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For ailing pets, alternative therapies are on the rise

Female veterinarian treating dog with acupuncture.

STORY: Laura J. Moss

When Dr. Julia Brugliera’s 12-year-old Weimaraner, Hannah Belle, began having hip trouble and lower back pain in 2012, the Atlanta veterinarian considered every available option to treat her beloved pet. She even looked into alternative therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicine that can be used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments.

Julia Brugliera
Julia Brugliera

“Hannah Belle received laser therapy as well as acupuncture, and took multiple herbal formulas that helped her live to be more than 16, which is very old for a Weimaraner,” says Brugliera. “After seeing her respond so well, I decided to pursue training through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society to be able to treat her myself.” Now Brugliera offers acupuncture and laser therapy as part of her mobile clinic, Happy Tails Holistic Veterinary Care, which services the Atlanta area within a 20-mile radius of Buckhead.

Veterinarians say a growing number of pet owners are opting for so-called alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy, hydrotherapy and Chinese herbal medicine. However, Dr. Susan Wynn of BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Sandy Springs, who’s certified in herbal medicine and is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, says we shouldn’t think of these treatments as alternatives. “We don’t use the term ‘alternative therapies’ anymore because it suggests that they are true alternatives to conventional medicine, which is not a good way to use these therapies,” she says. “These days we use the term ‘integrative medicine’ to indicate that we use the best of both worlds.”

Steven Winokur
Steven Winokur

Integrative veterinary medicine is a comprehensive approach to pet medical care that combines both conventional medicine and other therapies, and can be used to treat a variety of ailments, including arthritis, asthma, skin conditions and seizure disorders, just to name a few. And while utilizing integrative medical treatments may not be right for every animal, Brugliera has seen firsthand the benefits with many of the pets in her care. “Our patients experience pain relief, improved mobility and better digestion, as well as stress and anxiety relief,” she says. “We have numerous patients that have even avoided surgery and been healed naturally with multiple treatments.”

Acupuncture in particular has been embraced by veterinarians across the country. Just as in humans, fine needles are inserted into certain points of the body to stimulate nerves, increase circulation, trigger the release of hormones and relieve pain. “I tend to use acupuncture mostly for cancer pain and the adverse effects of chemo for geriatric quality of life issues and for musculoskeletal and neurologic problems, though it can be helpful for lots of other conditions as well,” says Wynn.

Susan Wynn
Susan Wynn

While some pet owners may be wary of taking their canine companions or feline friends to the vet for treatments such as acupuncture or herbal therapy, Dr. Steven Winokur of Pharr Road Animal Hospital in Buckhead says that taking advantage of methods outside of conventional veterinary medicine is all about providing pets with the best possible care. “I think of a well-trained integrative medicine practitioner as being bilingual: thinking in a mindset that uses both conventional and ‘alternative’ medicine,” he says.


BluePearl Veterinary Partners

Happy Tails Holistic Veterinary Care

Pharr Road Animal Hospital

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