Guest Post: Acupuncture for the Veterinary Cancer Patient

By Dr. Michelle Morges, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology);

Dr. Kendra Pope, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), CVA, CVCH, CVFT, CVTP

 

Acupuncture and the Veterinary Cancer Patient

 

I was hesitant about acupuncture at first. As a veterinary oncologist I have seen the benefits of acupuncture.  It was a goal of mine to get certified.

 

I was not sure how much of a role there would be for acupuncture for a veterinarian like myself who treats only cancer patients.  Then I started working with Dr. Kendra Pope. She ultimately inspired me to get certified in acupuncture.

 

During introductions while at my certification course this past spring, one of the veterinarians taking the course reacted to hearing that I was a veterinary oncologist.  She stated that she was a cancer survivor and that “while western medicine saved her life, eastern medicine made her treatments tolerable”.  Her experience truly illustrated my vision for how I wanted to integrate acupuncture into my oncology practice.

 Those of us who treat cancer wish there was an easy “cure”.  We know that depending on their diagnosis patients require treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy to survive.  Holistic therapies such as acupuncture cannot battle cancer on their own BUT they can make these treatments much more tolerable and help patients maintain a healthy, balanced immune system.  Some of the best outcomes we have in our practice involve a combined western and holistic approach to cancer.  

 

 

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture needles

 

 

Acupuncture works by placing small needles along the body in certain “points” which help to receive pain, stimulate the nervous system, support the immune system, and restore balance.  

 

Types of Acupuncture

The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach involves stimulating acupuncture points along meridians, or channels, along the body, influencing different organ systems and maintaining balance and the free flow of energy through the body.  A different ideology called medical acupuncture for veterinarians (MAV) involves the knowledge of nerves and neurogenic pathways that are activated leading to the desired effect.  

 

Dr. Pope is trained in TCM while I trained with MAV and regardless of our underlying beliefs of how or why acupuncture works, the bottom line is that we both get very positive results.

 

Benefits of Acupuncture with Veterinary Cancer

 

 

Acupuncture is an attractive treatment modality for dogs and cats with cancer. These patients often have systemic signs related to their cancer or at risk from side effects from their cancer treatment.  All symptoms which can be addressed by acupuncture.  Further, many of the veterinary patients with cancer are seniors. As such they may  suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, weight loss, osteoarthritis, kidney disease, urinary issues that can all be treated as well.  

 

Studies in humans have shown many benefits to acupuncture for cancer patients including:

– Decreased nausea with chemotherapy

– Decreased side effects secondary to radiation therapy

– Increased white blood cells counts while on chemotherapy

– Decrease in tumor related pain

– Improved treatment related anxiety

– Reduced cancer-related fatigue

– Improved sleep while undergoing cancer treatment. 

And many more benefits.

 

Clinical Study of Acupuncture on Veterinary Oncology Patients

We feel strongly that every patient with cancer should receive the benefit of acupuncture.  There is no information in humans to suggest that acupuncture has negative or deleterious effects in cancer patients.  Sadly, studies are lacking in veterinary medicine but we hope to change that in the near future.  

Dr. Pope is currently the primary investigator of a study at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. She is investigating the benefits of acupuncture administered concurrently with chemotherapy in dogs with lymphoma. Patients receiving chemotherapy for lymphoma are assigned to acupuncture or non-acupuncture groups. Blood work results, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and overall quality of life is compared between these two groups to determine the benefit of this treatment.

 

Data collected from this trial will hopefully be published in the near future to allow for more veterinarians to realize the benefit and the power of these treatments.


Dr. Morges

Dr. Morges practices acupuncture and Medical Oncology at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, NJ as well as equine and small animal acupuncture at Veterinary Oncology and Wellness.  She received her veterinary degree from Colorado State University.  In addition, she completed a rotating internship at VCA Veterinary Specialists of Northern Colorado and a specialty internship in oncology at North Carolina State University.  Dr. Morges completed her medical oncology residency at Colorado State University and obtained board certification in 2014.  Finally, she completed her training in Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians (MAV) in April 2017.

 

Dr. Pope

Dr. Pope currently practices Integrative Medicine and Oncology at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, NJ. She received her veterinary degree from the University of Florida, and certifications in veterinary acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy, food therapy and Tui-na at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Pope went on to complete a rotating internship and residency at the University of Pennsylvania, and obtained board certification in Oncology in 2015. Currently she is enrolled in the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies training in Western herbal medicine. *updated 2018, Dr. Kendra Pope is now located at drkendrapope.com and can be found at her office in Red Bank, New Jersey.

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31 thoughts on “Guest Post: Acupuncture for the Veterinary Cancer Patient

  1. Awesome information on cancer.

  2. I love the fact that more vets are looking into alternative care for pets. I learned so much about acupuncture that I never knew. Thanks for the info and for taking the time to learn yourself

    1. Me too. I found this post very interesting to read and I’m so excited to share it with the world.

  3. Fantastic post. I am a believer in acupuncture and have been seeing one for years for my RA and Fibromyalgia. When my mother was in rehab after a fall, and ultimately on her final journey, my acupuncturist visited her to help ease her pain, and it was a comfort to know she felt relief. One of my Huskies was experiencing sudden anxiety, and acupuncture instantly calmed him (and he fell asleep)! I so believe in alternative therapies – whether on their own or in combination with traditional treatments. Having a dog with Canine Epilepsy and weak hind issues due to the meds, I know the alternative treatments is what helped him. Pinning this on my “Bark About” board! Thanks again for a wonderful article.

