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Pinpointing pain relief

  • Dyson, a 12-year-old Labrador, receives acupuncture

    Pinpointing pain relief

    Acupuncture treatment eases Dyson the Labrador’s arthritis symptoms 

    Dyson, a 12-year-old Labrador, receives acupuncture at the Lewis Small Animal Hospital. Photo courtesy of Gayle Geiser. 

Dyson, a 12-year-old sugar-faced yellow Labrador, shows typical signs of aging—arthritis and difficulties with mobility. In generally good health aside from his joint pain, Dyson is a lucky dog who often accompanies his owner, Gayle Geiser, to work. 

A veterinary technician at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC), Geiser enjoys her morning work commutes and lunch hours with Dyson. It was through the VMC that she eventually found some relief for Dyson’s worsening arthritis and joint problems.

Over the past five years, Geiser tried managing Dyson’s joint issues using methods such as a special diet, anti-inflammatory medications and steroids, and natural supplements but nothing seemed to provide relief. In 2018, VMC staff suggested veterinary acupuncture as a treatment for Dyson. 

Used to prevent or treat a variety of diseases, acupuncture is a form of medicine that involves inserting a special needle into select points on the body associated with nerves and blood vessels. Its use in human and animal medicine dates back thousands of years. The VMC has offered acupuncture as part of its medical services for more than 20 years. 

“Acupuncture is a two-pronged approach,” says Dr. Erin Wendt-Hornickle, who is board certified in anesthesia, pain management, and veterinary medical acupuncture. “We can use it to treat the medical condition itself as well as the pain caused by the condition.” 

The first attempt to treat Dyson’s arthritis with acupuncture proved futile. A bit rambunctious, Dyson was overly excited to see his friends in the VMC—making needle placement nearly impossible. 

In 2020, Geiser decided to again pursue acupuncture to relieve Dyson’s pain. Visiting a local all-natural medicine clinic, Dyson was very anxious and unable to remain still long enough to complete an acupuncture session. 

“Needles were flying everywhere,” Geiser recalls as she described the visit. “Out of 15 needles, we were lucky to get three needles placed and the treatment was a total failure.”

Determined to help Dyson, the veterinary team at the VMC suggested another treatment approach, laser light therapy. Laser light therapy has been shown to improve blood flow to an area by promoting the body’s natural healing. While the treatment helped to alleviate Dyson’s problems, Geiser wanted to do more for him and opted to try acupuncture one more time. 

As Dyson rested in the kennel that houses him during work hours at the VMC, clinicians joined him to perform acupuncture therapy. Because the care team and the space were familiar to Dyson, he did much better during this acupuncture session.

“He was so calm and relaxed, he actually enjoyed it,” Geiser says. 

Dyson now lies still enough to have the needles inserted and remain in place and he is benefiting from his sessions. Every two weeks Dyson now receives either acupuncture or laser therapy. Wendt-Hornickle, Dr. Caitlin Tearney, and Dr. Kara Carmody perform his treatments. Wendt-Hornickle, Tearney, and Carmody pursued certification in acupuncture to be able to combine complementary and conventional medicine to manage pain in animals.

Video file
Dyson enjoys a lunchtime walk with less pain in his movements. Video courtesy of Gayle Geiser. 

Geiser reports that following acupuncture, Dyson enjoyed a nearly instant improvement in his mobility. While he may not be as frisky as he once was before treatment, he’s shown progress.

“Dyson enjoys life again,” she says, citing their lunch walks as an example of his improved mobility. “He is able to jog from one tree to the next and he moves much better than before treatment.” 

Tearney says she hopes to see the use of acupuncture and complementary therapies for patients hospitalized for acute and chronic conditions grow, so clinicians and students can see the benefits firsthand and consider incorporating these modalities in their future practice.


A legacy of healing

Acupuncture and other complementary medicine treatments at the Veterinary Medical Center were championed by the late Dr. Keum Hwa Choi. Dr. Choi passed from cancer in 2023 and is remembered for her compassion and commitment to her clients, colleagues, and students. Should you want to make a gift to honor Dr. Choi and her legacy at the VMC, please visit our complementary and alternative medicine giving page.


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