London - When Alfie the labradoodle began moping around and struggling with lameness, owner Sue Thomas feared her dog would need risky surgery.
As the six-year-old’s pain worsened, he became increasingly depressed.
But then Thomas was given a helpful tip by a fellow dog owner about a possible remedy - acupuncture.
She took Alfie to the vet, who has been inserting 20 needles into his back during regular £40 (about R700) sessions.
The ancient Chinese therapy has seen Alfie make remarkable improvements in his mobility – and his mood.
"His personality has come back," Thomas, 58, said. "He has gone from stumbling about like Bambi to bounding around like Tigger.
"I noticed a change in him within a month of him starting the sessions. Alfie is so much happier and when he’s happy, I’m happy."
Thomas, a retail manager from Kelsall, Cheshire, said: "I’ve had Alfie since he was a puppy and everything seemed fine at first.
"But when he got to five months old, he became very wobbly on his paws and so he was referred for tests. An MRI scan revealed he had an unstable vertebrae in his neck. It was advised not to operate on him until he was a little older but when he was eight months he developed other movement problems. He was limping and became very depressed and was put on restricted exercise."
After a brief improvement, around two years ago Alfie began to appear depressed again. "He wasn’t running around with the other dogs, he wasn’t happy and he was sensitive around the lower part of his back," Thomas said.
Further X-rays revealed he had hip dysplasia and she was worried the only hope of improving Alfie’s mobility and reducing his pain would be surgery - which carries a risk of paralysis.
She was out with Alfie one day when another dog owner commented on the way he walked. "The man told me his dog used to walk exactly the same way before having acupuncture," she said.
"That was when I decided, before going down any other route, that it was worth giving it a go." Vet Fiona Wall, who has now been using acupuncture on Alfie for 18 months, said: "We place small needles into painful parts of the body to trigger the brain into releasing natural chemicals to try to block the pain pathways. It’s a natural pain relief with very few side-effects. In Alfie’s case, he was very depressed, he was slow to rise from his hind end and had compression of his spinal cord in his neck, and a history of hip dysplasia. He was noticeably wobbly when he stood and walked.
"We started acupuncture and his movement began to improve. He went from a dog with a poor quality of life to a much happier dog in such a short space of time. We will continue with it for as long as he’s benefiting.
"He knows what’s going on, he’s really relaxed, he accepts the treatment readily and he loves the attention."