Thanks to advances in veterinary care – not to mention our overall awareness of animal health and welfare – our pets are living longer. Pet owners are relishing these extra years with their best friends, and they’re learning more about the special care our older pets may need.

Sometimes, older, frail animals have ailments that would make anesthesia or invasive treatments difficult or impossible to administer, and a more gentle approach is warranted. In these situations, many pet owners turn to Integrative Medicine, an approach that merges Eastern and Western veterinary therapies. Integrative Medicine is used to treat pets of all ages, and especially geriatric pets. Some common geriatric issues that lend themselves nicely to Integrative Medicine treatments include chronic pain, anxiety, and gastrointestinal issues. If you’re new to Integrative Medicine, here are some basics. At SAGE, this specialty includes:

  • Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM)
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal therapy
  • Laser therapy

Aches and Pains, Be Gone!

Micki McCabe, DVM, DACVIM, CVA leads SAGE Veterinary Centers’ Integrative Medicine practice, and generally sees pets who fall into these categories:

  • They have exhausted Western therapies and treatments
  • Their owners make a philosophical choice to take a more holistic approach
  • They need intensive intervention from a Western standpoint, but their owners or primary care veterinarians are looking for alternatives

Dr. McCabe, who is based at SAGE Concord, uses the example of one of her elderly patients who had back surgeries in her younger days and had recently developed neck pain.

“To confirm a diagnosis we would need to do an MRI, but surgical intervention may not make a difference in her quality of life,” Dr. McCabe says. “Our goal with this patient was to find something that is more conservative, gentle, palliative, and effective.”

The patient is doing well with acupuncture every several weeks. In a patient like this, Dr. McCabe might recommend acupuncture or herbal therapy. These treatments have been shown to be beneficial in these and many other situations, including neuromuscular disease, asthma treatment, endocrine disease, and other systemic disorders.

Laser therapy is another integrative treatment option for pain management. Laser beams send warm, penetrating light into the tissues to decrease inflammation and pain. These treatments can be used as needle-free acupuncture for pets who won’t tolerate needles, or to complement acupuncture and other therapies.

“Managing chronic pain is one area where an integrative approach can changes lives,” Dr. McCabe says. “I have several patients whose owners say they do not think the pet could function without acupuncture, laser, or herbal support.”

Treating the Aging Brain

Anxiety and confusion are also common in geriatric dogs, and an Integrative Medicine approach may help. Dr. McCabe uses acupuncture for these patients, which can help reduce anxiety and “help them feel more comfortable in their own skin,” she says. She has also prescribed Chinese herbal blends to diminish cognitive issues and anxiety, and has seen many patients stabilize and improve with treatment.

“When you work with a pet in an integrative way, your goal is to treat the whole animal, and that’s the beauty,” Dr. McCabe says. “A combination of Eastern and Western treatments helps these patients feel better physically and emotionally, and it is very calming. They’re happier. And they’re healthier.”