Natural therapies for dogs

May 4th, 2008

To discover the secrets behind natural therapies for dogs, Dogs Life consulted some of Australias most qualified natural therapists to explain how these amazing treatments work.

Pet owners are increasingly looking beyond the world of conventional veterinary medicine by seeking natural therapies to improve the health of their canines. Eliza Tickle explores how some of the most popular natural therapies can benefit your dogs health and wellbeing.

Natural therapies are part of a holistic healing system that is designed to treat the causes of illness rather than just the systems of disease, naturopath Carole Bryant from Grafton, NSW told Dogs Life.

Natural therapists believe that it is the body that heals itself, she said. Our role is to provide the body with whatever it needs to allow that healing to take place.

A huge variety of canine conditions can be treated by natural therapies: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, liver disease, digestive disorders, heart and respiratory problems, allergies, muscle and ligament damage, behavioural and more. However, natural therapists advise these therapies should not be used to replace veterinary treatment, but rather to complement conventional approaches.


A natural therapy founded by German physician Dr Samuel Hahnemann more than 200 years ago, homeopathy relies on the vibrational energy of substances to target the symptoms of disease and bring the body into balance.

One of the basic principles of homeopathy is like cures like, Bryant said.

So, the homeopathic Urtica (made from stinging nettle) would be used as a remedy for painful itching similar to that caused by stinging nettles, she said.

Thousands of different natural homeopathic remedies exist, which are traditionally administered via drops or tiny tablets known as pilules. These remedies are created by highly diluting and tapping, or succussing, the substance to release its healing energies

Paradoxically, the greater the dilution process the more powerful the remedy becomes, Bryant said.

Homeopathy is not about how much substance you use, but how much energy is remaining after this process, added Susan Scott, a natural animal practitioner from northern NSW with more than 20 years experience.

Succussing the substance infuses its energy into the liquid, she said. After the third dilution, there is none of the original substance remaining, only its energy.

Homeopathy acts on both the mental and physical level, said Bryant and it can be used to help a range of physical, emotional and behavioural canine disorders.

The major canine conditions treated by homeopathy, said Scott, include skin problems, arthritis and sometimes kidney problems or kidney failure.

Combining homeopathy with nearly all natural therapies can produce a very successful result for these canine problems, she said.

Homeopathy and herbal medicine combine very well. The three major therapies I combine are homeopathy, herbal medicine and Bach Flower Remedies, she said.

But the success of any particular homoeopathic remedy depends on how well the patients symptoms are matched to the symptom picture of the remedy, Bryant said.

She described a case involving a Cattle Dog that had been diagnosed with cancer of the jaw bone. The owner chose to use natural medicine rather than any form of chemotherapy.

The remedy matched the dogs symptoms extremely well and he was given homoeopathic Hekla lava (prepared from lava from Mount Hekla) daily, then weekly for many months, Scott said. He was also given Vitamin C and fed a natural diet and five years later he is still alive.


A traditional Chinese medical technique for relieving pain, curing disease and improving general health, acupuncture is increasingly being used to treat canine conditions. Dogs Life caught up with Dr Keith Phillips, veterinary acupuncturist and chiropractor from Jilliby, NSW to talk about this ancient natural therapy, which uses the insertion of fine metal needles into the skin and underlying tissues at very precise points on the body.

Acupuncture can be used in the treatment of any ailment because the focus is on bringing the body into balance, not fighting a specific disease, Phillips said.

This treatment is often used on its own to manage problems such as arthritis in dogs.

When using acupuncture to manage arthritis, up to six visits will be needed to assess the response and often older dogs need a program of monthly treatments to keep them happy, he said.

Acupuncture can be combined with other natural therapies and is often used as part of a system called Traditional Chinese Medicine involving diet, massage, herbs and other techniques. Phillips combines acupuncture with chiropractics to treat his canine patients.

I use acupuncture alongside chiropractic because the two work extremely well together, he said. The underlying structural problems are addressed with the chiropractic and the acupuncture settles the muscles, making the restriction less likely to recur.

However, acupuncture is not only carried out with needles, said Patricia Green from Natural Therapist for Animals in Glasshouse Mountains, Qld.

In my clinic we mostly use the Scenar (a Russian machine) which combines acupuncture, laser and x-ray, Green told Dogs Life. This deep-acting machine helps to relieve pain tremendously, using vibrations and signals which allow the body to heal itself.

