Arf? Quack?
October 13, 2012 6:12 PM   Subscribe

Does any science support alternative medical treatments for dogs?

Trying to evaluate a vet’s marketing claims, specifically for the acupuncture & muscle-directed laser she's using to treat Doggy's several ills.
Maybe my doubts track back to the moment when the doc, her assistant, Doggy, and I all donned dark glasses during a laser session. It was routine for them, surreal for me, and Doggy's not talking. (Sorry, green, no photo available.)
Again, I’m looking more for science than anecdote: Is there any reputable data out there that suggests acupuncture or laser actually improves outcomes or QOL for dogs with specific conditions?
posted by LonnieK to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You most likely won't find "evidence" that these treatment help dogs -- simply because large-scale randomized control trials are expensive and no one is funding dog quality of life research (I'm guessing) and like you said, Doggy isn't talking. Much more difficult to get five hundred dogs to fill out questionnaires.

So I suggest you look for evidence that it helps humans. I've heard that laser treatments help accelerate wound healing in humans, and I think I've gotten it myself. But I've never looked up the research articles. I've also gotten acupuncture and at minimum, it was very relaxing -- does Doggy seem to be in less pain or more relaxed?
posted by vitabellosi at 6:28 PM on October 13, 2012

Certain kinds of laser therapy might be helpful for certain ailments; you don't mention what your dogs' are. If any data has been published, PubMed would be a good place to start searching for it.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, would not be called "alternative" treatment if it actually worked.
posted by halogen at 6:44 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the last couple decades no scientific study (read: with real standards, which includes not being sponsored by commercial interests) has shown acupuncture to be effective against any disease. There have been studies of acupuncture studies, and--at best--these have concluded no conclusions could be drawn from the studies. Any claimed effects are likely the result of the mind ... placebo effect as a result of expected outcome, counterirritation, etc.

Doing this on a human is unlikely to produce real results. Doing on an animal, less so. Not to mention there are some dangers to needlessly sticking needles in the skin...minor for a healthy being, perhaps less so for one who's ill.

Acupuncture is framed on an out-dated (or updated but fanciful) understanding of how the body functions, and has no real science to back it up. The vet's marketing claim is just that -- a marketing claim. The money spent on that would be better spent in other aspects of QoL.
posted by metaJa at 7:03 PM on October 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's probably this:

There are some links in there to primary research (which I have not read).

I don't know anything about vet medicine, or about acupuncture, but I know something about lasers and I am extremely skeptical of laser therapy for anything other than dermatology, because I can see no plausible mechanism by which a laser of the type used in these therapies could influence tissue deep within the body. In clinical terms, the above article suggests there is no strong evidence against LLLT, and maybe some weak evidence for it. I don't find weak clinical evidence very compelling when any effect would be so surprising in terms of physics.

The goggles, on the other hand, are probably genuinely necessary and not just there for show!
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 7:03 PM on October 13, 2012

Anecdata, but I know a good number of owners whose dogs have benefited from acupuncture, dogs with arthritis, lumbar stenosis and other. I've had successful acupuncture treatments myself, and I'm a skeptic. Acupuncture isn't going to have documented Big Pharma studies because it can't be patented.

If you don't trust your vet, please seek a second qualified opinion for your dog.
posted by vers at 7:25 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

There was this article that quotes a figure of something like 70% of dogs show some improvement from laser therapy for arthritis. Where they pulled the figure from is anyones guess.

Anecdotally there is the whole story of John and Schoep who thanks to a picture taken by a friend inspired a lot of people to donate money so his dog to get treatment for arthritis and other problems an old dog can have. If you check out the photos and videos etc I think you can see an improvement in the dogs attitude, but it's hard to say what other treatments or pain relief Schoep is getting as well.
posted by wwax at 8:14 PM on October 13, 2012

I am a skeptic when it comes to these types of things, but for a while we were taking my ailing dog for acupuncture once a week. For the first few months the treatments allowed her to walk easily for two to three days after; near the end of her life, the effects were minimal, so we stopped going. We were shocked by how effective it was though. If you have the means to do so, do consider trying it-- even if it was some kind of weird doggy placebo, it helped ease the pain for my long-in-the-tooth pup.
posted by samthemander at 9:45 PM on October 13, 2012

It's called alternative medical treatment because there's no peer-reviewed, scientific study that supports it. So no, by definition you aren't going to find scientific support for it. That's what makes it alternative.
posted by sbutler at 10:48 PM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

The dogs may not talk, but their owners sure do, and their perception of improvement changes drastically after paying a few hundred dollars for "treatment" so I wouldn't discount the placebo effect outright for pets.
posted by Mai2k3 at 11:26 PM on October 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

[The OP is asking for data, not opinion. If you have some to offer, fine; if not, there's no need to comment.]
posted by taz at 3:46 AM on October 14, 2012

A tour through google scholar revealed a few papers that cover acupuncture studies done in humans using fake needles and real needles. One free paper, A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture, and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain concluded that:
Although acupuncture was found effective for chronic low back pain, tailoring needling sites to each patient and penetration of the skin appear to be unimportant in eliciting therapeutic benefits. These findings raise questions about acupuncture's purported mechanisms of action. It remains unclear whether acupuncture or our simulated method of acupuncture provide physiologically important stimulation or represent placebo or nonspecific effects.
No free papers, but various abstracts I read had similar conclusions for laser therapy. It works for some people, we don't know why, probably a placebo, more research needed.
posted by xyzzy at 5:08 AM on October 14, 2012

Here's an abstract from Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice that may be relevant: Select Modalities
posted by Wordwoman at 8:27 AM on October 14, 2012

The dogs may not talk, but their owners sure do, and their perception of improvement changes drastically after paying a few hundred dollars for "treatment" so I wouldn't discount the placebo effect outright for pets.

We had a dog with a spinal injury who gained greater mobility in her paralyzed hind end after acupuncture treatments. It's pretty had to imagine improvement in a dog that you no longer have to carry in a sling when she wants to go outside, purely due to the costs involved.

Anecdotes are not a scientific study, but neither is unsupported speculation of the psychology of pet owners.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:26 PM on October 14, 2012

It's pretty had to imagine improvement in a dog that you no longer have to carry in a sling when she wants to go outside, purely due to the costs involved.

While that may be true, and I'm happy your dog recovered, you must be aware that one case does not prove a method effective.
In most cases owners report "some mild improvement" and not the kind of drastic improvement you are talking about, but the people doing the study put it through some meaningless quantization (i.e. letting the owners rate the level of comfort of the animal), and they get an equally meaningless number showing a numeric difference between the outcomes.
Here's an example of how it might work:
Suppose method A has very little to no side effects (e.g. accupuncture) and many of the owners report a mild improvement, and suppose on the other hand that method b has quite severe side effects, but a higher rate of drastic improvements, although not a very high percentage. Then for method b many people will at best report a neutral outcome, and some will report a negative outcome, whereas in A the overall trend will be more positive. Playing with the numbers in this situation you can pretty much get any result you want.

I'm not saying that this is the case in reality, I'm just saying that most of these studies are very badly designed and they don't really answer the questions that they set out to.
posted by Mai2k3 at 9:55 AM on October 16, 2012

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