4 Holistic Treatments For Pets: Acupuncture, Hydrotherapy, Massage & Herbs

Has Fido tried acupuncture to cure his pesky arthritis? Has hydrotherapy helped Bailey’s hip dysplasia? Has herbal medicine calmed down Opie’s itchy skin? Holistic treatments can help dogs suffering from a variety of ailments, ranging from anxiety and constipation to inflammation. Before you try any of these treatments, know that a visit to your veterinarian is your first and best option. 

While the holistic options below can be helpful when dealing with the side effects of cancer, for example, they’re not a substitute for your veterinarian’s recommendations. Always contact your veterinarian before beginning any new treatment for your pet.

Acupuncture for Pets 

Acupuncture, a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine, uses very fine needles to restore “the energy balance in the body and promote healing,” as VCA Animal Hospitals explains. When inserted at various places along the body’s meridians, blood flow is improved and healing is encouraged thanks to greater oxygenation of inflamed muscle tissues.

Since acupuncture works at both a local and general scale, veterinarians typically monitor a dog’s response through bloodwork. While organs can be affected, acupuncture typically involves few to no side effects unlike many pharmaceutical medications.

Acupuncture sessions for your pet are very similar to acupuncture for humans. Most last 30 minutes and need to be repeated up to three times a week for the first few weeks. 

Think your pet could benefit but not sure where to start? Your veterinarian will typically recommend acupuncturists they know or trust and work with the acupuncturist to find a treatment protocol that is best for your pet.

Hydrotherapy for Pets

Hydrotherapy is much like it sounds: water therapy. Hydrotherapy allows dogs with joint issues to be free of extra pressure thanks to the body’s buoyancy in water. While hydrotherapy is frequently used for joint problems, dogs suffering from fractures or sprains, hip dysplasia, and even neurological diseases can benefit. 

There are a few different methods of hydrotherapy available. These include underwater treadmills, float-assisted swimming, and current pools. Each of these methods work to improve a pet’s endurance, muscle strength, range of emotion, and even flexibility, as this article notes. Beyond helping with the conditions mentioned above, water can also help improve skin conditions and balance, and serve as a healthy weight loss tool for dogs that may be overweight.

As always, consult with your veterinarian to determine if hydrotherapy is right for your dog. While it might be tempting, don’t try to replicate hydrotherapy in your pool as temperature, cleanliness, and underlying ear conditions can be harmful, and potentially deadly, to your dog when not regulated by a professional.

Massage for Pets

Your pooch or feline friend might be used to snuggles on the couch, but proper bodywork can help calm an anxious dog, promote circulation, support injury or post-surgery healing, and even create a powerful bond between you and your furry friend. While I don’t recommend trying the other holistic modalities without a professional, massage can be done in most cases right at home.

This article describes how to begin massaging your dog, but you can use some of your own experience handling your dog to know where to start. If your dog is particularly riled up, it can be helpful to take him or her for a walk to relieve any pre-massage jitters. In addition to creating a more released pet, regular massages can help identify any swollen areas or potential problems quickly.

Herbal Medicine for Pets

Chinese herbal medicine, like acupuncture, is another form of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (referred to as TCVM.) Conditions that can often be treated include asthma, diarrhea, allergies, arthritis, cystitis, bladder problems, and kidney disorders, as this article explains. Many of the herbs used might sound familiar, like aloe veragingeralfalfa, and milk thistle. In many cases, herbal medicine can support traditional veterinary medicine to protect medications that may have been damaging to certain organs. 

This therapy is best done under the guidance of a professional as some herbs can worsen your dog’s conditions.