Green added that most forms of acupuncture are very relaxing for dogs.

When using the Scenar, different points in a dogs body will relax and the animal usually falls asleep, she said.


Chiropractic care can be beneficial when changes to the spine interfere with a bodys normal function.

Your nervous system controls everything, so a healthy nervous system is essential for a healthy life, said Phillips, the chiropractor from NSW.

Along with treating musculoskeletal conditions, chiropractic care has another important purpose, said animal chiropractor Lara Rogers who services the NSW South Coast and Sydneys southern districts.

There is a more holistic side to chiropractic that is focussed on maintaining a well functioning body and preventing injury, Rogers told Dogs Life. When joints and tissues are functioning well they are stronger and able to adapt to the stress of repetitive training regimes and even rough playing amongst house dogs.

Phillips agreed, adding that chiropractic treatment can be combined with other natural therapies to treat and prevent canine conditions such as back pain, arthritis and neurological problems, including paralysis.

You don’t have to wait for a problem to get some help, as chiropractic and acupuncture were both developed as a preventive health care system.

Rogers warned pet owners that pain or discomfort, changes in attitude towards exercise, changes in gait, arthritis, low head carriage and difficulties jumping out of cars or moving up and down stairs are signs that your dog may require chiropractic care.

Chiropractors gently manipulate and correct the spine using a specific force applied with either their hands or an instrument, she said.

There is no rough jerking or yanking of limbs and sedation is not required as the procedures do not hurt the animal, she said.

Phillips agreed, adding that a spinal adjustment is simply a short, low-force thrust designed to take the affected joint just past its normal range of motion.

[This] causes the muscles to relax and the joint to return to its normal function, he said.

Rogers also stressed the importance of dog owners seeking a qualified animal chiropractor who will conduct a thorough history and examination and assess whether chiropractic care is appropriate.

There are lots of backyard operators out there and some are putting animals at risk, she warned.

A list of qualified chiropractors is available on the Australian Veterinary Chiropractic Association website


According to the Australian Physiotherapy Association, the goal of physiotherapy is to help an animal move well and stay well.

Helen Nicholson, animal physiotherapist from Blaxland East, NSW, told Dogs Life that physiotherapy is mainly used on dogs for strengthening, flexibility, rehabilitation and, most importantly, for relieving pain.

Just as we help human athletes gain the correct strength and flexibility for their sports, so too we work with animals, she said. However, accidents can and do happen and physiotherapy in these cases aims to maximise healing and speed return to normal function.

Nicholson said physiotherapy is used in a similar way to rehabilitate humans and dogs after operations, such as arthritic hip replacements or cruciate ligament surgery.

Physiotherapy can also be particularly life-saving in the areas of chest physiotherapy and neurological rehabilitation because these dogs tend to be the sickest and most disabled, she said.

A number of other canine conditions can also respond well to physiotherapy, Nicholson said. These include muscular problems, orthopaedic problems like arthritis, problems with the airways (such as pneumonia) and neurological problems (such as spinal conditions or disc disease).

Treatment techniques need to be selected carefully according to each individual dogs condition and temperament, Nicholson said.

Some dogs enjoy the pain relief delivered by physiotherapy machines whilst others are frightened by the sensation the machines give, she said. I prefer to use gentle hands-on techniques to reassure the dogs.

Nicholson insisted that physiotherapy is a safe, science-based treatment that should complement, but never replace, veterinary care.

We work as a team with the vet and owners rather than instead of a vet, to help maximise a dogs quality of life.


The natural therapy Reiki works by channelling universal life force energies to promote healing and feelings of wellbeing in canines. A Japanese technique also used for stress reduction and relaxation, Reiki was founded by scholar Dr Mikao Usui during the early 20th century.

Reiki practitioners place their hands gently on an animals body to channel natural energies. The Reiki energy is felt as a comforting warmth radiating from the practitioners hands into the body and is generally calming and relaxing, Bryant the naturopath said.

But some practitioners work without their hands contacting the dogs body, instead working with the animals aura or energy field, she added.

Reiki is not traditionally used to achieve a specific outcome but is used to improve a dogs general health and wellbeing, Bryant said.

The Reiki energy goes to where it is most needed, which can be anywhere in the body, she said. We may think that we are giving Reiki to help an animal that has an injured leg, but in fact that animal may have a greater need for the Reiki energy [elsewhere in the body].

