Q: About two weeks after my 15-year-old Pomeranian was diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome, he had trouble walking. His hind legs are clumsy and he sometimes crosses them over while walking or drags them around. Can acupuncture improve his gait?    

A: Before I can recommend any treatment, I must first emphasise that you need to determine which form of Cushing’s Syndrome your dog has. There are two forms: One is pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH) and accounts for 85 percent of Cushing’s patients. In PDH, there is a pituitary tumour, often extremely small, causing over-stimulation of the adrenal glands. The second is caused by an adrenal tumour, which can be benign or malignant.

Most pituitary tumours responsible for Cushing’s disease are small and symptoms include increased drinking and urination, increased appetite, a pot-bellied appearance, and changes to the skin. However, approximately 10 to 20 percent of dogs with PDH have tumours large enough to compress the normal brain tissue and lead to neurologic disease symptoms like an uncoordinated gait, as seen in your dog. Other effects include listlessness, poor appetite, walking in circles, and seizures. Imaging of the brain via CT scan or MRI is required to confirm the presence of such a tumour.

For your dog, it is advisable to also rule out other causes. Since your dog was diagnosed two weeks ago and is probably on medication, you should note that in a small number of cases, the medicine given to manage Cushing’s Syndrome can also have a side effect in the form of an uncoordinated gait. You will need to discuss this possibility with your veterinarian.

Traditional Chinese medicine can help if the cause of his condition is qi or blood stagnation due to traumatic injuries along the spinal cord, muscle, tendons, or ligaments. Acupuncture can relieve the stagnant energy and help to move the blood to the affected region and nourish it. If it is the kidney qi, yin or yang deficiencies that are causing these neurological deficits (weakness or lack of coordination), a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine will be administered to tonify the kidneys, which govern the bones.