Steve Winokur, a veterinarian at the Pharr Road Animal Hospital in Buckhead, examined his patient, a white rescue dog named Katie.
She arched her back into the air as an assistant held her in place, acupuncture needles poking out of her like porcupine quills. Flute music played over a hidden speaker. Her owner, Sandy Springs resident Pat Chesney, baby-talked to her from a chair in a corner of the room.
Winokur and Chesney said the dog’s first acupuncture session went smoothly. Pet acupuncture is relatively routine these days, coming into popularity around the 1970s. The Chinese reportedly used it on their horses thousands of years ago, Winokur said.
The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society says acupuncture works by strategically inserting needles in parts of the body to trigger the release of certain chemicals, such as endorphins.
“In western medical terms, acupuncture can assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiological changes,” the IVAS says.
The Pharr Road Animal Hospital offers acupuncture for any number of ailments, including pain, arthritis and stomach problems. In Katie’s case, the dog had a taste for tiny pieces of wood, a condition known as pica.
“I pretty much can look at a patient and if there’s a potential imbalance in the body we use the acupuncture to help balance out the body,” Winokur said.
There are three veterinary acupuncture schools in the U.S.; the IAVS, the Chi Institute and Colorado State University.
“I would encourage any pet owner if they’re seeking it to make sure their acupuncturist has been certified,” Winokur said.
Treatments costs $35 or more, depending on the condition and the therapy used, he said.
Cats also are good candidates for acupuncture, Winokur said. The procedure can help with upper respiratory disease, he said.
The hospital also offers laser acupuncture, which doesn’t involve needles, he said.
The Pharr Road animal hospital adorns its rooms around the therapy. Some rooms have large pillows on the floor where owners can sit with their pets during treatments. The piped-in, low-volume music and the dim lamplight create a calming ambiance. Chesney also brought with her another rescue dog, named Dylan. As soon as Katie was through with her acupuncture treatments, it was Dylan’s turn.
Chesney swears by the procedure and has been treating her pets with acupuncture for years.
She said one of her dogs, a Yorkie named Winston, could hardly move when she rescued him from New York. The abused animal showed dramatic improvements after his first acupuncture session, showing more agility and feistiness.
“I definitely think there’s something to this,” Chesney said.