Story by Layne Saliba
Photos by David Barnes
People have long treated their animals like family. It’s become natural to have them ride in the car, sleep in the bed and be a part of all the big moments in life. So why not treat them the same way when it comes to medicine?
That’s becoming the case more often as people are turning to non-traditional medicine, specifically Chinese medicine, to treat their pets, part of which includes veterinary acupuncture.
“I got tired of doing everything conventionally that you need to do, and having to have that conversation with owners that that’s all I can do,” said Dr. Marie Lance, a veterinarian at Lance Animal Hospital in Gainesville. “I just thought there was more that I could do.”
Lance said she believes her office is the only place in Hall County that offers this type of treatment option for pets. She was trained in Chinese medicine at the Chi Institute and has been practicing it since 2012. She’s been practicing traditional medicine since the 90s.
“Acupuncture is to move energy through the body and make sure there’s even flow,” Lance said. “Because without energy being able to freely flow through the body, then disease happens, and imbalance happens.”
She said acupuncture for animals is “sort of like a recipe.” There are different spots along an animal’s body, much like humans, that react and release endorphins that can correct imbalances in the animal. Once she learned those spots, she was able to create a “prescription” for what is needed.
Through acupuncture, Lance puts small needles of different lengths and gauges, into certain spots, depending on the treatment needed, to restore balance within the animal’s body.
“Acupuncture is just one part of Chinese medicine,” Lance said. “The needles are just the icing on the cake, because needles can be helpful, but it doesn’t last. So to get the effect to last, you have to build it from the bottom.”
That means treating the animals with food therapy, herbal medicine and massage therapy. By using the proper food, Lance said she’s able to prevent imbalances in the animals she treats. That, along with herbal medicines to target any disease and massage to help circulation, she’s able to help animals that are struggling.
“I treat a lot of cancer patients that are either on chemo, or decided not to do chemo, that are looking for quality of life,” Lance said.
She doesn’t take Chinese medicine lightly, though. Instead of just doing a physical and prescribing medicine which sometimes happens in traditional medicine, she takes time to sit down with the owner and ask specific questions about the pet and look at what its everyday life is like.
“Western medicine, if you’ve got a rash, you go to the dermatologist, they put something on the rash and your done,” Lance said. “In Chinese medicine, we have an interview, they have a take-home questionnaire that goes over the dog’s personality, because all those things affect your health. We’re finding out that emotional stress affects people’s health and it’s the same thing with animals.”
She said veterinary acupuncture isn’t for everybody. While it’s not especially expensive, the thought of having needles put in their pet is sometimes unsettling to owners. But Lance said the majority of animals don’t even know it’s happening. They’re too focused on the plate of peanut butter they’re getting.
“Normally, a lot of people come to me as a Hail Mary pass,” Lance said. “Which I would rather them not. I’d rather see the patients sooner. But for people who have exhausted conventional medicine, they often, just like with their own health, turn to alternative medicine.”