Steroids didn’t work, but a treatment of acupuncture and herbs did the trick, Drumm said.
“After one visit, he was stronger, he could stand on his own, he was completely coordinated and he’s now coming in only five times a year,” she said. “He still stays on herbs year-round and comes in for an occasional visit. This was a case of overwhelming success where the people (owners) were considering euthanasia.”
Drumm, a doctor of veterinary medicine certified in veterinary acupuncture, first and foremost practices conventional medicine when she treats animals at Lakeside Animal Hospital in Reno, but when it’s not enough or she needs to accomplish more to get a pet back to health, she uses traditional Chinese medicine. TCM, as it’s abbreviated, is holistic medicine rooted in age-old practices of healing and therapy. Acupuncture is one such approach, in addition to surgery, herbal supplements or antibiotics, and it’s specifically used to treat muscular or skeletal pain issues associated with arthritis, allergies, cancer and other diseases or conditions.
“I’ve been practicing conventional veterinary practice for 10 years and acupuncture for five years,” Drumm said. “As people are choosing more (therapeutic) alternatives for themselves, they’re looking for the same alternative practices for their pets. A lot of people are surprised to find Chinese medicine useful for many of the medical conditions pets have.”
Acupuncture is the application of needles to various points on the body to help exert energy and relieve pain or elicit a physiological response. The number of points vary between human and animal, but for a dog, Drumm said there are 24 specific points that do not correspond anatomically, but they do for a human. Drumm said she feels for active points and inserts a needle where necessary.
But because every animal and condition differ, she said it’s not a formula to insert needles into particular points and expect particular results.
Acupuncture is most useful when a vet can identify the modality, or pattern, of a condition. Then, the needles are applied to those points on an animal’s body to help control the pain.
“It’s certainly useful for internal medicine, to help with nausea, maybe with chemotherapy to help with nausea,” Drumm said. “In most instances you’d use mixtures of modalities, like food therapy. You might use a treatment putting them on food that’s a blood mover … so you can’t isolate (acupuncture) as the only treatment.”
Western medicine is linear in trying to find a root cause of the condition and then figuring out how to treat it. TCM, however, looks for patterns in a pet, such as insufficient heat or too much heat when touching its head, that can be changed by changing its diet, giving it herbs or performing acupuncture to help relieve pain.
Simple symptoms can indicate where acupuncture might be helpful.
“It could be something as simple as panting or restlessness at night,” Drumm said. “You might have an 18-year-old yowling cat and it’s crying and it doesn’t have high blood pressure or hyperthyroidism; it’s a picture of health as far as medicine’s concerned. But say he has a kidney deficiency. If I tonify the kidney, it acts to turn on like an air conditioner and it cools it off, turns off its mind. The yowling at night should improve (lessen).”
Although it’s most commonly performed on dogs and cats, acupuncture can be used to treat horses or smaller animals, such as rabbits or rats. In China, Drumm said, it’s done on animals that are considered economically valuable, including pigs and cows.
It may take about six sessions on average for animals to return to health, but recovery does differ from pet to pet, Drumm said.
However, acupuncture is not always successful, she added. In one instance, a dog that had been hit by a car came into the office with torn nerves and a surgeon said nothing could be done through Western medicine. A local physical therapist, Beth Williams, worked with the animal and was able to get it to swim, increase its strength and returned to health.
“Right away, we knew acupuncture was not right for the dog,” Drumm said.
She considers her success rate to be 100 percent because there is always change with acupuncture, she said.
“I would say that you exert some kind of change,” she said. “The first or second visit, you have to ask (the owner) what their expectation is. They may have a dog come in and she won’t jump on the couch or the bed and they have to pick her up, but as they keep coming in, the energy comes back and at the following visit, she’s no better. I go through interviews and … each time they come in, you have to reassess what the initial complaint was and it will change over time. The initial arthritis is better but then it’s incontinent.”
Even if acupuncture only works in some cases and not others, though, she said the main goal is to ensure the pet is healthy for as long as possible.
“It’s the quality of life issue for some of these guys,” she said. “Maybe they only live six months, but they ate, they weren’t nauseated and they walked around and the owner could enjoy them even if they would not be able to live long enough.”