Let’s look at another way to help with dog cancer pain: acupuncture. Those in the alternative medicine community would expect a discussion of acupuncture to help with pain control. Those who are strictly conventional will likely poo poo it as baseless hocus-pocus.
But pain management is an essential part of treating dogs with cancer. Since life quality is a central issue, we look for ways to make sure it is maintained. Pain is a huge life quality negative.
Pain is usually controlled with medications. However, sometimes the medications are not tolerated, or they are just not enough. What to do?
In the spirit of the Full Spectrum Approach strategy used in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, let’s take a closer look at acupuncture, one of the most debated topics in Western medicine.
Just the facts, folks — no dogma.
Studies Back Up Acupuncture’s Use
A very interesting study showed that auricular acupuncture (in the ear flap) decreased cancer pain significantly. Check it out for yourself here. Another article showed that electroacupuncture decreased the need for pain medication after surgery where the chest cavity was opened. Acupuncture with massage was shown in another publication to help a bit with mood, nausea and pain in cancer patients recovering from surgery.
Clearly it seems to be doing something!
Placebo Effect? Nope.
An argument that acupuncture may not be a direct way to reduce pain is the good old placebo effect. Turns out that when pain medications were given to humans out of sight (when the patients did not know they were receiving them), the medications were far less effective than when they were visible. So the knowledge that a pain med was being given explained a lot of the pain control.
The same article also pointed out that the placebo effect of pain medication is explained by the body releasing it’s own pain killing hormones (endorphins). When a medication that blocks these endorphins was given, the placebo effect went away and the pain went up. Pretty crazy!
One of the problems with the argument that acupuncture is due to placebo effect is that it decreases pain in animals. Here is a study that gives abundant evidence of this fact. Animal experimentation ethics aside, the information is clear: since animals have a low probability of expecting that acupuncture will take away their pain, the placebo effect probably did not exist in the experiment.
Verdict: Use It If You Can
Bottom line? In my opinion, acupuncture in no way supplants the use of conventional pain control. However, in conjunction with Western medications, it can lessen the amount of drugs needed. On top of this, it can be used for mild pain if pharmaceuticals are not tolerated. Finally, it can help improve general well-being.
So if you can manage it, consider acupuncture to round out your dog’s Full Spectrum cancer care. Here is a post on recruiting a vet that might be able to help.
All my best,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.