The tightly strapped poodle eyes the vet nervously as he gently inserts fine needles into his back and paws, invoking the ancient art of acupuncture to treat the pet’s pain.
Duniu is just one of a growing number of animals being registered in China for traditional medicine – care that their masters say is less invasive and has fewer side effects than traditional treatments.
At a Beijing practice, pets of all shapes and sizes come in for treatment.
“The advantage of traditional Chinese medicine is that there is no surgery,” 38-year-old Zhai Chunyu told AFP, accompanied by Duniu, his poodle.
“In this way the suffering of the animal is reduced.”
At just three years old, Duniu suffers from Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which affects the thigh bone and can lead to painful osteoarthritis.
“He was in so much pain that he couldn’t put his paw on the ground” and “had no appetite,” says Zhai, who works in finance.
“A doctor advised me to have the femoral head removed. I didn’t want to do that though because I have another poodle that was there who suffered a lot from the surgery and aftermath.”
But then a friend advised him to try acupuncture.
“After five to six sessions we saw the results. Duniu can now walk and even run a bit,” says Zhai.
– ‘Treat her gently’ –
Animal acupuncture is centuries old in China, says veterinarian Li Wen, who started his practice in 2016.
“Traditional Chinese medicine should not replace conventional medicine,” because “both have their strengths” and complement each other, he says.
Before starting treatment, the veterinarian first examines the animal’s body, examining its vision and the color of its tongue, measuring its pulse and asking its owner questions.
He then plants his needles at acupuncture points specific to dogs and cats.
“Out of the 10 animals I get every day on average, there are always one or two that rebel,” says Li.
“You have to communicate with them, treat them gently, reassure them you’re not here to hurt them.”
Recordings of soft bamboo flute music and birdsong are played at the clinic to help the animals relax.
Li mainly deals with cases of paralysis, limb weakness, epilepsy, pain and urinary retention.
Acupuncture can also be used for conditions where no other treatment is available.
Such was the case with Xiaomei, a 12-year-old male Labrador suffering from nerve compression in his lower back.
“Last September he couldn’t get up after swimming. A veterinarian then told us that it was impossible to treat him and that he would become paralyzed,” his owner Ma Li, 41, told AFP.
“Thanks to the acupuncture, he still has difficulties, but he can walk and even run normally.”
– ‘He loves to!’ –
“He was scared the first time,” says Yang Lihua, a 65-year-old retiree who is accompanied by her Pekingese, Niannian, who has a herniated disc.
“Now he loves it! After the session he’s so relaxed he sleeps in the car on the way home.”
The animal acupuncture market remains limited at present, Li says.
“But since 2016, it’s been gaining popularity,” he adds.
“With increasing levels of education, improved living conditions and rising incomes, more and more people are realizing the benefits of this drug.”
Mas Labrador jumps into the back seat of her mistress’ car after her session and looks content.
“Doesn’t he look happy?” she calls.
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