Pinning one’s hopes on acupuncture for better pet health

Dr Susanna Santhiram-Hofherr with Penny, a patient who has benefitted much from her regular acupuncture sessions.

KUALA LUMPUR: “Are those needles in your dogs’ skin?”

“Isn’t it painful for them?”

These are just some of the many questions certified veterinary acupuncturist in Malaysia, Dr Susanna Santhiram-Hofherr faces on a daily basis.

FMT Lifestyle met up with Dr Susanna recently to get an in-depth explanation on how acupuncture is helping many a furry companion get back on their feet.

She says 16 years ago, it was she who needed convincing that acupuncture was an effective and legitimate treatment to mend the body’s aches and pains.

Back then, she suffered from chronic back pain that no form of western medicine could help ease. She agreed to see an acupuncturist only because a friend kept insisting on it.

To her genuine surprise, Dr Susanna says that after several sessions, her back felt as good as new. “People around me even commented that I looked happier.”

Humbled by this turn of events, she began to question if acupuncture could have the same positive effects on the body and mood of animals as it did on humans.

Looking sharp as a needle! Dr Susanna focuses only on gentle natural remedies for the animals she treats at Asia Paws.

She decided to find out.

After completing a gruelling two-year acupuncture course in Australia (where she was the only veterinarian from Malaysia), she began her acupuncture treatments with shelter animals.

“I did this for a year and noticed the positive change in the dogs at the shelter. Soon I had a handful of clients and they loved the effect acupuncture was having on their furries,” recalls Dr Susanna.

Encouraged by her new clients, she dove further into holistic medicine.

Now in a residence in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Dr Susanna runs Asia Paws, a veterinary clinic specialising in alternative therapy for pets faced with all manner of ailments.

Dr Susanna’s conventional veterinary medical degrees, as well as her specialisation in holistic, functional medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, allows for a wholesome approach to re-balance and improve the quality of life of chronically ill pets, especially those that conventional medicine cannot help.

Which animals respond best to acupuncture treatment?

“Mainly dogs, cats and rabbits. As long as it’s a living being, they can undergo acupuncture. In fact, the two animals that respond almost immediately to acupuncture are horses and rabbits,” she says, adding that she’s even been asked to perform acupuncture on goats and snakes.

The sterile needles that are as fine as a single strand of hair is gently inserted into specific points on the body to stimulate healing.

“The bulk of my patients are geriatric pets who come in with stiffness issues which then progresses to walking issues, and they usually range between 12 to 18 years old. “They usually have other problems like hearing issues and poor eyesight.

She also treats young patients up to 10 years old, who come in with skin diseases.

“Some young pets that come to us also have issues with their kidneys, liver and heart disease. I do get the occasional wellness patient whose owners are interested in wellness treatments for their pets.”

According to Dr Susanna, dogs who suffer from seizures respond well to acupuncture treatments.

Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins or ‘happy hormones’ in pets in much the same way it does for humans.

She also explained that acupuncture works on animals the same way it does on humans. Studies have proven acupuncture helps oxygenate the body better, stimulate endorphins and reduce free radicals.

To reassure “parents” of fur babies who worry about the pain associated with acupuncture, Dr Susanna explains that the sensation of the needle prick is akin to a mosquito bite.

Only sterile, fine, human-grade medical-quality steel needles are used and painful points are avoided to ensure a comfortable experience for both patient and owner.

Sterile, fine, human-grade medical-quality steel needles are used for acupuncture on pets at Asia Paws.

“Acupuncture can often be such a calming experience for animals that some fall asleep during the treatment.

“Pets leave my clinic feeling relaxed and happy. Owners are usually in disbelief because they have never seen their pets fall asleep at the vet before.”

She says that depending on the severity of the problem, the results are more commonly seen after four to six weeks of regular treatment.

However, the pet’s first consultation and acupuncture session is the most important in the entire process of healing as it is during this initial stage that the owner explains the health issues of their pet.

“This consultation provides the basis for me to work on an in-depth holistic, functional medical diagnosis.

“I will then observe how the patient is, the bond between the patient and his owner and also how much the owner is willing to learn,” she explained, adding that this includes a detailed conventional physical examination.

“Each acupuncture session takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes and by the time the needles are out, the pets are visibly relaxed.

“You can see that the owners are relaxed too knowing their pets are in such a peaceful state. I then address whatever questions they have.

“Of course, every patient gets a delicious treat at the end,” smiles Dr Susanna, mindful of the fact that she wants every pet to leave her clinic with good memories of their time there.

A happy Penny is all smiles after her relaxing acupuncture treatment and the tasty treat that always follows.

Asia Paws Clinic
7, Jalan Datuk Sulaiman 2
Taman Tun Dr Ismail
60000 Kuala Lumpur,
Wilayah Persekutuan
Kuala Lumpur

Clinic hours (no walk-ins entertained)
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 10am–5pm (Last appointment at 4.30pm)
Tuesday: 3pm–6pm; 8pm–10pm (Last appointment at 9.30pm)
Thursday: 10am–1pm; 7pm–10pm (Last appointment at 9.30pm)
Saturday, Sunday, Public Holidays: Closed all-day