Does Your Dog Need Acupuncture?

An alternative pet therapy that gets results!

Jennifer interviewed Dr. Rachel Barrack of Animal Acupuncture, who practices in New York City. Dr. Barrack is a licensed veterinarian, certified veterinary acupuncturist, and certified veterinary Chinese herbalist with an integrative approach to healing. She draws upon her extensive training in both eastern and western veterinary medicine to treat and heal animals.  Here’s what she had to say:

Jennifer Angel (JA)
What are acupuncture and Chinese medicine and how does it work?

Dr. Rachel Barrack (Dr. RB)
Chinese medicine has 4 branches: Acupuncture, Chinese Herbology, Food Therapy and Tui-na (Medical Massage).

Acupuncture is a healing art that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a variety of medical conditions. Acupuncture is performed by inserting thin, sterile, stainless steel needles into specific points on the body. Most acupuncture points are located along 14 major channels, which form a network that carries blood and energy throughout the entire body.

Acupuncture produces a physiological response. It can provide pain relief, stimulate the immune and nervous systems, increase microcirculation, and decrease inflammation. Acupuncture can also help restore the balance between organ systems for optimal health and overall well-being.

JA: How do you mix Western and Eastern medicine for pet care? 

Dr. RB: As a licensed veterinarian, I have extensive training in Western medicine.  Additionally, I have extensive training in veterinary acupuncture and Chinese veterinary herbology.  Therefore, I am uniquely trained to be able to determine when an animal can benefit from one approach or the other, or more commonly the “best of both worlds.”  I have a mobile mixed animal practice and treat dogs, cats, and horses in the comfort of their own homes or barns.

JA: Do people seem more interested in Chinese medicine for their pets lately?

 Yes, it seems as though people are very healthy living. As people focus on leading healthier, more natural organic lifestyles for themselves, the same beliefs and practices trickle down to other members of the family such as dogs and cats, etc.

JA: Is acupuncture different for pets than for humans?

Dr. RB: Acupuncture started thousands of years ago for livestock, first for horses. It is the same philosophy for pets as for humans but the locations of some points on the body are different.

JA: Why use acupuncture instead of western medicine?

Acupuncture and western medicine have the same goals—to eliminate disease and support the best quality of life. However, each approach is suited to specific circumstances. Western medicine is ideal for acute disease diagnostics and surgery. Acupuncture can be very effective in treating chronic conditions that western medicine can help but not cure. Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, focuses on the underlying cause of disease, not just the symptoms manifested in each individual patient.

Conventional western drugs act quickly but sometimes come with unwanted side effects. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy can be used to avoid or ameliorate some of those side effects.

 JA: What conditions can be treated with acupuncture? 

Dr. RB: A multitude of different conditions can be treated with acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy in both humans and animals. Some common veterinary applications for dogs and cats include arthritis, neurological disease, gastrointestinal issues, chronic skin disease and ear infections, postoperative healing, and behavioral issues.

Chinese medicine can also benefit pets diagnosed with cancer by helping to relieve some of the side effects caused by Western treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Acupuncture can also be used to provide the best possible quality of life for animals in palliative care.

Behavioral issues such as depression, nervousness and separation anxiety can also benefit from Chinese medicine. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can be helpful in helping pets cope with stressful situations such as the introduction of a new sibling or another animal or a change of address. Shelter cats/dogs are often prone to anxiety, and the treatments can have a calming and relaxing effect to help them settle more easily in their new homes and restore them to health as quickly as possible.

JA: How do pets react with acupuncture and does it hurt them? 

Dr. RB: Acupuncture needles are really small, and the vast majority of pets don’t react. Some may react a little when the needles are inserted but it is minimal if any discomfort.  Often, pets will fall asleep because it is so relaxing, and most animals tend to really enjoy the process.

JA: How quickly can you expect to see results? And how often do you need to treat an animal to see results?

Dr. RB: It varies depending on each animal and condition. Some animals show amazing improvement immediately after the first treatment. Typically 3-5 treatments are recommended, and more chronic conditions may require more treatments.

Combining acupuncture with Chinese herbology can increase the efficacy of the needling treatments and prolong the duration of the results.

JA: Is there anything clients can do at home to help the treatment? 

Dr. RB: Yes, I often show pet owners how to apply acupressure to their pets themselves, which will help to continue the benefits of treatment.

JA: What are Chinese herbs? What can Chinese herbology treat?

Dr. RB: Chinese herbs are all-natural products, but they are also potent medications that need to be subscribed by a licensed veterinarian specializing in Chinese medicine. Correctly administered, they optimize and lengthen the effect of the acupuncture treatment. Chinese herbal therapy can also be used in lieu of acupuncture for animals that don’t tolerate needling. Chinese herbs are available in capsule, powder or biscuit and are easily ingested and digested.

In order to ensure the best product and yield the maximal results, I only prescribe the highest quality herbs with – no animal byproducts, endangered plant species, or heavy metals and a very strict quality control.

JA: Is it cost effective? Do some pet health insurance plans cover your services? 

Dr. RB: Acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a highly effective way to treat health concerns, and some health insurances do cover treatments.

JA: You have a mobile, on-the-go practice. How does that work? 

Dr. RB: Yes, my practice is exclusively mobile. I prefer to go to people’s home, as the pets are more relaxed in their home environment. There is less stress for the pet and the owner. My practice is based in Manhattan and I travel throughout the New York metropolitan area / the boroughs, and Hamptons during summer months.

JA: What does a typical consultation look like, what is the procedure?