Our pets are family; we pamper them as we do our kids. We care for them as they age and treat every ache and pain from sprains to cancer. Regardless of cost, we want them to be as comfortable as possible, both physically and emotionally. As we live a more healthy and organic lifestyle, it trickles down to our animals.
Healing is an art as well as a science. Just ask Dr. Rachel Barrack, 36, a certified veterinary acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist as well as a doctor of veterinary medicine. Riding horses as a youngster in Long Island, she knew early on that she wanted to go to vet school. Her first dog, a Dalmatian, accompanied her to Ross University Veterinary School in St. Kitts. Although she no longer rides, horses are still a big part of her life. Her patient base includes race horses at Belmont and Aqueduct, and in the summer, dressage horses in the Hamptons. While there, she often throws in pool-side treatment for her clients’ dogs. Her treatment toolbox combines acupuncture and herbs, technique rooted in ancient Chinese healing arts. “I thought there was a gentler way than traditional medicine, Barrack said. “I discovered acupuncture can make the animal more comfortable and improve quality of life.”
“It sounds hokey. I was skeptical but pleasantly surprised when I started integrating it in practice,” Barrack told me when she arrived at my condo in the city to treat my toy poodles. She gently examined each one on my living room couch where they like to hang out on cushy pillows and took a medical history before suggesting that each, for different reasons, could benefit from integrative medicine including acupuncture. “Dogs tolerate acupuncture well,” she explained. “Cats are more fussy–one needle and the sweetest cat turns into a tiger.” If a pet is too aggressive for acupuncture, she pre-treats him/her with herbs.
She makes house calls anywhere in New York City so the animal can be treated in the comfort of his/her own home. The majority of her calls are for muscular skeletal issues including arthritis in older dogs. She can help mediate the effects of chemo and offers palliative care for pets with cancer as well. Some of her animal clients have neurological and behavioral issues. “Chronic issues require more patience,” Barrack said, “but the results speak for themselves.” On occasion she’ll get a call because the animal is thrown off balance by a stressor such as the birth of a new baby. “I incorporate overall well-being in every treatment,” she explained. “People find me for specific issues; then see me for a tune-up or check-in for their four-legged family member.”
She is cautious not to stress the animal, so proceeds slowly on the initial appointment, which takes an hour or more. “Each animal is unique. There’s no rhyme nor reason as to how they react,” she said. “If they don’t tolerate one point, I move to another.” There are hundreds of acupuncture points and 14 major channels. The animal may experience minor discomfort when the needles are inserted but many sleep while the needles “cook” for 20 to 30 minutes. Here’s how it works according to Barrack. “The needle triggers a physiological response to stimulate endorphin and blood flow or “Qi” to the area.”
“Acupuncture is not a quick fix,” she said. “Some western medicine acts quickly; acupuncture requires more patience especially for chronic conditions.” She usually sees results in three to five sessions, several weeks apart. . Her approach — “less is more.”
She examined Campari for sensitivity along the acupuncture points. He reacted to the hip points signifying arthritis but otherwise was very calm. “Overall, he looks pretty good for his age (almost 13 years),” she said, but has lost muscle tone. That’s because Campari has Cushings Disease so she recommended a “cooler diet” as it’s called in Chinese medicine for this endocrine disorder suggesting more fish or chicken than beef to help alleviate symptoms.
She sticks the first sterile dry needle in his head which is a calming and “permission point.” It also helps with mental clarity. Campari gave her the “go ahead.” Usually she uses colored needles so they are visible if the animal wiggles and they fall out. Since Campari tipped the scale at five pounds, she used puppy needles. She often uses a combo of techniques including Chinese herbs. In this case, after the first ten needles ‘cooked,’ she used a dilute B12 solution the color of beet juice via small injection on top of the stronger points including along the bladder meridian to help the treatment last longer. A relaxed Campari curled up on a pillow to nap afterwards.
Bellini, a usually brave and devilish three pound teacup poodle, his expressive dark eyes peeking from behind the pillow with curiosity and apprehension during his older sibling’s treatment, likely wondering if he was her next victim. Barrack lured him to her with gentle play and affection. Bellini, didn’t react to any of the points she palpated so his treatment was primarily for “wellness.” She inserted nine tiny needles beginning with a calming point on his head. Her goal was to move the “Qi” around. Since it was Bellini’s first treatment, she wanted him to relax. “They remember,” she said. Even the dogs who don’t like acupuncture can usually be bribed with treats. “A big bone goes a long way to distract while the needles are going in, but it’s not necessary with these guys.” The second part of Bellini’s treatment was the dilute B12 injections as well. “That’s for longer lasting treatment. The energy benefits are secondary.”
Both dogs with a spring in their step escorted Dr. Barrack to the door and then ran to their food bowls and devoured dry kibble. They’ll certainly welcome her return visit!
Gift your “best friend” with a calming and rejuvenating acupuncture treatment. Rates depend on location. Cost for initial visit starts at $250 with a discount for multiple pets in the same household. No exotics. To learn more and for contact info, visit www.animalacupuncture.com.