FARGO - Elsa lies quietly in a cushy dog bed in an exam room at Valley Veterinary Hospital here, awaiting her monthly acupuncture treatment.
Her small body shakes a little despite the calming effects of soothing sounds and images playing in the background. But she visibly relaxes once Dr. Teckla Webb finishes placing the micro-needles in her back and neck. Her pink tongue rolls out, and she starts panting happily.
"Patients are used to coming here for vaccinations and other things, so I try to control the environment as much as I can to make it a different experience," the Fargo veterinarian says.
In both humans and animals, acupuncture stimulates local nerves, increases circulation, relieves muscle tightness and releases hormones like endorphins, serotonin and cortisol.
In Elsa, "It blocks those extra pain messages coming from the back," Webb says.
Elsa, colleague Dr. Derine Winning's 13-year-old Dachshund, was diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease at age 6. Her pain was so severe she couldn't walk.
With the help of acupuncture, the curly-haired dog can get around just fine, and without pain meds.
"My dog would probably be dead if it weren't for acupuncture," says Winning, who's also certified to do the procedure.
Webb says that although acupuncture can effectively treat animals with a variety of ailments, it's usually one part of a treatment plan.
"I think it's important to also have a solid diagnosis, and if there's an infection going on, that needs to be treated concurrently," she says.
But, in the case of another Valley Veterinary patient, Fonzie, the treatments helped heal the hindquarters wound from his incessant licking and biting, presumably a response to his arthritis pain.
"It started to heal up almost immediately," says Richard Greutman of Fargo, who owns the cat with his wife, Diane. "Before long, the fur grew back."
The 17-year-old ragdoll gets an extra neurological boost from an E-Stim unit hooked up to the needles, but he handles it just as well as Dachshund Elsa does.
"I would rather do something holistic than have to give a bunch of medicine, especially pain pills. Cats don't take pills real well," Greutman says, adding that he still has arthritis but gets around well for a senior kitty.
Elsa and Fonzie are acupuncture veterans, but new patients are first given a full physical exam, checking the eyes, ears and heart, and an acupuncture exam, looking for pain, discomfort or muscle knots.
Webb, who at a minimum acupunctures several patients a week, says there are 117 acupuncture points in cats and dogs and she can find them whether it's in a Chihuahua or a Great Dane.
"Every dog will feel a little bit different, but they have the same basic anatomy," she says.
Valley Veterinary Hospital is one of a few clinics in the area that offer animal acupuncture. For more information, go to www.valleyveterinary.net.
The following conditions are among those that may improve with veterinary acupuncture:
• Gastrointestinal disorders
• Respiratory problems
• Neurological disorders
• Musculoskeletal disorders
• Reproductive, endocrine and metabolic disorders
• Immunosuppressive and allergic disorders
• Dermatologic disorders
• Urinary disorders
Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590