05/27/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 05/27/2016 05:59 EDT

Holistic medicine for animals embraced by doting pet owners

CALGARY - Chilko has seen better days.

A good walk for the 15-year-old black lab is now 18 to 24 metres. The grey hair on his chin is a testament to his advanced age.

Owner Gino Furano isn't willing to say goodbye to his constant companion just yet and has embraced a holistic approach to the painful ravages of his dog's old age.

Furano has been bringing Chilko to the Calgary Holistic Veterinary Clinic for acupuncture for three years and says the hour-long sessions appear to be working.

"Most of the time he'll just fall asleep," says Furano, sitting on the floor with Chilko's head in his lap.

"When we first brought him in, we noticed a significant change in his mobility. Then there was arthritis somewhere on his right side. He's still mobile. He's eating. He's happy and he's doing really, really well," Furano says.

"The acupuncture relieves some of the stress. Now I just think he has a lot of aches and pains in his joints. This is just quality of life now."

Chilko barely seems to notice when veterinarian Dr. Yanhui Qi inserted needles and hooks them up to a low-level electrical current.

"It works the same as on humans," Qi says. "We know that it's working by observing after the treatment if there is less pain and they are moving easier."

The cost is $220 for the initial consultation and treatment. Followup treatments run between $73 and $100.

Qi grew up in rural China where he says the use of acupuncture has been used on horses and cattle for thousands of years.

It's more rare in North America where the efficacy of animal acupuncture has been questioned. But recent articles suggest there is evidence it is useful in pain management in cats and dogs.

"There is a solid and still growing body of evidence for the use of acupuncture for the treatment of pain in veterinary medicine to the extent that it is now an accepted treatment ... for painful animals," read the joint guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners.

"When I started at this clinic 16 years ago, people were skeptical, but now more and more people want to try this kind of treatment for their animals," Qi says. "With acupuncture we are able to save animals and improve the quality of their lives."

Miki Zahner brought in her big Maine coon cat named Tony after he injured a ligament in his leg in a tussle with another cat.

"He's felt a lot better. He's no longer limping," says Zahner.

"I think he's only had three treatments. He's jumping again and so he's doing just fine," she says. "He falls asleep during it."

Zahner became a believer after bringing in another cat for acupuncture several years ago.

"When (Qi) first mentioned it to me I kind of rolled my eyes at him," she says. "But the treatments were fantastic."

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