offer immune system support!
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve cognitive health
- Improve quality of sleep
- Lower stress
- Enhance muscle strength & flexibility
That brings us to homeopathic treatments, age old techniques used throughout the world! Homeopathy is based on a simple belief system: If encouraged, the body can heal itself. Homeopathy utilizes varying amounts of naturally occurring substances, such as plants or minerals. Homeopathy is extremely popular in both European countries and many middle eastern areas, but isn’t quite as common in the United States.
In a way, homeopathy is meant to trigger the body's natural immune response by causing similar symptoms in a lower quantity. Because a dog’s physiology is so similar to a humans, these techniques can also be applied to them as pets!
Most homeopathic treatments are common and simple to locate. You can find many at health food stores, some pharmacies, and almost anything can be found on any number of internet sites. Homeopathic treatment for dogs does have a pretty particular set of rules, however, and shouldn’t be taken lightly- especially since our dogs can’t ‘voice’ their issues exactly like a human does. Some examples include:
- Apis Mellifica for insect bites
- Arnica for general pain, stiffness & musculoskeletal injuries
- Arsenicum Album for GI upset from eating spoiled food
- Calendula for skin infections
- Hypericum for pain due to nerve damage
Magnetic Field Therapy
The use of magnetic fields in order to treat debilitating injuries or illnesses is another treatment method, although not quite as well known as the others above. According to the Veterinary Clinics of America, magnetic field therapy is most often used to increase the healing rate from injuries or wounds, and sometimes used to treat chronic joint or connective tissue issues. Older dogs suffering from arthritic conditions may benefit from this.
On the other hand, magnetic field therapy isn’t the most popular treatment among medical professionals, and well-grounded scientific evidence supporting the use of magnets for treatment isn’t as easy to find as many of the others mentioned here.
That being said, magnetic field therapy is cost effective, doesn’t show any dangerous side effects, and many animal lovers do indeed support the treatment method. Feel free to discuss the pros and cons of magnetic field treatment with your own vet!
Dog chiropractors treat a wealth of muscular, skeletal or joint problems more common in older dogs and certain breeds. Dog chiropractors can be a great asset to dogs suffering from several mobility issues also. If your dog seems to be having trouble walking, getting around, or simply getting up, be sure to ask your veterinarian about this!
In order to specialize in this area of treatment, medical professionals must already have either a veterinary degree or human chiropractor degree (DVM or DC). Though human doctors don’t need to be veterinarians in order to do this, they are still highly educated and must go through animal chiropractic certifications. This normally amounts to 210 hours of study under a program approved by the Animal Chiropractic Certification Commission.
Dog chiropractors also work with animal athletes (such as agility competitors), service dogs (like those trained to pull wheelchairs) and police dogs. If you work with sled dogs or participate in active sports like Skijoring, this area of treatment could be beneficial!
Nutrition and Diet
Last but not least, we have your dog’s nutritional health to talk about, perhaps the most important concern listed here only because it applies to every dog out there, not to mention the millions currently suffering from weight related issues, and in turn the overall health and mobility impacted.
Unfortunately, as large commercial entities strive to mass produce the cheapest product possible (not the healthiest), in turn earning them the most amount of money possible, countless chemical preservatives, GMO’s, pesticides and unsavory ingredients not fit for human consumption come into play.
Believe it or not, the diet of today’s average dog is stretching further and further away from what wild dogs and wolves are biologically intended to eat.
You don’t necessarily need to go all out, providing a strict homegrown vegan diet, but try and research/learn the basic nutritional requirements of a healthy dog. In fact, dogs are scientifically classified as carnivores, and much of their diet should consist of animal fats and meat proteins, with only about 15-20% carbs.
Thanks to enormous pet food manufacturers, that diet has sadly shifted to mostly plant products, and far more carbs than a natural diet would provide.
With all these alternative medicine treatments for dogs available, there literally is something for every pet owner. Even if your pet is completely healthy, both dogs & owners can benefit from massage techniques or aromatherapy methods. Whether you believe in the benefits of homeopathy and acupuncture or not, there are no side effects of simple research, and there is literally something for everyone!