LSU Vet School gets grant for holistic medicine

Alternative therapies explored 

Sometime next fall, when a 10-year-old dachshund is suffering from a bad back or a 13-year-old pit bull mix is afflicted with arthritis, the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine will be able to offer them the services of a full-time acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine.

The Vet School recently received a $60,000 grant from the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Foundation, and another $50,000 in private donations, to augment their Integrative Medicine Service program.

LSU’s veterinary specialists already offer acupuncture and other services including shock-wave therapy, therapeutic ultrasounds and massage to their patients, but the grant money will allow them to respond to growing demand.

U.S. pet owners spent more than $53 billion last year on food, veterinary care and other services like holistic medicine, according to the American Pet Products Association.

“More and more people are requesting these kinds of therapies,” said Rebecca McConnico, LSU Vet School internist and certified veterinary acupuncturist. “I don’t think it’s a fad. We’re finding evidence to support its use.”

McConnico said holistic or alternative medicine in addition to traditional veterinary medicine can be extremely beneficial to animals ranging from domestic pets to livestock.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe people and animals have a series of internal energy conduits, called meridians or channels that carry life-giving energy throughout the body. Any interference in the energy flow, or Chi, can disrupt normal bodily functions leading to pain or disease.

Treating disease and discomfort with acupuncture is supposed to stimulate specific points along the body to reopen “blocked” energy flow and reestablish normal functioning.

McConnico said animals who have undergone acupuncture appear more alert, seem more mobile and show less signs of pain.

“People compare the effects to an endorphin or adrenaline release,” she said.

LSU started its Integrative Medicine Program in 2011. Since then, the back rooms of the Vet School have become places where veterinarians practice therapeutic massage; shock-wave therapy on animals to speed up the healing of bone and tendon injuries; and ultrasound therapy, where ultrasonic waves are used to improve circulation to different muscle groups.

Friday at the Vet School Jennifer Bridges, a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, put a pit bull mix named Pinenut through its paces on an underwater treadmill while periodically feeding her treats.

The dog stood in a large clear tank with water up to its hips as the floor of the tank moved slowly beneath her feet. Bridges explained that exercising in 90- to 95-degree water relieves some of the weight and pressure on the dog’s arthritic limbs.

Pinenut typically comes to the Vet School twice a week for her 30-minute sessions on the treadmill, Bridges said. As the dog gets stronger, staffers can gradually reduce the amount of water in the tank until Pinenut can carry her own weight.

Bridges said she believes Pinenut looks forward to the therapy sessions as the dog has learned how to open the door to the underwater treadmill.

“She’s very treat motivated, but she gets right in,” Bridges said. “She’s not reluctant at all.”