When Western And Traditional Chinese (TCM) Merge To Treat Pets

Just like us humans, our furkids can also suffer from seasonal allergies, fatigue and arthritis, especially during humid hot summer months. But the good news is that acupuncture and diet therapy can be a supplementary treatment to Western medicine, helping to alleviate mild symptoms for your pet. Dr Anita Young, an SPCA veterinarian and TCM practitioner, explains it all.

Dr Anita Young

Although acupuncture and TCM have been used effectively in Eastern cultures to treat animals' health problems for over 3,000 years, Dr Anita reminds pet owners that Western medicine is not replaceable.

'TCM provides an alternative way to treat chronic illnesses with ongoing symptoms which cannot be resolved, as well as conditions that may not be responding well to Western medical treatments alone. It is useful alongside Western treatment but the effects may not be seen immediately.'

'Generally, when an owner brings in a sick pet, we will first view the clinical symptoms from the Western medical perspective. In case of emergency or when surgery is needed, we will recommend the owner to seek Western medical treatment as soon as possible, since delay might cause a life-and-death situation for the animal,' Dr Anita emphasised.

However, when it comes to fighting long-standing, reoccurring illnesses like itchy skin and joint pain, acupuncture as well as diet therapy can step in to ease the discomfort.

'Dampness (a concept in TCM) accumulated inside the body is one of the reasons why pets have itchy skin or an unsteady gait or feel painful when walking. An example of diet therapy is to feed your pet boiled corn water without the corn. It can invigorate the spleen and remove the dampness,' Dr Anita said.

Diet therapy also works well with acupuncture in treating gastrointestinal problems. 'I have treated a senior dog suffering from long-term diarrhoea. Western medicine concluded it was bacterial gastroenteritis. Unfortunately, the dog didn't respond well to antibodies, so I gave him a three-month acupuncture treatment and recommended a diet of kangaroo meat mixed with green beans to eliminate the dampness in his intestines and stomach. Soon he started passing solid faeces again.'

Before giving their pets any diet therapy treatment, owners should always consult a vet with TCM specialty. It takes professional medical knowledge to identify the underlying cause of a symptom and administer appropriate treatments.

Sometimes acupuncture can work magic when surgery is not an option for a patient. 'A young Akita with genetic hip dysplasia was brought to me recently. He often swayed and couldn't stand long due to the lameness in his hind legs. Normally surgically removing the “ball” of the hip joint can reduce the discomfort but orthopaedic specialists didn't recommend it as the heavy Akita needed the hip joint for physical support. Instead, I performed acupuncture on him to relax his tendons and muscle. After a few treatments, his legs and back were strengthened and he was able to walk comfortably again. Now he can enjoy life to the fullest,' Dr Anita recalled.

Acupuncture can also be used to deal with animals' emotional issues, such as anxiety. 'Sometimes Western medicine can't pinpoint a reason why a dog frantically barks at night. We can try acupuncture to enhance its blood circulation (活血) and dredge its liver channels (通肝經) to calm it down (安神),' Dr Anita explained.

For animals who are not so good with needles, Dr Anita suggested owners to bring their pets' favourite towels or mats for them to stay on during acupuncture sessions to help calm their nerves.

In TCM, 'observing, listening, questioning and feeling the pulse' are four basic methods to diagnose a human patient. These are applicable to ill animals, too. 'If a pet is brought in because it is nauseous, I will look at the colour of its tongue, feel its pulse and ask the owner to describe the vomitus. Once I gather all the information, I can conclude the reason causing these symptoms according to TCM theory,' Dr Anita said.

The SPCA prescribes TCM powder formulas that are tailored for animals. Pet owners can put the powder in a capsule, mix it into a snack or meal for easy feeding. It can also dissolve in a mouthful of water and be fed to a pet with a syringe. No matter which method is used, pet owners must follow the feeding directions given by the vet to avoid overdosage or misuse.

Prevention is better than cure. Dr Anita said there should be no harm to give TCM supplements or snacks to maintain pets' health. 'Products like Lingzhi (Ganoderma lucidum) dog cookies or pretzel sticks carry a relatively low concentration of a single TCM ingredient. If pet owners strictly follow the feeding instructions on the packages, there should be no health risks to their pets. But don't over-feed them as snacks may contain many calories and cause overweight,' Dr Anita reminded.

Most importantly though, TCM meant for humans should never be fed to animals. Don't try to diagnose your pet. Seek advice from your vet immediately if you detect any abnormality in your pet.

To perform acupuncture on animals, a person needs to be a licensed veterinary surgeon and have a post-graduation certificate of veterinary acupuncture at a recognised organisation or school.
Examples include the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) (www.ivas.org/about-ivas/) and the Chi Institute in Taiwan (www.tcvm.net/CECourses/AcupunctureCourses/SmallAnimalinTaiwan.aspx).