Several treatment sessions are usually needed to address all areas of imbalance and disease, Bryant said.

Reiki can be very beneficial for dogs facing serious illness or death to help them pass over gently and peacefully.

Giving Reiki to a dying animal helps to bring peace and calm as they pass over, she said. [It can turn] an otherwise traumatic and devastating event into a spiritual experience.

Craniosacral Therapy

Another gentle, hands-on therapy for canines is craniosacral treatment. Taught by American Dr John Upledger throughout the mid-1970s, this natural therapy aims to restore balance and enhance resistance to disease by working with the body’s internal rhythms.

The craniosacral system is made up of the cerebrospinal fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Even a minor injury to the head or spine can lead to imbalance in the craniosacral system, Bryant said. And what dog hasn’t at some time suffered a blow to the head or spine during wild play?

Craniosacral balancing is a deeply relaxing treatment involving very light touches, she said. It is especially beneficial for problems originating from trauma to a dogs head or spine.

Many animals fall asleep during a craniosacral session, she said.

Craniosacral treatment is known to benefit a variety of canine conditions and is used to relieve chronic pain, headaches, behavioural problems, epilepsy and anxiety.This system of therapy is currently used by health professionals in both human and veterinary fields.

Manipulative Muscle Therapy

Pain and dysfunction can be associated with the misalignment of muscles, ligaments and tendons in a dogs body.

Muscle manipulation is about getting a muscle back into the correct position by altering the cellular memory and releasing tension in underlying muscles, Green from Natural Therapist for Animals said.

Not only does this natural therapy benefit a canines physical condition, but also muscle manipulation can have psychological benefits, she added.

Muscle manipulation can help with a variety of emotional problems in dogs, she said. This therapy is particularly relaxing for dogs when combined with essential oils.

Adelaide author Bill Hatchard devised his own method of muscle manipulation, which involves gently realigning the muscles and tissues to rapidly restore normal function.

His method, known as Hatchards Way, has been used with many champion sportspeople, racehorses and Greyhounds as well as with family pets, Bryant said.

Bowen Therapy

A specific form of muscle manipulation developed by Australian Tom Bowen in the 1950s, the Bowen Technique focuses on trigger points in the body and insertion areas where muscles meet bones. Using gentle but powerful soft tissue manipulation, it aims to realign the bodys muscular structure around these trigger points.

Scott, the animal practitioner from NSW, said the body is aligned in a specific way and when the body is out of alignment, tension is produced in the musculoskeletal system.

With gentle movements across these areas, tension in the muscles can be deactivated, she said.

Like other natural therapies, the main goal of the Bowen Technique is to stimulate the bodys own self-healing mechanisms. This muscle-based therapy has been known to effectively reduce rehabilitation time after canine illness and forms of surgery.

Bowen Therapy is most effective for dogs that have suffered injuries, knocks and falls, or for older dogs that have a lot of tension in the muscle, Scott said.

This therapy successfully realigns the body, using less force than other natural therapies, such as chiropractic care.

I find Bowen Therapy is a very gentle way to trigger the body to realign itself, she said.

Green agreed, adding that Bowen Therapy is beneficial for pain relief in dogs.

If a dog is very sore, I find Bowen Therapy is a more gentle form of muscle manipulation, which gets a response from the dog, she said.

Tellington TTouch

Developed by American animal expert Linda Tellington-Jones, this gentle natural therapy aims to improve an animals physical, mental and emotional awareness using a combination of very light touches, circular movements and ground exercises, Bryant said.

Tension in a canines body is usually associated with pain due to injury or cellular memory of an old injury. It can also relate to behavioural problems such as lack of confidence, fear, aggression, fear of thunder, inappropriate chewing and other destructive behaviours, she explained.

Along with these conditions, Tellington TTouch can assist in cases of leash pulling, car sickness, resistance to grooming and problems associated with aging.

Tellington TTouch can help release these tensions by relieving pain, improving movement and allowing the animal to express more appropriate behaviour, Bryant said.

This gentle and relaxing therapy is suitable in a variety of scenarios and for all dogs from the very young to the very old and frail.

The beauty of Tellington TTouch is that owners can learn the basics of how to use this therapy with their pets after a one or two-day workshop, she said.

Bryant said few certified canine Tellington TTouch practitioners are in Australia, but it is a well-recognised therapy overseas and is becoming an increasingly popular natural therapy in Australia for the treatment of canine conditions.

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