Ease canine medical conditions with three non-traditional therapies.
Arthritis, joint diseases, heart problems and immune-system disorders are common medical ailments that affect dogs. Many of these conditions cause chronic pain and can decrease the quality of a dog’s life. Non-traditional therapies, often used as an adjunct to conventional veterinary care, offer dog owners some surprising new options.
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy
First used on humans in the early 1990s to dissolve kidney stones and gallstones, extracorporeal shockwave therapy eliminated the need for invasive surgery to treat the stones. By the end of the decade, veterinarians were experimenting with ESWT to accelerate healing in horses with musculoskeletal disorders. In 2002, ESWT became an accepted therapy used by veterinarians for treating a variety of conditions in dogs, including non-healing fractures, ligament injuries, chronic non-healing skin wounds, lick granulomas, back pain, tendonitis and shoulder instability.
ESWT is also used to treat canine arthritis. “Research was done recently at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine [in Knoxville] studying ESWT in dogs with elbow arthritis,” says Catherine J. Reese, D.V.M., Dipl. ACVS, director of the surgical residency program at MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. “The dogs that were treated with ESWT had an increase in weight bearing of 10 percent as compared to those in the control group. The magnitude of improvement was similar to what is expected after using other arthritis treatements, suggesting that ESWT is as effective as other therapies for arthritis.”
The shockwaves used in ESWT have nothing to do with electric shocks. ESWT devices generate high-energy, focused sound waves that travel to the affected tissue from a probe attached to a machine. (Extracorporeal means outside the body.) ESWT reduces inflammation and increases blood flow to the treated area, both of which stimulate healing. The shockwaves can also break up calcium deposits that are sometimes associated with tendonitis.
“There are no reported risks associated with ESWT,” Reese says. “But most dogs must be sedated briefly due to some mild discomfort from the treatment, so there are slight inherent risks associated with sedation.”
ESWT works equally well on young, athletic dogs, as well as on geriatric dogs. Different sized probes and different levels of shockwaves are used depending on the size of the patient and the part of the body that is being treated. ESWT is most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments, such as medications or acupuncture in a multi-modal approach.
Before a dog begins ESWT, a physical exam is required to diagnose any musculoskeletal disorders and to rule out neurological disease that cannot be treated with ESWT. It’s also important to identify all the areas that should be treated, including secondary issues that might have developed because of compensation for an injured or painful joint.
“For the first few days after ESWT, a dog may have such marked pain relief that if it is too active, it could make the injury worse,” Reese says. “The healing process takes time, so the pet must be restricted in activity after ESWT, even if it is feeling better. I usually recommend three treatments two weeks apart, with the animal resting during the treatment period.”
The Tellington Touch Method is a training system that helps dogs overcome health and behavioral issues by integrating touch, movement and body language. Originally developed for horses by Linda Tellington-Jones, Ph.D. (Honorary), founder and president of Tellington TTouch Training, the therapy expanded to include companion animals in the 1980s.
“Any painful condition that is the result of an injury or surgery causes a level of stress that greatly impacts the body’s ability to heal,” says Cynde Van Vleet, CPDT-KA, Certified Level 3 TTouch Practitioner in San Clemente, Calif. “TTouch helps a dog release some of the stress so the healing can start taking place.”
According to proponents, TTouch offers positive solutions to common behavioral and health-related problems, including aggressive behavior, separation anxiety, excessive barking, chewing, jumping, leash pulling, resistance to grooming, nervousness, shyness, thunder or loud noise phobia, and car sickness. It can also promote good health and ease problems associated with aging, illness, hip dysplasia, arthritis and surgery.
TTouch works via the central nervous system. Just as the brain sends messages to the body, the reverse is also true. When tension is in the body, information to the brain is blocked. Many habits are formed in response to tension, pain and fear. TTouch uses nonhabitual movements to activate the unused neurological pathways. By having different parts of its brain stimulated, a dog can more easily learn new and more appropriate behaviors.
TTouches consist of circular movements made by the fingertips in succession around a dog’s body. Picturing the face of a clock, the circle movement is clockwise, starting at the 6 o’clock position and moving around for 1¼ circles. As opposed to a deep massage, the touch is generally light. The goal is to gently move the skin under the fingertips.
“A TTouch is something the nervous system hasn’t felt before,” Van Vleet says. “It’s very different from petting or patting.”
A study done in 1987 at the Biofeedback Institute in Boulder, Colo., showed that TTouch creates changes in certain brain waves. During the study, the brainwave patterns that emerged during TTouch were different from those that emerged from simple petting, stroking and massage. The results suggest that TTouch might relax the body and brain while simultaneously encouraging an alert, thinking state.
TTouch is also useful in highly stimulating situations. Because it both calms a dog and opens it to learning, TTouch effectively encourages performance dogs to focus before entering the competition ring. It also helps dogs during certain stressful or exciting situations, such as veterinary visits and training classes.
Jin Shin Jyutsu
An ancient Japanese art practiced worldwide to promote harmony of body, mind and spirit, Jin Shin Jyutsu became prevalent in the United States in the 1960s. The premise of JSJ is that when a body is in harmony, it will release pain or tension and result in faster healing.
“It’s a practice based on breathing,” says Adele Leas, a certified JSJ human practitioner and author of Jin Shin Jyutsu for Your Animal Companion (self published in 2004). “It can help arthritis, skin issues or emotional problems. It also makes aging gentler.”
In the mid 1990s, Leas began practicing JSJ on her ailing Collie, as well as with animals she encountered in her volunteer work with animal rescue groups in New Orleans.
JSJ does not involve massage, muscle manipulation, or the use of drugs or other substances. It’s a gentle method of placing a flat hand, including the palm, on certain areas of the animal’s body to harmonize and restore the energy flow.
Once contact is established and the pulse is felt, the dog will relax and the fingertips will gently sink into the fur and skin. No pressing or pushing is needed. “I find that animals are more in tune and more sensitive to touch than many humans,” Leas says.
According to the JSJ philosophy, all living creatures consist of energetic pathways and circulation patterns. Safety energy locks serve as the foundation for these pathways. They are spheres of energy that have length, width and depth. There are 26 pairs of safety energy locks in every body — 26 on the left side and 26 on the right. Each has a specific physical, mental and spiritual meaning. The size of the safety energy lock is in direct proportion to the person or animal. In dogs, a safety energy lock is approximately the size of a paw.
When the safety energy locks are stressed, abused or overloaded, they become blocked. The result is usually pain, swelling or stiffness. “Pain has a purpose,” Leas says. “It’s an indication that something is out of balance.” By manipulating the energy blocks, harmony becomes restored to the area.
Proponents say JSJ can improve many canine health conditions. It can stimulate healing after injury or surgery, and help digestive and elimination concerns, skeletal and muscular issues, circulatory problems, arthritis, rheumatism, and other age-related imbalances. JSJ is also said to be effective for correcting attitudinal disharmonies, such as stubbornness, aggression, fear and grief.
“With JSJ, there is great benefit to the animal, but there is also profound benefit to the person performing JSJ because it gives insight into your animal’s body, mind and spirit that are not as clear any other way,” Leas says.
Whether used in conjunction with conventional medicine or used alone, non-traditional therapies offer dog owners additional choices in managing their pets’ health. While not a cure-all for every medical problem, these alternative treatments are safe and simple methods that treat the whole dog and not just the condition. The results often improve a pet’s health and quality of life with minimal side effects.