Mainstream Care vs. Alternative Therapy: What is Right for Your Dog?

As Nola told you about on Monday, we started doing some rehab with her for her ACL injury. Our reasoning for this was twofold. One, we wanted to make sure her injury completely healed. Because it was only a partial tear, we were worried that if we let her go back to her normal activities too fast she might completely tear it. The second reason was that we wanted to prevent it from happening on the other leg. Our ultimate goal was to get her back as close to her ‘normal’ activity level as we could. The Mr. and I are active, we like to take Nola to the beach, hiking, swimming, biking, and running. She also really likes to play. We didn’t want to go through life cringing every time she ran faster than a trot, crossing our fingers she doesn’t injure her leg again.

I came across Gayle at Pawsitive Results K9 Rehabilitation through this blog. I shared my friend Shelley’s story about her dog Payson, and so did Jessica from Notes from a Dog Walker. Gayle and Jessica worked together at a local shelter, so when she saw the post, Gayle requested Shelley’s info so she could talk to her about other options. Then, Shelley told me about what Gayle had to offer which was a mix of laser therapy, hydrotherapy, manual therapy and strengthening exercises. Gayle also told her that she thought Payson didn’t need surgery at all. All I could think of was how does she know that without even seeing him? The vet said he needed surgery, so isn’t that the best option to repair his injury?

When Nola first got hurt and we were unsure if she would need surgery, our agility trainer sent me an article from the Whole Dog Journal about choices of care for an ACL injury. One option was called conservative management. What I got from the article was that for bigger dogs with complete ruptures, conservative management was not always a viable option and surgery is usually the better option. Turns out since Nola’s was only a partial tear, and surgery was not necessary at the time, we decided we were going to try conservative management. Our vet, who we love and who saved Nola’s life after her accident, told us we should do absolutely no activity for two weeks and then slowly let her start doing things again. He kept comparing it to a sprained ankle on a human. But with Nola, when you give her a little bit of freedom with exercise, she wants it all. And, if her injury was like an ankle sprain with humans, we don’t just go from complete rest to walking again. Some physical therapy and rehab is usually part of our recovery. So why did he not suggest something like that for Nola?

The most confusing part was the completely opposite points of view and treatment plans from the two different professionals. The vet says surgery or rest, and the animal rehabilitation therapist says laser and exercises. How does the average person differentiate between the two methods and chose what is best for their dog when neither professional even mentioned the other options? Each kind of treatment plan offers differing costs, healing periods and amount of time and energy. When the vet you love and trust tells you one thing, but then someone else offers you another more revolutionary option, how do you decide what is right for your dog?

Because of Nola’s situation, we could do a combination of the two. We did rest her for the first 4-6 weeks, but then we went to Gayle for a consult to see what she thought the best option was for us, keeping our ultimate goal in mind. I was still unsure about the laser therapy, but I figured we would give it a shot.  According to Gayle, low level laser therapy is used to increase quality and speed of tissue repair, decrease inflammation and aid pain relief. Gayle described it as helping the cells regenerate at a faster rate so that the injury could heal better. We started off with five sessions in a row. Each session was a combination of some manual therapy, 15-20 minutes of laser therapy and then 10-15 minutes of hydrotherapy. Gayle’s pool is salt water and heated, which helped Nola exercise without the added strain of running. And, it has a ramp to get in and out of so there was no climbing out. She said that 1 minute of swimming is equal to 5 minutes of running, so it was great for Nola to help build her endurance again.
It’s been two weeks and a total of 8 sessions. Gayle is happy with Nola’s progress and thinks we are well on our way to our goal of getting Nola back to her ‘normal’ activity level. She said that agility was probably not good for her, but we could try other lower impact classes like Rally-O if we wanted to do something like that. Although we are sad that the jumping part of agility will keep Nola on the sidelines, the idea that we will soon be able to hike, let Nola run off leash, and let her play with her friends again is so comforting. We have exercises to do at home with her to strengthen both legs, and we will check in with Gayle again in two weeks.

So, my point to this post is that you have to do your research and trust your gut. In my opinion it is a mix of mainstream veterinary practices and some alternative therapies that ultimately is the best solution. I think we should not be close-minded to one option or the other. Although something that a vet recommends might in fact be the best option for your dog, it is important to ask the questions and seek out alternatives that could help speed up recovery time, or in our case, help make sure the injury doesn’t get worse. And, as it turns out, Nola really loves all the chicken jerky she gets at Gayle’s, so we’re all happy!

14 thoughts on “Mainstream Care vs. Alternative Therapy: What is Right for Your Dog?

  1. Thank you for all the great information!

    My dog Jasper tore his ACL last year and had surgery with the plates. It was a very rough time and recovery was 4 months of hell. Recently, he partially tore his other acl and I didnt want him to go through that again. After lots of research, we decided to purchase the WoundWear A-Trac brace. We are thrilled with the improvement he has made, and are so happy with WoundWear for helping us with sizing and being there to provide an alternative to surgery. I highly suggest this brace to anyone looking for a conservative management option!

    -Susan M.

  2. I think it’s sad when traditional veterinarians aren’t open to alternative therapy. I’m lucky enough to have a vet who believes in both and will do physical therapy, laser therapy and massages to help with an issue.

    I’m glad Nola is doing better, it’s scary when your dog has an injury like that.

  3. I agree, it can be so perplexing which route to take, made even harder when each side sometimes makes it seem like their path is the ‘correct’ one. I agree with you that often there is room for compromise, and that goes in line with us wanting to do all we can for our babys! So happy that Nola found her way (thanks to you!)!

  4. I think you are right on. Unfortunately, the ‘success’ stories relating to alternative therapies do not seem to be publicized very much. The best statements you made were ‘do your own research’ then ‘follow your gut’. You are a smart cookie! I’m sure that Nola will be back to her ‘crazy’ self real soon.

  5. I know it can be frustrating to feel like you are getting conflicting information from your vet and other non-traditional animal therapists. I actually found a vet who specializes in holistic treatments and have been very happy – he has all of the vet school training but realizes that taking a holistic approach first is actually a pretty good plan. If that doesn’t work, THEN you can explore other methods of care. 🙂

  6. Trusting your gut was huge for me. My vet INSISTED on operating on my much older dog when she tore her ACL. I just had a bad feeling about it. Operations on older dogs (and humans!) is tough! Harder recovery, greater risks etc etc. I see that Susan (from above) used the WoundWear brace and that’s where my research took me as well. I ordered it and am loving it–or should I say we are loving it 🙂 Ruby has done awesome with the brace and her healing has been a lot easier than if we had gone the surgery route. I’m confident that I made the right decision for us.

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