Sparks – Acupuncture puts the spark back into Sparks

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Sparks is an old boy but he still wants to enjoy life to the full.  For several years he has suffered with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which is a major cause of sickness and diarrhoea in dogs.

It is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the bowel.  Sparks’ IBD responds well to drugs that suppress his immune system in a controlled way but his medication has some risk of side effects and this is managed carefully by one of our specialists in Internal Medicine, giving Sparks (and his owners) relief from the misery of chronic bowel disease.  With his bowel disease well controlled for many years, Sparks has enjoyed an active life but now suffers with limping as a result of osteoarthritis which particularly affects his hips. The pain from his arthritis can be partly controlled with non steroidal anti-inflammatory pain killers but in combination with his IBD medication these can make his IBD worse, creating something of a dilemma.

Osteoarthritis is a major cause of pain and functional limitation in both people and our pets.  There are few treatments that combine good safety with good efficacy and this can be particularly challenging in individuals, like Sparks, with complex disorders and conflicting needs in their medication.  At Northwest Surgeons our specialists in Internal Medicine work closely with specialist colleagues in Anaesthesia, Pain Management and Surgery to provide optimal pain management strategies for all of our patients in the same way that a multi-disciplinary team at a specialist human hospital would work. We commonly deal with cases like Sparks which are more complex than most and which take time to find the best solution for both owner and pet.

Amongst other treatments, Sparks was considered as a candidate for acupuncture.  This is an interesting area because although there is good scientific evidence in people for the effects of acupuncture in osteoarthritis, there is little scientific evidence on the effect in dogs.  Nevertheless, acupuncture has the advantage of a favourable safety profile when compared to some other treatments in osteoarthritis, particularly for an older character like Sparks with other medical conditions to take into account.  The evidence in people with osteoarthritis does indicate a small positive effect of acupuncture with a favourable safety profile, making this an ideal treatment to consider when more traditional osteoarthritis treatments are problematic.  Matt Gurney offers electro-acupuncture as a component of pain management strategies in suitably selected patients. Electro acupuncture involves passing a small current between two needles and is considered the gold standard in acupuncture, giving a much greater stimulation and thus a greater pain relieving effect. Usually dogs will receive an initial course of one treatment per week for four sessions and then ongoing sessions as necessary.

Sparks responded very well to his initial sessions and to his owner’s horror even started trying to chase sheep, something which he would previously have been beyond him!

Sparks now receives electro acupuncture at two week intervals, which keeps him comfortable and his owners are now very careful to make sure he is on a lead whenever he is near any livestock! On occasions where he has missed a session his owners and day care centre really notice the difference in his abilities.

Kwon et al (2006) Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis:  A systematic review and meta-analysis.  Rheumatology (2006) 45 1331-1337

Manheimer et al (2010) Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis:  Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001977. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001977.pub2