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Published: 12/27/2004

Acupuncture to swimming: Veterinarians' therapies vary

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mark Ford of Delta tosses a ball to his dogs in the pool at Canine WaterWork Fitness Center. Mark Ford of Delta tosses a ball to his dogs in the pool at Canine WaterWork Fitness Center.
LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge

Jan Smith readily admits that her "baby" has a problem with weight.

In fact, Baby, Ms. Smith's 7-year-old Rottweiler, has nearly a 50-pound problem with weight. And it's a problem that hasn't gone away by giving her less food.

But she has seen some recent weight loss - albeit just one pound - after only a few swimming sessions in a heated pool just for dogs.

Veterinary medicine has evolved over the years to include everything from acupuncture and massage to rehabilitation exercises that involve underwater treadmills. And while there remain many nonbelievers, the number of facilities offering these services - and the number of patients using them - has soared, local veterinarians say.

"You've got every spectrum of thoughts on owners. Some think that the dog or cat is part of the family. Some people think it's just a dog," said Dr. Daniel Overmeyer, who has practiced veterinary medicine for 20 years. "I think that the more prevalent these [treatments] become, the more people are accepting them."

Newest to Toledo's world of animal medicine is the heated, puncture-proof pool at Canine WaterWork Fitness Center on McGregor Lane that can be accessed by those with memberships. The pool offers a chance for dogs like Baby to get some much-needed exercise in a safe, low-impact setting, said Jonathan Rudinger, the center's executive director. Then there are dogs like Reilly and Abby who like to keep in shape over the winter.

Mark Ford threw two tennis balls the length of the 4-foot-deep pool, setting off a series of splashes as his border collies, Reilly and Abby, took chase. Reilly won and promptly chomped down on one ball, then the other, then back to the first.

Dressed in his swimsuit and standing in the 90-degree water, Mr. Ford said his dogs go for two 15-minute sessions per week. That way they can stay limber during the winter months, a necessity if they are to be competitive in a national agility competition this July.

"They're just like humans and so swimming helps them stay in shape and remain toned," said Mr. Ford of Delta.

The hydro tub available at Sylvania Veterinary Hospital offers a different type of aquatic exercise, said Dr. Robert Esplin, the hospital's owner. Described simply as a treadmill underwater, Dr. Esplin has used the tub to help dogs, a few cats, and, yes, even a rabbit, recover from surgeries or injuries that would likely be aggravated by high-impact exercise.

"Dogs are living longer, and some of the things associated with getting older, we can really help them with," Dr. Esplin said. "And I think that we have really just begun scratching the surface. We need to take what we've learned in the human side and translate it into the animal world."

For Dr. David Drake at Countryside Animal Hospital, acupuncture is a practice with long-proven benefits for humans. In his experience, it can be just as helpful for the aches and pains of animals.

Now taught around the world, animal acupuncture has been in existence since the 1970s, Dr. Drake said. Used mostly on older, arthritic animals, acupuncture has been readily accepted in Toledo, said Dr. Drake, who was certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in 1995.

"It increases an animal's quality of life and ultimately that's what we want," Dr. Drake said. "They might not be cured, but because you've taken their pain away, people are less likely to consider euthanasia."

Ms. Smith, who worried that Baby would not recover from an injury, said alternative treatments for animals can often be expensive.

After years of trying to help Baby shed some of her 167 pounds - a figure that fluctuates when Baby knows she's being weighed and will tend to sit with half her weight off the scale - Ms. Smith said she believes she may have found the answer with the Canine WaterWork Fitness Center.

"I've spent tons of money on her, but she's worth it. For all the joy they bring you, animals are worth it," said Ms. Smith, 46, who works in research and development at DaimlerChrysler. "Besides, would you break into my house with this?"

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.



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