AcupunctureMixing traditional and alternative medicine provides the best possible treatment at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital


One day Richard Bullock’s best friend, a lab mix named Buddy Bear, collapsed and would not get up. Buddy’s veterinarian found cancer and removed his spleen and one lobe of his liver. Post-surgery, Buddy was listless and not eating, so Bullock took him to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Dr. Haley Leeper ran tests and discovered that Buddy had pneumonia and pancreatitis. He was treated and his condition improved, however the ordeal left him with some neurological issues so he had trouble standing and walking. Dr. Leeper prescribed acupuncture in his spine and rear end, and assigned fourth-year student Mallory Powers to help Buddy use a walker to get moving. “Mallory was so wonderful,” says Bullock. “She worked with him every single day, and she called us with updates. It was so exciting to see him get better every day.” Once he could stand, Dr. Leeper prescribed hydrotherapy on the underwater treadmill, and Buddy went home soon after, with advice to continue his acupuncture treatments.  “Now he walks on his own and is doing great,” says Bullock. “I swear by acupuncture; our other dog was so old, he could hardly walk, and acupuncture helped him too.”

Integrating Alternative Medicine

Veterinary medicine has made extraordinary advances in the past fifty years. Animals can now receive many of the same high-tech diagnostic and treatment options as humans. From specialty surgery, to a broad range of safe and effective pharmaceuticals, these options have provided animals with longer, healthier lives. Now, similar to human medicine, there is a growing interest in adding alternative therapy options. Some veterinarians are now using therapies like acupuncture, chiropractics, and E-stim in conjunction with more traditional medicine.

OSU Is Leading The Way

At the VTH, alternative therapies are available in many forms, and nowhere is this more visible than in the small animal rehabilitation unit.

Typically, in any given week, all year long, the hospital performs eight or ten orthopedic surgeries, most of them for dogs with broken bones or back issues. Nearly all of these cases are referred to rehabilitation post-surgery. Depending on the type of injury, age and lifestyle of the animal, and other factors, doctors prescribe a rehab program that may include massage, exercise therapy, ultrasound, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, and more. In fact, patients at the VTH seem to have more post-op rehab options than many humans. Have you ever heard of a friend or relative who regularly used an underwater treadmill following knee surgery?

Rehab Offers Many Options

The underwater treadmill room in the hospital is a busy place, handling lots of dogs with arthritis, as well as post-surgery dogs and cats. Underwater treadmills provide weight-bearing reduction while the warm water and exercise facilitates muscle relaxation and tendon stretch; they are used primarily to improve muscle strength and limb function. They also improve range of motion in compromised joints. The dogs like the water, the attention, and the treats.

Dogs also enjoy exercise therapy. Just like in humans, core strength is important in animals: it helps take pressure off the four limbs. “We use treats to make them repeat sitting and standing,” says rehab technician David Meyer. “It’s equivalent to a human lunge; it strengthens the abdominal muscles. We also do a lot of balance work on the inflatable balls and wobble boards – different ones for different functions.”

Another therapy: Cold lasers that dilate blood vessels and bring more oxygen to injured areas. “Laser therapy also creates fibroplasts which are the cornerstone of healing,” says Meyer. The rehab unit uses cold laser therapy in many patients, but it is especially beneficial for back patients.  “It used to be that six months after surgery, your dog’s condition was the best it would be for the rest of his life: if he was walking, great; if he was stumbling, or in a cart, that was it,” says Meyer. “Now we see, with laser therapy, hydrotherapy and physical therapy, most dogs recover and are back to walking within three months.”

Acupuncture For All Kinds Of Animals

Dr. Jacob Mecham has used acupuncture successfully on alpacas, sheep, dogs, cats, horses, a turkey vulture, and even a chicken. “The chicken couldn’t walk,” says Mecham. “I did one acupuncture treatment and by the next day, he was extending his legs, and by day three he was walking.”

Dr. Mecham is the OSU mobile equine veterinarian and is certified in acupuncture. He uses it primarily for pain control, or quality of life issues. “It is not a magic bullet that fixes everything,” he says. “In the past, you either did western medicine or eastern medicine, but now we integrate them to get the best possible outcome for the patient. Western medicine has so many great tools for diagnosis and treatment. Acupuncture adds another tool.”

What does he say to skeptics?  “Try it. It works.”

Dr. Mecham is also certified in veterinary chiropractics, which he most often uses for horses with symptoms that appear to be pain-related.  For example, Dr. Mecham recently treated a horse who was having trouble chewing. The owner thought he had a broken tooth. “When he came to the hospital, the students fed him a treat. The horse tried to get it positioned in his mouth so he could chew it, but ended up spitting most of it out,” says Mecham. “I had just done a dental on that horse, so I thought a tooth problem was unlikely. I felt his neck and found the first vertebrae out of alignment. I did one adjustment, gave him another treat, and he chewed fine. The students were blown away,” he laughs.

Students Advocate For Integrated Medicine

The Integrative Medicine Club at OSU is a group of students whose goal is to raise awareness of alternatives to traditional medicine. “We provide a lot of lunch talks,” says member Danielle Daw (Class of 2018). “We have brought in people to talk about Chinese medicine and holistic medicine. We had a raw food panel.” The raw food topic, in particular, pulled in a large audience, not all students.

“I took a little liberty with the club this year,” says member Lauren Clarke (Class of 2017). “I organized a raw food panel even though I knew it was a controversial topic.” The raw food panel included Dr. Craig Ruaux, a VTH specialist in gastrointestinal health, and Dr. Keith Weingard, a Portland veterinarian who is very interested in animal nutrition. “They brought up a lot of points that vet students, and the veterinarians in the audience, hadn’t thought about before,” says Clarke. “It was a really good talk because the whole audience was involved. There were lots of skeptics asking pointed questions, and people even approached me afterwards.”

For the first time this year, the club provided acupuncture demonstrations at their Pet Day booth. “A lot of people came to those,” says Clarke. “They had lots of questions about alternative medicine.”

The Integrative Medicine Club has also had an impact on Daw’s future as a veterinarian. “I wanted to do surgery for a long time, but this year I’ve changed to internal medicine,” she says. “The club definitely had an influence, thinking about the whole animal, bettering the animal’s health instead of just focusing on the disease process.”

Both Clarke and Daw will soon be attending classes in Florida to obtain a certification in acupuncture. “People in the veterinary field seem to be surprised that we offer acupuncture at the VTH,” says Daw. “I think as it becomes more accepted in human medicine, it will do the same in veterinary medicine.

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