Treating pain in your pet

Treating pain in your pet

Your furry companion may benefit from a host of therapeutic options

It’s not always easy to tell when something is wrong with your sweet pet, because animals can’t speak to us in our own language. Still, they are subject to many of the same illnesses, ailments and aches as their human counterparts. The good news is that many human-centered treatments also work on our pets, including therapies such as physical rehabilitation and acupuncture.

“If you think your animal is in pain, work closely with your veterinarian
to see if rehab is indicated, as there are different strategies to help with pain management,” says Dr. Courtney Arnoldy, Doctor of Physical Therapy and a physical therapist at UW Veterinary Care. “Our rehab plans are multimodal and based on a thorough evaluation. There are various therapeutic strategies we can use with a comprehensive and collaborative approach between all of our different departments.”

Arnoldy, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, spent the first decade of her career in human medicine. Then her passion for animals led her to become a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner before starting the UW Vet Care Small Animal Rehab Program in 2003. There, Arnoldy collaborates with several services, including primary care, orthopedic surgery and neurology departments—as well as with numerous area veterinarians that refer patients to her program—to provide a comprehensive plan to help with animals’ pain management and function.

“Rehab plans can include anything from education on activity modification and finding the right balance of rest and appropriate activity, to land- or water-based exercises, manual therapy, cold or warm therapy, laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, and even electrical stimulation for pain management,” says Arnoldy, adding that pain in animals is not always evident with obvious signs such as limping or whining. Other more subtle signs include panting, loss of appetite, temperature change, nervousness, hiding, and behavioral changes. A thorough evaluation will allow the therapist to determine if pain is present, isolate the cause of that pain, and develop appropriate rehab strategies to help alleviate or manage it.

Arnoldy says acupuncture can also complement a rehab program for pain management. She often collaborates with Dr. Lindsey Culp Synder, a UW Veterinary Care board-certified anesthesiologist who says she first became aware of the beneficial effects of acupuncture while working on
a project for her master’s degree.

“It really opened my eyes to acupuncture and proved that, even in anesthetized dogs, it had an analgesic effect,” says Snyder, who then became certified in acupuncture to complement her Western medicine training and better serve animals post-operatively, along with anyone else seeking acupuncture—clients do not need a referral for this service. “It’s finding specific anatomic points in the body that have high concentrations of nerve fibers that are responsible for pain,” she says. “We can place needles at a specific point and it changes the neurochemistry around the spinal cord
to produce that analgesic, therapeutic effect. It’s fascinating.”

And it works. Research literature supports acupuncture as being effective for treating pain, but Snyder also sees therapeutic results for gastrointestinal conditions, kidney problems, and more. It’s also noticeably relaxing for pets.

“What we typically see during treatment is animals often get very calm. Some will even start sleeping during a treatment,” says Snyder, noting that it’s the next day when pet owners notice the real effects, even if initially skeptical. “The animals wake up with an extra spring in their step,” she says. “Often times people are coming in and saying the dog hasn’t tried to go up the stairs in months, and today she ran up the stairs. Or, I haven’t seen Fluffy play with toys in a year and now she wants to.”

Snyder also may incorporate laser treatments with acupuncture, the same class 4 cold laser technology utilized by sports medicine for athletes. It helps increase energy production of the cells, creating a healthier environment for healing in traumatized tissue.

“As an anesthesiologist, it’s important to understand that I don’t really see things as an either/or; they complement each other so well,” says Snyder, and that’s that comprehensive, collaborative approach Arnoldy references as well.

“Rehab and acupuncture services, in collaboration with a doctor of veterinary medicine, can provide optimal patient care,” says Arnoldy, “and help return patients to improved, pain-free function. It’s about treating the whole animal.”