“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”


I love my profession. After 30 years in practice I still find it to be challenging, exciting and fun. No two patients are ever alike, no two days are ever the same, and best of all I get to learn something new every day. To some people that might not sound especially fascinating, but I am what is referred to as (mostly by my instructors) as  a “Continuing Education Junkie.”  I honestly am happier to attend a grueling week- long C.E. course about Behavioral Medicine, or Feline Internal Medicine and Surgery, or even Canine Chronic Diarrhea than I am to go on vacation. REALITY CHECK: Well okay, if the vacation is a two week cruise with my beloved Gary and I can have all the spa appointments I want, I might be tempted by the cruise…just out of consideration for his welfare you understand.

During the past 5 years, my focus for learning has been on Pain Management for cats and dogs. When I was doing my post graduate studies for my DVM degree, we were taught the following fallacies:

  1. Animals do not suffer from pain, or if they do it is to a far lesser extent than humans do and so doesn’t need to be treated.
  2. It is GOOD for animals to be in pain after a traumatic injury or major surgery because the pain will keep them quiet so they won’t cause themselves more harm.
  3. Somehow the screams of pain, the thrashing around in their cages and the attempts to literally chew off painful limbs were supposed to be a good thing!
  4. Or more commonly the quiet, vacant stares, continuous panting, loss of appetite, urinating and defecating on themselves because the pain of moving was too great were helping them somehow.

Thankfully those misconceptions have been relegated to the Dark Ages of veterinary medicine. Pain is now the 5th vital sign for every patient we evaluate. Temperature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure make up the other vital signs. Evaluating pain in animals, who cannot speak to describe their discomfort as human patients are able to do, rely heavily on the skill of the observer/examiner to detect nuances of patient behavior, reaction to touch, and loss of normal function.  If I can leave you with one message today it would be:

Crying or vocalizing is the LEAST common sign of pain in animals.

People cry out in pain. Our physicians ask us to describe our pain and to rate our level of discomfort on a scale of 1-10. The human expression of pain is largely verbal.

Animals have evolved to hide their pain so they don’t become easy prey for the next guy up the food chain. The absence of crying has nothing to do with the degree of pain an animal is suffering.

My journey toward understanding pain and pain management has been enormously rewarding. My goal is to become certified by the International Association of Veterinary Pain Management . During the past 7 months I have achieved certification in canine medical massage and veterinary medical acupuncture. In May I completed the Pain Management for Veterinary Practitioners course at the NAVC Post Graduate Institute.

AWC has always practiced a high level of pain recognition and control for the patients under our care. With the new skills, patient services, and cutting edge education from specialists in this field of study we will be launching our new program, Passion to Stop Their Pain. This program will take a multimodal approach to pain control including:

Comprehensive Physical Medicine Evaluation

Medical Acupuncture

Medical Massage

Laser Therapy



Nutritional counseling

Patient lifestyle/environmental evaluation

Physical rehabilitation

When Will My Pet Need Pain Management Care?

There are many times in life when pain control is needed. Whether it is the acute pain of an injury, post operative pain, chronic inflammatory conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Feline Cystitis, arthritis, back pain, cancer pain, nerve damage, or intervertebral disc  disease pain management is essential for patient comfort and quality of life.

Pets are our most loyal friends. They are with us through thick and thin and love us without judgment no matter what . They deserve a life free of pain and free of suffering.

I will be hosting a series of educational talks at AWC and other venues about the recognition and control of animal pain. Check our website for dates and times. If we have your email on file, we will email you notices.  If you are a part of an organization which would like a presentation, please call Sue Maki, Hospital Manager to make arrangements.

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Animal Wellness Center is pleased to announce that Dr. Carolyn Apker has achieved certification in Veterinary Acupuncture. She received her certification through Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians (MAV). MAV is the premier program that provides critically evaluated, scientifically based, and evidentially informed instruction in acupuncture and related techniques such as laser therapy and massage.

What differentiates Traditional Acupuncture from Medical acupuncture?

As acupuncture evolved in China over thousands of years, a series of theories emerged to explain the interrelations between different parts of the body. A very colorful written and oral tradition has evolved around these theories, and this system is often referred to as TCM, or traditional Chinese Medicine. This traditional view has its own allegorical language and concepts to describe how it works.

Medical acupuncture, on the other hand, is based on actual anatomic structures and the neurophysiology of the body. Medical acupuncture takes a Western Medical, science- based approach. It is helpful to think of it as the marriage between east meets west. Research is on-going and our knowledge base continues to expand while we find the best of both the TCM approach and then apply the principles and discipline of scientific study.

Can acupuncture replace the need for medication or surgery for my pet?

Acupuncture outcomes vary with every patient. It is usually used as part of an Integrative Medical approach to patient care. Most often our acupuncture patients are simultaneously receiving additional therapies which are tailored to their individual needs. Often over time acupuncture will reduce the need for medications.

How successful is acupuncture?

Every patient is unique and will respond differently to acupuncture. Statistically about 75-80% of patients will have a good or excellent response, and 15-20% do not respond to treatment. Given this high rate of success and a very low level of risk, acupuncture is an attractive integrative medical modality for pet owners.

What are the risks of Acupuncture for my pet?

The risk associated with acupuncture is very small. Any time a needle penetrates the skin there is a risk of bleeding or infection. Bleeding is uncommon and should be limited to a drop or two. Infection is also rare and likely occurs at about the same rate as infection following an injection of any kind.

Finding a veterinarian who is certified in acupuncture will greatly diminish the chance of an adverse event for your pet and can maximize the likelihood of treatment success.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Your pet will sometimes feel the prick of the needle at the skin surface. Acupuncture needles are smaller than those used for injections. They are also very sharp and often the patient won’t feel anything.

What conditions can be treated with acupuncture?

Acupuncture plays a key role in integrative pain management. Pain from any source can be treated with acupuncture, for example: arthritis, chest and abdominal pain, trauma, headache, cancer and spinal pain.

Acupuncture can do much more. Acute or chronic inflammatory conditions such as feline cystitis, canine hip dysplasia and dermatitis are responsive as well. As scientific research progresses we are finding this modality to be useful as part of an integrative approach to diseases such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and immune mediated disorders.

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