But the drug can cause an increased heart rate and other side effects, and within hours of her first dose, Hershey became restless, began panting excessively and lost her appetite. After two days, my vet said to stop the drug. Other options, hormone therapy among them, seemed no safer.
I wanted an effective, nontoxic approach and wondered whether complementary medicine — specifically, acupuncture — could help my dog.
I’d used acupuncture myself, and I believe the ancient Chinese practice of inserting fine needles into certain points in the body — to relieve pain, speed healing, ease arthritis and conquer addictions, among other things — works. Acupuncture eliminated my lower back pain and helped me recover from shoulder surgery. Could it work for Hershey, too?
My vet urged me to give it a try, so last October I brought her to see Jordan Kocen, a veterinarian in the integrative medicine department at VCA SouthPaws Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center in Fairfax. SouthPaws is both a referral facility, with vets in more than a dozen medical specialties, and a 24-hour emergency hospital. I’d taken Hershey there previously for another problem and was impressed with the veterinarians’ expertise and warmth.
After observing Hershey, Kocen suspected she was suffering from a neurological weakness in her hind quarters, often caused by impaired nerve impulses to the muscles and worsened by tightness in her lower back muscles. Both had affected her mobility and the strength of her urinary sphincter.
“Part of the neurological check involves turning each paw over and seeing how long it takes for her to place it back properly. She was a little slow, a sign she had some neurological weakness,” Kocen said. “She also did a little hopping maneuver to get up off the floor, which usually indicates some lower back tension.’’
He inserted a series of acupuncture needles along her back, specifically targeted to her weaknesses, and said it was fine if she moved around. Dogs can’t always remain still for 20 minutes — the usual time for an acupuncture session — and apparently it doesn’t matter.
“Acupuncture stimulates nerve endings, which send a message to the spinal cord,’’ Kocen explains. “The cord then sends out a message. If the area being needled is tight, then the message will be to the local muscle to relax. If the area is weak, the message will be to strengthen. Since nerves go everywhere, all conditions potentially could respond to acupuncture.’’