The well-tethered poodle looks nervously at the vet who gently sticks small needles into its back and legs, applying the ancient art of Chinese acupuncture to treat the pet’s pain.
Duniu joins China’s growing list of patients for traditional medicine, practices its owners say are less invasive and carry fewer side effects than traditional treatments.
Pets of all kinds and sizes come to an office in Beijing.
“The advantage of traditional Chinese medicine is that there is no surgery,” Zhai Chunyu, the 38-year-old owner of Duniu, told AFP. “Thus, the suffering of the animal is reduced.”
At just three years old, this miniature poodle suffers from Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which affects the femoral head and can cause painful osteoarthritis.
“He was in so much pain that he couldn’t put his paw on the ground anymore” and “had no appetite,” says Zhai, who works in finance.
“A doctor advised me to have the femoral head removed. But he didn’t want to because I have another poodle that happened to him and he suffered a lot from the operation and the aftermath”, he explains.
And then a friend suggested trying acupuncture.
“After five or six sessions, we saw the results. Duniu manages to walk and even run a little now”, she celebrates.
Animal acupuncture has centuries of history in China, says veterinarian Li Wen, who opened his practice in 2016.
“Traditional Chinese medicine is not intended to replace conventional medicine” because “both have their strengths” and are complementary, he explains.
Before starting the treatment, the veterinarian weighs the animal, checks its eyesight and the color of its tongue, takes its pulse and asks its owner some questions.
Then proceed to place the needles in specific points for dogs and cats.
“Of ten animals that I receive on average each day, there are always one or two that rebel,” Li confesses. “You have to communicate with them, treat them with care, reassure them that you’re not there to hurt them,” she explains.
To help you relax, the clinic’s background music plays soothing melodies of bamboo flutes and birdsong.
Li especially works on cases of paralysis, limb weakness, epilepsy, pain, and urinary retention.
But acupuncture can also be used for ailments when no other treatment is available.
That was the case for Xiaomei, a 12-year-old male Labrador who suffered from nerve compression in his lower back.
“Last September, after swimming, he couldn’t stand up. A veterinarian then told us that it was impossible to treat and that he was going to be paralyzed, ”recalls his owner Ma Li, 41.
“Thanks to acupuncture, he still has difficulties, but he can walk normally and even run,” he explains.
“He loves it!”
“The first time I was scared,” says Yang Lihua of his Pekingese dog Niannian, who is suffering from a herniated disc.
“Now he loves it! After each session, he is so relaxed that he falls asleep in the car on the way home,” explains the 65-year-old retiree.
Although the market for animal acupuncture is still limited, “since 2016 it has been gaining popularity,” says Li.
“As educational levels and living conditions improve and incomes rise, more and more people realize the benefits of this medicine,” he says.
At the end of the session, Ma’s Labrador climbs into the backseat of the car, looking satisfied. “Doesn’t she look happy?” she celebrates.