Unlike humans, dogs can’t always let us know when or if they’re in pain. Because of this, some people assume that canines don’t experience pain the same way we do. But that’s not the case. Arthritis and muscle or joint injuries are just as uncomfortable for dogs as they are for us, and many illnesses also generate pain. While conventional medications can ease the discomfort, they’re not the only options.
The following alternative therapies can be very helpful for pain management. Just remember to consult with an integrative or holistic veterinarian before starting any new treatments with your dog. Some of these modalities may be contraindicated in some situations – for example, massage should never be done on or near a tumor. These therapies work best as part of a whole body wellness program designed for your dog’s individual needs, with the assistance of a veterinarian.
1. Canine massage
Touch. Dogs love it and crave it. Physical contact from another provides a calming effect and brings comfort. Massage is considered instinctive; in fact, the wonders of massage were probably first discovered when primitive man bumped his head and reached up to rub his aching noggin! The skin is the largest sense organ in the body and is chock full of sensory receptors and nerve endings that register touch, temperature and pain, and send information to the brain. Massage therapy not only relaxes muscles but also stimulates endorphins, increases circulation, elevates oxygen levels, flushes toxins, helps with inflammation, strengthens the immune system and accelerates healing – and all of these can contribute to effective pain management.
2. Acupuncture and acupressure
These modalities are based on the concept of energy flow within the body, and seek to stimulate certain points along the energy meridians that run beneath the skin. Acupuncture involves the insertion of small needles at these points, while acupressure involves using the fingers to apply pressure to the same points. Acupuncture must be done by a trained and licensed veterinarian. Acupressure should be done by a professional for the best results, but may also be learned by animal guardians and done at home. Both modalities can really help with pain management and anxiety. The most common use is for back problems. Some breeds (such as Dachshunds) are more susceptible to back injury than others, and sometimes it’s hard to tell from an x-ray whether or not the dog might be experiencing pain. Often, medications do not help because of the nerve pressure and trigger points on muscles that cause the pain in the first place. This is when acupuncture and/or acupressure can help.
3. Energy healing
The term “energy healing” refers to therapies in which the practitioner improves the flow of energy in an animal’s body. These are gentle and powerful therapies during which the healer sends subtle energy through his/her hands to promote physical as well as emotional balance and healing. Energy healing works in a nonphysical way through the interconnectedness of body, mind and spirit. It is the most natural form of healing available. While conventional medicine operates on the belief that treatments for disease or injury should be strictly biological, energy medicine involves restoring the patient’s health by treating the mind, body and spirit. Studies are proving that treating all three of these elements provides the best results, which means that energy healing has gone from an obscure curiosity to an integral part of leading edge therapy in traditional medicine. The idea that a universal energy field encompasses us all is becoming more widely accepted.
Energy healing modalities available for dogs include Reiki, Qi- Gong, Healing Touch and Tellington Touch. Some of these have been performed around the world for centuries. While modern science has somewhat overshadowed them, researchers have begun to discover the measurable therapeutic values of these healing traditions. These values include flushing toxins, releasing endorphins, relaxing muscles, increasing circulation and elevating oxygen levels, all of which also help promote pain relief. Energy work helps regulate the immune system as well, balancing the body and supporting self-healing. Energy work is also beneficial for the end-of-life transition as it helps calm and relax dogs, while healing emotional trauma and pain.
4. Cold laser therapy
This type of therapy was developed well over 20 years ago and is now used widely around the world. It is one of the emerging new choices in alternative treatments for aches and pains in dogs. Low-level cold laser is painless and non-invasive. It works by directing highly concentrated coherent light waves to the muscles, tissues and organs. Cold laser therapy reduces inflammation and muscle spasms and is great for disk and spine issues. It only takes minutes to perform and is painless. Along with reduced pain and inflammation, dogs also enjoy better mobility. The effects are similar to those provided by non-steroidal medications, but unlike the latter, cold laser therapy doesn’t have negative side effects.
The benefits of swimming are well known. When dogs (or people) swim, they feel a resistance to movement, which means a five minute swim is equivalent to about a five mile run! And some dogs like swimming even better than running. Hydrotherapy, which includes exercise on an underwater treadmill as well as swimming, is particularly helpful. It can have an especially dramatic effect on senior dogs, giving them a painless and enjoyable way to move and exercise. The relief it offers can carry over for several days; many people even credit hydrotherapy with extending their dogs’ lives. The buoyancy of the water supports the dog, lessens stress on the joints, helps with freer movement, and is a safe form of exercise for those with injuries, disease or pain. It can also help with obesity as well as balance and coordination. It increases respiration through pressure on the lungs, providing oxygen, disposing of carbon dioxide and helping the dog feel better.
These are just a few ways you can help manage your dog’s pain. Which therapies you use will depend on your dog’s condition, and your veterinarian’s recommendations. Chosen and practiced properly, these modalities can make a huge difference in your companion’s physical and emotional well being, and can minimize or even eliminate the need for medications.