Gill has been interested in acupuncture since 1989, and had been treating a limited number of conditions for about twenty years before being able to attend the Veterinary Acupuncture course.six years ago.
Research into the effects of acupuncture has greatly increased in recent years, and unlike some other 'complimentary' treatments, it has proven effects. It encourages and modifies nerve impulces and can be used to relieve pain and increase innervation to damaged areas.
Most of our cases involve dogs with 'wobbly backends', either as a result of nervous degenerations or resulting from physical problems such as spinal arthritis or disc prolapses. One of the main advantages of acupuncture is that it can be used alongside conventional treatments, so that pets can continue to receive pain relief or traditional physiotherapy such as hydrotherapy (swimming or water treadmills). Treatment is usually very well tolerated, even in dogs with previous 'vet phobia'. Observation of treatment results by Gill for over twenty years suggests that six to seven out of ten dogs show significant improvement in hind limb function after treatment such as rising faster, less wobbling, reduced swaying on the move, better lifting of the hind paws (less toe scuffing), less stumbling and improved exercise tolerence. They are able to stand properly for longer periods before 'sinking' into a sitting position. One or two out of ten may not actually improve very much, but the deterioration seems to slow down. One in ten shows no response to treatment, and we discontinue in those cases.
Other cases suitable for treatment are spasms and pain of the spinal muscles, particularly neck pain, localised treatment of individually painful joints, treatment of acral lick dermatitis (lick granulomas) and localised nerve injuries. Suprisingly, cats are good candidates, as are horses.
What does the treatment involve ?
In an initial consultation, Gill will examine the animal and get an idea of the problem and decide if she thinks the animal is suitable for acupuncture. For example, animals with severe spinal damage lacking in any pain sensation at all below the injury are not likely to improve, as there needs to be some intact nerves to stimulate. Animals with severe, generalised arthritis are also unsuitable, as she can't treat multiple joints at the same time. Gill is however, a very experienced vet, and although she's happy to treat pets simply with acupunture for clients that are normally seen at other practices, she may be able to suggest alternative treatments for the client to discuss with their usual vet that may improve the quality of life. Gill will NOT treat animals with acupuncture unless she believes that they will have a good chance of improvment.
For the first treatments, needles alone are used. These are completely different to injection needles, much smaller in diameter, flexible and very sharply pointed. Most animals barely react to insertion. They are left for 30 minutes, periodically being 'twiddled' to increase local stimulation. Gill can usually tell very quickly is an animal if a good responder or not, but some animals show little response in the surgery but are better at home after the treatments. If needles alone don't seem to be improving the case, after a couple of sessions she uses electro-acupuncture, in which a machine deliveres a very small electical charge to the needles. Again, very well tolerated by most cases. Usually the first four treatments are at weekly intervals, but in acute cases such as prolapsed spinal discs this can be increased to alternative days. If an animal is improving, the teatment frequency is gradually reduced, and most of the 'wobbly' dogs come in every four to six weeks for top up treatments. As time goes by, some of the needle responsive cases begin to get less improvement after sessions and switch to the electro, or the pattern of needles may be changed.
On average, Gill can achieve a good quality of life for the 'wobbly' dogs for between two and four years. Most of those owners were considering euthanasia prior to treatment. If treatment can be started early in the course of the deterioration, there is a higher chance that intact nerves are present to be stimulated and 'turned on'.