Christmas for Duffy

By Dr. Mary Cardeccia, DVM


Many people are unaware that there are natural healing options for pets that are similar to methods used for humans. I am often asked how pets respond to these natural healing methods. “Do dogs really sit still for acupuncture?” “How do you get them to do their exercises for rehabilitation?” “Do you actually see any response to herbal therapy in pets?” “How do you do massage on a painful pet?”

We often choose to combine natural, holistic methods with conventional Western medical treatments to augment the efficacy and decrease undesirable side effects. Treatments such as acupuncture, veterinary spinal manipulation, massage, Reiki, and physical rehabilitation, as well as herbal and nutritional therapy, can really improve pain management and mobility in your pet. These types of treatments could all be described as veterinary physical medicine and are a wonderful adjunct to conventional medications; this is often termed a “multi-modal approach,” and can have some amazing results. In instances where there are underlying metabolic or gastrointestinal issues that preclude the use of many medications, we are often able to find alternative ways to manage pain. Rehabilitation and physical medicine can also improve pain management when medications alone are not providing enough relief.

Let’s look at an example of one patient and follow his journey to get a better understanding of how this might look.

Duffy, a 12-year-old Labrador Retriever, came to us in the beginning of November 2013 because he was having significant arthritis pain that compromised his mobility. He had a long history of significant arthritis, even as a young dog, in his right ankle. As a 5-year-old, Duffy had injured a ligament in his left knee, underwent surgery, and had quite a few complications with infection and bone healing. He had always had trouble with his right rear leg, but in recent months, was unable to go for walks with his owner and seemed to be in more pain, despite being on multiple medications and supplements. Where he used to be able to walk three miles with his owner, he was only able to walk three to four blocks at a time. His owner’s biggest concern was his comfort, but she also felt that he was unhappy not being able to participate in his walks as he used to. 

 After meeting with them and assessing Duffy’s condition, we decided to use a combination of natural methods to see if we could improve pain management and also improve strength and mobility. Duffy had significant arthritis in his hips, knees, right ankle, elbows, and right wrist, as well as a sore back, which we assumed was secondary to having arthritis in at least one major joint in each leg. We focused on improving comfort in his back and arthritic joints using a combination of spinal manipulation, massage, acupuncture, herbal therapy, and rehabilitation (including laser therapy), core strengthening, and flexibility exercises.

Duffy came in weekly for sessions, and his owner would do his strength and flexibility exercises for 10-15 minutes twice daily at home between visits. We used spinal manipulation to restore motion to the stiff or tender areas of his spine, allowing inflammation to recede. The spinal manipulation was coupled with massage to relieve tight and painful muscles, as well as to improve circulation to all four limbs. We also performed acupuncture to improve his pain management, overall energy and happiness, and laser therapy on his back and arthritic joints to decrease inflammation and increase the rate of tissue repair. We taught Duffy and his owner core strengthening and flexibility exercises, which we performed during his sessions, and then had his owner continue at home daily. We added an herbal product containing boswellia and turmeric to further decrease inflammation and mimic the effect of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. 

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The results were life changing for Duffy and his family. He was able to get up with ease, wanted to participate in many aspects of daily living that his owner thought he was just too old to care about, and resumed his daily walks, working back up to his three miles. At one of his visits just before Christmas of 2013, Duffy’s owner confessed to me that when they first came to us, she had thought Duffy would not still be with them by Christmas; instead, he was able to walk three miles again, and she and Duffy were thrilled!

While not all pets will respond as well as Duffy did to therapy, in reality, many pets do have similar outcomes. Signs that there may be more we could be doing to improve comfort and quality for geriatric pets include: difficulty getting up or lying down, trouble getting onto furniture or up and down stairs, and decreased ability to go for walks without slowing down, sitting or becoming obviously sore. There could be more subtle signs as well, which may include: decreased interaction with family, decreased appetite, restlessness or panting, increased irritability or reluctance to play with toys, other pets, or you. If you are seeing these types of symptoms, please check with your primary care veterinarian, who may run blood work or take radiographs as part of their exam. Once any major health issues are addressed, this is the perfect time to see what rehabilitation and physical medicine can offer to ease symptoms, improve mobility, and increase everyday enjoyment for you and your pet.

Dr. Mary Cardeccia has practiced small animal medicine and surgery since 1995, moving gradually from general practice to complementary veterinary medicine, starting with her acupuncture class in 2007, and most recently with her canine massage class. You can find her practice, Animal Rehabilitation Facility, at 8040 Fourth Street, Dexter, MI 48130. To make an appointment call: 734-253-2722 or visit them online at:

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Posted on January 1, 2019 and filed under Animals, Health, Issue 71, Pets.