Acupuncture and Other Alternative Therapies Can Help Pets

acupuncture for pets
Note: This is not a photo of Scooter.

by Jacques Von Lunen, Special to The Oregonian

Patrick Langner says acupuncture with veterinarian/acupuncturist Kelly Jenkins Nielsen has helped his dog Scooter walk again.

The two people in the small treatment room practically squeal with delight when Scooter tries to jump up on a little bench.

What’s so special about a bouncy dachshund-mix trying to get up on the furniture?

Not that long ago, Scooter couldn’t walk. Half of her body was numb, paralyzed, limp. Now she’s strong enough to push herself into the lap of the acupuncturist who changed her life.

While alternative treatments have entered the mainstream in human medical practices, many still consider them an eccentric luxury for pets, one reserved for the pampered. But acupuncture, massage and chiropractic treatments can be effective cures for common pet ailments — sometimes with dramatic results.

Jump crushed spinal cord
Scooter jumped up on the bed one day four years ago, let out a piercing shriek and became paralyzed from the shoulder on back. She was 6 years old at the time, says Patrick Langner of Lake Oswego, her owner.

The jump crushed Scooter’s spinal cord. Two surgeries, totaling $6,000, followed.

“I was going to buy a new pickup but decided to keep the old one,” Langner says softly. “That was a no-brainer.”

The surgeries didn’t make Scooter walk again. She was pulling herself along by her front legs. But she wasn’t in pain, just completely numb.

“We decided to keep her that way,” Langner says. “We just love this little dog.”

He fashioned a sling out of soft rubber material to hold up Scooter’s hind legs while the little dog hobbled along. That’s how they went on walks — the mustachioed ex-cop and his paralyzed, bushy-eyed little dog.

Kelly Jenkins Nielsen — a veterinarian before she switched to an acupuncture-only practice two years ago — examined Scooter on a house call and suggested acupuncture. During the first treatment with the needles, Scooter’s back started twitching.

Within four weeks, she tried to stand up — unsuccessfully. Then one day, it happened.

“We were going on a walk with the sling,” Langner says. “The sling slipped and I went to help her. But she started walking. The neighbors standing outside were cheering her on.”

Skeptics will say that’s just a delayed effect of the surgeries. But three months passed between the second surgery and the first acupuncture.

After those initial treatments, everything looked so much better that Langner just took Scooter home, grateful that his beloved dog could walk again. A couple of years went by. But when the acupuncturist happened to see Scooter again a few weeks ago, she felt they could improve the dog’s wobbly walk.

Now, after getting some more needles stuck in her — which Scooter doesn’t seem to even notice — the dog chases toys down the hallway and tries to jump into people’s laps. Another level of improvement.
“It’s nothing short of a miracle,” Langner says.

Most of Jenkins Nielsen’s patients are older dogs with hip, back and shoulder problems. She says she usually sees a response within the first treatment. She’s helped dogs that could barely walk, dogs their owners were ready to euthanize.

Jenkins Nielsen, whose clinic is in Lake Oswego, doesn’t see acupuncture — or herbal treatments, which she says are very effective for digestive and skin problems — as a replacement for traditional medicine. She never changes the medications prescribed by a vet. She wants to — and does — work with the vets.

Chiropractic help
Dogs and cats evolved to do many things. Running on stairs and slippery hardwood floors is not one of them. “They’re trying not to slip all the time,” says Sandra Johnson, a Portland animal chiropractor. “It creates all kinds of injuries.”

he says chiropractic treatment is a great way to reduce pain from injury, arthritis or herniated discs. Some breeds, such as dachshunds, are particularly prone to herniated discs. She sees a lot of them.

“Only one in 10 ends up still needing surgery (after I treat them),” she says.

And it’s not only dachshunds, or even dogs, that get injured in that way. Johnson was a chiropractor for humans for many years. When her 9-year-old cat herniated a disc, vets recommended surgery or euthanasia. Johnson decided to try techniques she used on people. The cat lived to be 19, happy and pain-free. Johnson took the training for animal chiropractic and switched to treating animals in 2001.

She now sees “a lot of pretty old and pretty sore dogs,” she says, and a lot of competition dogs with challenging physical routines.

“People are absolutely amazed how old dogs, after years of feeling achy, are getting up and down after just a couple of treatments,” Johnson says.

Massage for arthritis
Just like people, animals try to avoid using a part of their body that hurts. The problem is — for two- and four-legged creatures — that by favoring the side that doesn’t hurt, we start walking funny, says Sheralee Connors, a small-animal massage therapist in Portland. And walking funny is another word for bad posture, which leads to stiff muscles and pain.

Massage can loosen up those stiff muscles and prevent compensatory injuries. Being loose helps animals learn to compensate in a way that doesn’t make things worse, Connors says.

Like acupuncture and chiropractic, massage is great for arthritic patients. Connors had an arthritic Siamese cat that lived to be 20. Massage kept her walking to the end.

Massage also helps relax an animal after anesthesia. Connors has seen immense improvements in the animal’s behavior from post-surgical massage, she says.

It’s not right for all animals. Rescued dogs with a history of abuse may not tolerate a stranger’s prodding. After surgery, it’s important to be careful around the immediate area just operated on. And people used to the still environment of a human massage should expect a little different routine for their animals.

“Dogs often get up in the middle of it, pace around, maybe go pee, and then come back,” Connors says.
Click here to read this article on the Oregonian Online.

Jacques Von Lunen also blogs about pets at

Click here to view upcoming ACTCM events.

About American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) has provided affordable, quality health care to the public and trained professionals in acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine since 1980. In addition to its graduate curriculum, ACTCM offers continuing education, public education, community outreach and clinical services in acupuncture and herbal medicine. ACTCM has been the recipient of many awards for its curriculum, faculty and clinic, and has been voted “Best of the Bay” by both the San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. ACTCM is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is a private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.