Beijing: Strapped in tight, the poodle nervously eyes the vet as he gently sticks fine needles into its back and paws, summoning the ancient art of acupuncture to treat the pet’s aches and pains.
Duniu is just one of a growing number of animals being signed up for traditional medicine in China – care their masters say is less invasive and comes with fewer side effects than conventional treatments.
In one Beijing practice, pets of all shapes and sizes come for treatments.
“The advantage of traditional Chinese medicine is that there is no surgery,” 38-year-old Zhai Chunyu says, accompanied by Duniu, his poodle.
“So the animal’s suffering is reduced.”
At just three years old, Duniu suffers from Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which affects the thigh bone and can lead to painful osteoarthritis.
“A doctor advised me to have the head of the femur removed. But I didn’t want to because I have another poodle who has been there and he suffered a lot from the operation and the after-effects.”
But then a friend advised him to try acupuncture.
“After five to six sessions, we saw the results. Duniu manages to walk and even run a little now,” Zhai says.
Animal acupuncture is centuries old in China, says veterinarian Li Wen, who founded his practice in 2016.
“Traditional Chinese medicine is not intended to replace conventional medicine” because “both have their strengths” and are complementary, he says.
Before starting the treatment, the vet first checks the animal’s body, examines its eyesight and the colour of its tongue, takes its pulse and asks its owner questions.
He then plants his needles at acupuncture points specific to dogs and cats.
“Out of the 10 animals that I receive on average every day, there are always one or two who rebel,” Li says.
“You have to communicate with them, treat them gently, reassure them that you’re not here to hurt them.”
Recordings of soft bamboo flute music and the chirping of birds are played at the clinic to help the animals relax.
Li mainly deals with cases of paralysis, limb weakness, epilepsy, pain and urinary retention.
But acupuncture can also be used for ailments when no other treatment is available.
“The first time, he was scared,” says Yang Lihua, a 65-year-old retiree accompanied by her Pekingese Niannian, who is suffering from a herniated disc.
“Now he loves it! After the session, he is so relaxed that he sleeps in the car on the way home.” — AFP