Aromatherapy for a nervous Yorkie. Acupuncture for a dachshund with a bad back. Water therapy for a Weimaraner recovering from a stroke.
Alternative medicine for pets is growing in popularity, said Dr. Nancy Scanlan, executive director of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Treatments include acupuncture, herbs, chiropractic medicine, massage therapy, aromatherapy, essential oils, laser therapy and physical therapy.
Dr. Joyce Loeser, a holistic vet with a practice in Davie, has a waiting room filled withdogs and the occasional cat in need of acupuncture, laser therapy or physical therapy to help them heal quicker from surgery or loosen stiff muscles.
"People are finally questioning their own health care, so they are seeking alternatives for their own animals also," said Loeser, who had 300 clients when she first started her practice nine years ago. She now has more than 4,800 clients and 6,900 patients.
"I used to get looks from people like I was practicing black beads and feathers," she said. Now, not so much.
On Saturday, Loeser's waiting room at Animal Recreation & Rehabilitation Center was filled with dogs – and one opossum – awaiting acupuncture treatments.
Robin Castellon, of Plantation, rescued Vinny the opossum after he was attacked by a dog as a baby.
Now 10 months old, Vinny is an old hand at acupuncture and physical therapy. At one point, he was going three times a week for treatments with Loeser to help with chronic pain and the impaired function of his tail and back legs.
On Saturday, Vinny was back for another dose of needle therapy.
"He's really mellowing out," Castellon said midway through the session. "He'll sleep like a rock tonight."
Of the 30,000 practicing vets in this country, 6 percent are doing some kind of holistic medicine, Scanlan said. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association started in 1992 with 30 members. It now has 900 members, including nine in South Florida. And every year, about 150 vets become certified in acupuncture, she said.
In Florida alone, 120 vets were trained in acupuncture by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, executive director Vikki Weber said.
A trip to a holistic vet may cost anywhere from 1 1/2 to three times what a regular office call might cost, Scanlan said. But some pet owners say it's worth it.
Jan Freeman takes her pets to Healing Heart Holistic Care in Boynton Beach. When one of her dogs had shoulder trouble and another had stiff hips, a few chiropractic sessions did just the trick, Freeman said.
Her vet, Dr. Nancy Keller, offers chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy, which she refers to as "energy medicine." She uses flower essences and essential oils to keep anxious animals calm during storms, and herbs to help dogs and cats with diarrhea and sensitive bellies.
On Monday morning, Keller treated a Schnauzer with a high fever. Instead of a steroid, she gave the dog a homeopathic remedy made from carbon. By afternoon, the dog's temperature had started to drop.
In Davie, Loeser helped a 125-pound Weimaraner recover after a stroke by putting him in an underwater treadmill to help him regain his strength and balance.
"We'll do whatever it takes to get these guys functioning again," she said.
Dr. Michael Feldt, a local vet, refers special needs cases to Loeser.
"I would have thought it was all a bunch of hooey, but she has made me a believer," he said.
That's how Callie, a dachshund with a herniated disc, and her Wilton Manors owner Joan Czukor came to meet Loeser. Two weeks ago, Callie had trouble walking after a jump off the couch. Czukor took Callie in for an acupuncture treatment, then another.
"After the injury she was in a lot of pain," Czukor said. "Now she can walk. She can wag her tail."
The beauty of treating animals is they can't fake getting better, Loeser said.
"They're going to get better or not," she said. "Not everyone responds to acupuncture. Just like with people. But you never know until you try."
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