pet acupuncture


Anyone who has ever dealt with chronic pain is familiar with the old trial and error routine we go through in an effort to get some relief: You rest. You exercise. You stretch. You ignore it. Maybe you take a pill. Maybe you take two pills, or buy a new mattress, or apply heat, or ice. Maybe you rest some more. After a while, maybe you consider surgery. For many of us residing in the Western hemisphere, it is only after an unsuccessful cycle of such a routine – or in the face of major surgery – that we find ourselves in the market for an alternative approach.

“Have you considered acupuncture?” A friend or family member is bound to ask you at some point. Nowadays, many are directed to the ancient Chinese practice by none other than their family doctor. In fact, Californians can now see an acupuncturist under their health insurance policies.

So why is it still a last resort for so many people who suffer chronic pain?

Philadelphia Acupuncturist Gabrielle Applebaum has witnessed many patients’ initial hesitation firsthand. As co-owner of Fabriq Spa in Queen Village and winner of Be Well Philly’s “Best Acupuncturist 2013” award, Applebaum has found that one of the greatest challenges she faces in her practice is with reluctant new patients. “Pain is really complicated,” says Applebaum, “But if you’re willing and open to letting it go, you can be pain free. Sometimes it’s hard for people to let go of their attachment to their ailment.” Applebaum happened upon WAG, a Queen Village veterinary practice just blocks from Fabriq Spa, on a walk around the neighborhood a few years ago. What she found was inspiring.

Veterinarian Christina Fuoco has owned and operated WAG: Whole Animal Gym for over three years as a rehabilitative center for pets. As is the case for many humans, Fuoco told us, pet owners are often referred to WAG by their primary veterinarians in search of an alternative therapy. Fuoco uses a variety of different methods, including hydrotherapy, laser therapy, and, you guessed it: acupuncture. Fuoco’s approach to veterinary medicine is an integrated philosophy of both Western and Eastern practices. Her patients, who include cats, dogs, horses, and a black neck swan at the Philadelphia zoo, tend to experience a marked improvement after receiving acupuncture. Fuoco treats mostly neurological and orthopedic cases – pain management for animals whose only means of expression are physical signifiers.

We visited Fuoco last week during an acupuncture treatment with Ben, a 5-year- old Burnese mountain dog who suffers from incontinence and lower back and hip pain. Fuoco has been treating Ben for about a month, at first on a weekly basis. His owners have noticed an improvement in his incontinence, and that he walks with his head held higher – a sign that the dog can now stand with his weight evenly distributed on four legs without pain.

For Applebaum, the success of Fuoco’s acupuncture practice at WAG is inspiring on many levels. The primary measure of success is obvious: animals experience quick improvement to their quality of life, returning them to their regular daily lifestyle, minus the untoward side-effects of medicine. And the success of acupuncture at relieving pain is obvious. “Animals live in the moment by their nature. In a way, they are “objective” patients: you know when they are in pain and you know when that pain is relieved… Judgment about the methods by which they are treated is not a pivotal factor in their outcomes. Observing your pet’s pain dissolve is a clear and simple way to demonstrate acupuncture at work.”And here’s where we return to our lesson on the nature of pain. Animals who benefit from acupuncture aid their caregiving owners by showing how they, too, can let go of their pain with acupuncture. “It’s a really freeing idea; you don’t have to worry so much about why you have the pain. Once you’re willing to part with the idea that you are your ailment, you can be a lot of other things. You don’t have to ask a pet to believe.”

Fuoco sees return patients whose owners are given clear indicators of acupuncture’s effectiveness. “How are the animals doing?” Fuoco encourages pet owners to observe. “Is he sleeping on his bed in his usual spot? Is she getting on the back of the sofa to look out the window? Is he taking a break on his walk?” Fuoco cited one case in which an older, arthritic dog indicated to his owners around the three-week mark between acupuncture treatments that it was time to go again. After a treatment, he could climb the stairs to the third floor of their apartment; three weeks later, he was unable to do it. As such, the couple took their dog for acupuncture every three weeks, and his comfort and quality of life were extended well into his latter years.

Though the veterinarian has used acupuncture to treat animals for over 11 years, the results can still surprise her. “I think that Western medicine is so engrained in us. One of my instructors told us once that even after having practiced acupuncture on his animal patients, he would hear about an animal’s improvement and think, ‘Wow, really?’ I tend to think the same thing sometimes; I stick these little needles in and get the responses that I do – it’s still pretty amazing.”

Fabriq Spa and WAG have partnered to offer Philadelphians a chance to try discounted acupuncture for themselves or their pets. Visit Fabriq Spa or WAG for acupuncture, and receive a 10% off coupon to use at the other location.

FABRIQ SPA: 215.922.3235

WAG: 215.839.9244

Images by Minna Kulmala

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