When associate veterinarian Rachel Mullins suggests acupuncture as a treatment for her furry patients she is sometimes met with skepticism from their owners. But Mullins, who works at Lakeview Animal Hospital in Portage considers acupuncture an important tool in her arsenal for helping pets, and says she has witnessed its benefits, in profound ways. Shortly after Mullins gained certification for veterinary acupuncture, a couple carried in her first acupuncture patient on a pillow: an extremely geriatric greyhound. The greyhound had back-end nerve degeneration and could no longer walk. Her owners had tried everything else and looked to Mullins for help.
“I was terrified,” Mullins admits. “We had learned in Eastern medicine that in very, very sensitive, weak patients it takes energy to die. So if they’re super weak and you stimulate them, that can cause them to die.”
So Mullins put in two acupuncture needles for only five minutes. After that, the couple left with their greyhound and hoped for the best. Ten minutes later the phone rang. The couple wanted to speak with her. “Oh no, I killed it!” Mullins remembers thinking. But she discovered the polar opposite had happened. When the couple sat their greyhound on the ground to lift her into the vehicle, she leapt up into the backseat.
“In her it was that dramatic,” Mullins says.
So acupuncture works for animals?
It does. I’m so excited about it. Every time I get a new patient and it works I’m still like ‘It worked!’ It’s still so…I don’t want to say ‘bizarre,’ because there’s science behind it. But it’s impressive.
Is it always that fast and dramatic?
In general, the longer the problem has been going on, the longer it takes to fix. If it’s something like pain that’s acute — like little Dachshunds that hurt their backs — you can get immediate relief. If it’s been degenerative for a while it can take a month to really kick in.
How did you decide to pursue acupuncture?
One of my good friends does veterinary chiropractic. I was able to see how much he could help things that I didn’t have anything for, like back pain. I loved that side of it. I thought, ‘Well, we have a chiropractor (in the area). I could do acupuncture.’ Now I send him chiropractic cases and he sends me acupuncture cases, so within the area you can get both.
What interested you in acupuncture for your patients?
It fills a niche for certain things that Western medicine doesn’t have. I still do 95 percent Western medicine, but there are a couple of things I don’t have a pill for. Hind-end weakness is what I do most of my acupuncture for — older dogs that are kind of sinking in the back end because of nerve degeneration. We have some really good drugs for urinary incontinence, but sometimes the animals can’t take them or they don’t work. And I don’t really have anything for fecal incontinence. So far those things I’ve found when I don’t have anything Western, I can go to acupuncture.
It works for all of those things?
You can use acupuncture for anything. I use it to fill in the holes in Western medicine. It can be for itching and allergies. It can be for anxiety. You can use it for pain.
Describe some of those owners’ reactions when you suggest acupuncture.
Either a funny look, like ‘you’re just trying to con me out of money’ and ‘that’s ridiculous, I’m not doing that.’ Or ‘I didn’t know you could do that!’ and they are excited about it.
What is the biggest challenge administering acupuncture to animals?
I have one patient that I would love to do electric acupuncture on because it would help him so much more. But he’s a young, happy, bouncy Lab and you have to get him to hold still for 20 minutes and that’s not an option for him. And one of our receptionists’ dogs actually hated the needles, so I used what’s called aqua puncture. It’s just injecting a liquid into those (acupuncture) points. She would bear hug him. I’d inject a bunch of points and then let him go. He was 13 and had both of his knees done and (acupuncture) kept him playing disc golf.
Have you performed acupuncture on any cats?
I’ve done a few cats. I put way fewer needles in cats. They tend to be less patient and when I’m seeing them it’s for pain, so they’re grumpy because they hurt. I don’t have a lot of repeat cat clients for acupuncture because most cats don’t like coming to the vet. That’s another obstacle to overcome.
Is it primarily for dogs and cats?
You can do acupuncture on anything. In our classes they brought in a rabbit. People were also trained on horses.
What advice would you a future veterinarian?
Make sure you know what you’re getting into. Shadow somewhere because it’s not all happy puppies and kittens. Make sure you’re okay with gross stuff. If I show you something gross and you go, ‘Oh cool,’ then you can join the club.
— Interviewed by Lisa Mackinder