February 28, 2011

Greyhounds: The Model Patient for Acupuncture

by Barbara Royal, DVM (2007)

I have always loved greyhounds. But as a veterinarian who does acupuncture,this Chinese modality has made me appreciate them even more. Theyare, in fact, the perfect animal for an acupuncturist in just about everyway. Of course, the main reason is that they respond extremely well to acupuncture. I have used acupuncture to help treat greyhounds with arthritis, seizures, allergies, gastrointestinal ills, behavior problems, liver and kidney diseases, and vision and hearing problems. Their responses to the treatments are always rewarding. Owners are happy, the hounds feelbetter, and I can reaffirm what I love to do.

But on a more basic level, they are perfectly suited to the technique of acupuncture andto me as a doctor as well. First, greyhounds, like many of my patients, seem to respond viscerally to the treatments. In short, they seem to enjoy it. They are canines who like their creature comforts. Along with the cozy couch and a refreshing stretch-of-the-legs sprint, they take pleasure in the massage-like feeling of the treatment and are often invigoratedby the needles. Like an off-season athlete, they appreciate a physical therapist’s efforts.

Second, acupuncture points are located by anatomic landmarks: bones, muscle edges, tendon origins, and so on. As one can imagine, these landmarks are practically labeled with neon in a greyhound. Short fur, sleek body lines, seriously defined musculature, and visible bones and contours make the greyhound a perfect model for the neophyte acupuncturist.

When I was trying to learn the more than 390 acupuncture points, I was grateful forthe gentle greyhounds owned by one of the teaching assistants. They stood patiently asmy fingers found the nooks and crannies that eluded me on the overweight, long-haired animals that we also used. Once a point was repeatedly located on a greyhound, it made it much easier to be confident finding points on other animals.

Now, when I am treating a greyhound, I feel like it’s too easy—not only to find thepoints but also to identify medical problems with a Chinese exam. Assessing treatment response in greyhounds can be more accurate because gait analysis results and muscle measurements are more obviously visible. With the efficiency of these treatments, I am ableto chat freely with the owners. I am happy to say I have developed great friendships with many of my greyhound owners.

Third, greyhounds are exquisitely sensitive to many medications. Their drug sensitivities and reactions are well-known in the veterinary world. When dealing with a greyhound, it’s gratifying to have the training to treat these delicate dogs without worrisome side effects. In my years of using acupuncture, I have found it to be both safe and effective in the greyhound.

Fourth, the greyhounds I have known are almost all from the track. I often see animalsthat have some musculoskeletal abnormality that ill-suits them for racing. That’s sometimes why they get to be placed in a loving home. I have also seen pets that havelived a life of strenuous racing with high impact forces on their bones and joints. Asthese animals age and are released from that lifestyle, they can also benefit fromacupuncture. It is a great way to maximize circulation at the site of chronic joint andtendon injuries, muscle spasms, spinal problems, and disc disease. An animal that hasbeen previously injured can also find great relief and improved function after acupuncturetreatments—even long after the injury has occurred and healed. I work to increasethe comfort and function of limbs, the spinal cord, and the body as a whole.

A few years ago, I started acupuncture on the camels at the Lincoln Park and BrookfieldZoos. For half the year, they remind me of the greyhounds—practically furless in summer, long and leggy with hyper-defined muscles. In the winter, they are more like a chubby Saint Bernard—all fur and lumpy humps. But I’ll bet my confidence with them in any weather is, in part, because ofmy successes with the greyhounds. Except for the occasional spitting at me, the camels respond well to my treatments too.

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