Anxiety is a common disorder seen in practice that has serious implications for the human-animal bond. One of the leading reasons that dogs and cats are relinquished to shelters is due to behavioral issues including destructive behaviors. It is important to use the integrative approach to strive to salvage the human-animal bond and improve the quality of life of the affected pets.
In general, anxious dogs exhibit the following symptoms; Visual body signals like a tucked tail, self-licking and biting, diarrhea, escape behavior, hiding, reduced activity, trembling, and nervousness.
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) classifies anxiety as a Shen disturbance. Shen could be translated as Mind or Spirit and this energy resides in the Heart meridian(energy pathway) and is considered part of our consciousness. In Traditional Chinese medicine for humans, Shen disturbance is generally due to Qi and blood deficiency, emotional trauma, and fire in the Liver meridian. The TCVM approach to diagnosing anxiety includes a good physical exam and palpation of special points in the spine. In addition, taking a good history and asking the time of day where symptoms seem worse helps in finding which meridian is affected. The physical signs we often find include a thin, fast pulse, a red, dry tongue, restlessness or nervousness, and insomnia. For example, a dog that starts restlessness after dark could be suffering from global Yin deficiency because the night belongs to Yin whereas the day belongs to the Yang energy. A dog that consistently wakes its owner between 1 am to 3 am could be manifesting Liver Qi stagnation because those hours are where the Liver meridian energy dominates.The constitution of the patient is a big clue as to the root of anxiety. The Water (shy), Wood (dominant), and Fire(friendly and hyper) constitutions are at high risk of developing Shen disturbances when unbalanced.
The best way to demonstrate the positive effect of acupuncture is to share a recent case. Medes is a 5 years old neutered domestic shorthaired cat that came to visit us due to excessive grooming on his belly to the point of self-mutilation! he was also hiding, and being distant for about 3 months. There were outdoor strays coming outside to the house and also a new kitten in the household which caused a lot of stress and perceived fears. His physical exam was unremarkable except for the eosinophilic granuloma and alopecia on his ventral abdomen.
Medes is an affectionate vocal cat which in TCVM is considered a trait of a Fire element personality. His tongue was red and thin, his ears were hot and his left pulse was weaker. A diagnosis of Heart Yin Deficiency with Shen disturbance and Liver Qi stagnation was made. Balance Acupuncture was done using vitamin B 12 subcutaneous injections. The Chinese herbal formula Shen calmer powder was prescribed, 1 small scoop in the food once daily. After just one session Medes was doing great and quit self-mutilating. The owner was impressed, and Medes was enjoying interacting with the family, even with the little kitten.