    1. Thanks for the pin and for sharing your story. I’m so happy that you and your family (furred and otherwise) have benefitted from acupuncture.

  4. Thank you for this post! I would have absolutely considered doing this with our first mastiff when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Cancer is the absolute worst thing for any dog to go through and anything that can help relieve the symptoms and, potentially, the outcome is worth it in my opinion.

    1. Improving quality of life is so important for our sick pets. Acupuncture certainly goes a long way to help.

  5. After I watched the documentary Pet FOOleD, I read The Royal Treatment by Dr. Barbara Royal where she described her positive experiences with acupuncture and an integrative veterinary approach. This blog post just furthers my mindset that acupuncture is one really good option to try if either of our dogs ever develops cancer. Thank you both for being rebels, of sorts. I wish you the best in your continued research.

    1. Rebels- I love that! It’s not easy to step out of the established norms and ask questions, and learn more outside of the “box”. I will have to watch the documentary and read the book. Thanks for the information.

  6. I know several dogs who have gotten acupuncture for arthritis with really good results. It makes sense to me that acupuncture could relieve some of the unpleasantness of chemo.

    1. Acupuncture does a wonderful job relieving arthritis symptoms as well. There are so many benefits, especially when combined with massage.

  7. I had no idea that acupuncture could treat cancer symptoms/treatment side effects in pets. This has been incredibly enlightening, though, I hope I never have to take a pet to see an acupuncture specialist for cancer. 🙁 I am a big fan of combined Eastern and Western treatments as they make sense. Thanks for sharing this information with us!

    1. I too hope that you never have to deal with pet cancer. Luckily acupuncture can also help with arthritis, anxiety, lack of appetite, and more. I love combining eastern and western medicine in both my family and for my pets.

  8. I’ve heard so much about how acupuncture helps humans, so I can imagine the benefits for dogs and cats. I have a friend who is trained in acupuncture and she talks about how much help it can be.

    1. That’s amazing! We use acupuncture on horses as well. I’m happy to announce that we will be offering this to our equine clients starting in October! Shhhh, no official announcement yet. 😉

  9. My springer that had osteosarcoma back in 2002 had accupuncture treatments for a whole year after her leg was amputated and she became paralyzed. It helped her a lot and she recovered a bit of mobility. She would look like a pin cushion with all the needles in her – especially on her face!

    1. I can imagine, but it sounds like the acupuncture really helped. It’s awesome how comfortable most animals are with the needles.

  10. Mr. N hasn’t had acupuncture before but our vet offers it. They practice both Eastern and Western medicine.

    1. I’m so happy to hear that. My local veterinarian (Red Bank Veterinary Hospital) does the same- both Eastern and Western integrative medicine.

  11. Harvey has kidney issues and I am considering acupuncture treatment for him. I don’t know if it heals or not, BUT it won’t hurt and will be, I believe, beneficial.

    1. Poor Harvey. If you have a veterinary practitioner in your area, I would definitely recommend a consultation. I’d love to hear your feedback afterward too!

  12. Acupuncture is a fantastic option for treatment of many things. We’ve used it in the past and are still using it as part of our integrative approach.

    1. I love that! I bet your pets appreciate it also.

  13. When my dog Ty was getting chemo for lymphoma I thought about trying acupuncture for nausea. Didn’t end up doing so mainly because of the lack of a nearby practitioner.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that Ty had lymphoma. Cancer is something that so many pets go through and yet not everyone talks about. I am on the board of a non profit called The Brodie Fund that provides grants for cancer treatment- including acupuncture. But of course, that is assuming there is a certified practitioner nearby.

  14. That’s so great that you can use acupuncture to relieve so many cancer symptoms and side effects. I loved what the woman said in the beginning about how eastern medicine made her treatments tolerable. I have known a good amount of people who went through chemo and radiation and if they can get relief from something as natural and holistic as acupuncture (dog or human) that’s amazing! Great read

    1. Thanks Debbie, I want to have acupuncture myself to firsthand feel the benefits. I just had a recent fall off a horse and I think it would help me to recover.

  15. I wish I knew about acupuncture for pets when my cat was sick with cancer. I always appreciate learning about new and alternative methods to help cure and/or ease illness and disease without drugs. Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. You are so welcome. We’re on a mission to show that combining eastern and western medicines can have amazing benefits on your pets, especially those battling cancer.

  16. I think it’s fantastic that more veterinarians are looking to acupuncture and other modalities to bring ease to their patients. Current science is only what we have available now but for centuries people have been using acupuncture with noted benefits. Using them in conjunction with treatments such as chemotherapy is brilliant and I am so thrilled to see this being discussed in the animal care world. My dogs get acupuncture for muscle strains and injury from their agility training and I see a huge difference.

    1. I love hearing that! I often massage my clients after acupuncture and see the benefits first hand. In fact, I think I need to get it myself!

What are your thoughts?