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Om My Dog offers pet acupuncture for pain relief

Whether you have two legs or four, an overwhelming sense of calm washes over you when you enter the sanctuary of Om My Dog where veterinarian Dr. Ann Vestal provides acupuncture treatment to beloved pets needing relief from pain. Dr. Ann became certified in veterinary acupuncture seven years ago, but her desire to help animals has always been her passion.

“I wanted to be a veterinarian all my life,” said Dr. Ann. “I’ve never had a plan B.”

After graduating from veterinarian school at Oklahoma State University in 2007 and completing an internship at Colorado State University, she began to make plans for her career. She knew she wanted to continue living in the mountains, but wasn’t too keen on competing for a job with all the new graduates coming out of veterinarian school at CSU.

“I had a friend who said, ‘Have you ever been to Missoula, Montana?’” said Dr. Ann. Once she got to know Missoula, she was hooked. “I love the community, the environment. There’s a lot of good people here and it’s very eclectic and open-minded. It feels like home and I’m so comfortable and happy here.”

Dr. Ann became interested in acupuncture while working at Sentinel Veterinary Specialists and Emergency. Sentinel Veterinary provides an exceptional level of care to animals through emergency and surgical services at their new state-of-the-art office on South Reserve Street. Dr. Ann was frustrated with only being able to prescribe medications to her patients experiencing pain. She began looking for alternative ways to offer pain management with few, if any, side effects. Knowing a little about acupuncture, she tried it on her own dog and noticed the positive effects. She eventually went on to receive her certification through a program called Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians.

Dr. Ann established Om My Dog, her own veterinarian acupuncture and pain management business, about two years ago. Originally, she was practicing acupuncture out of her office at Sentinel. Then last year around the same time that Sentinel moved into their new building, Ann Straub, the owner of Holistic Pet Nutrition Center, asked Dr. Ann if she would like to set up her acupuncture practice there as they were also moving to a new location on South Russell. She jumped at the chance to have her own dedicated space for Om My Dog and now splits her time between her space and Sentinel. Dr. Ann said she enjoys the balance of intense emergency situations at Sentinel with the gentle calm practice of acupuncture.

Dr. Ann explained that the acupuncture treatments she administers stem from the western-based form of the practice which focuses more on the medical side as opposed to the philosophical focused eastern-based practice. When she first sees a patient, she discusses the animal’s history with their owner to determine what brought them to her and how they might benefit from acupuncture. She then performs a gentle myofascial exam, meaning she feels for spots that are tense or uncomfortable. Once those spots are found, she tries an initial treatment of acupuncture, applying needles to the painful areas to see if it will make a difference in the animal’s comfort level. If this is successful, Dr. Ann will lay out a treatment plan going forward.

She is certified to practice acupuncture on any animal, but due to time constraints she focuses on dogs and cats. The majority of her patients are older animals with issues like arthritis or athletic dogs with injuries. Acupuncture is just one piece in helping relieve pain. A patient’s treatment plan may also incorporate medications, supplements, and nutrition.

“I’m not looking for a cure,” said Dr. Ann. “What acupuncture does is helps decrease muscle tension, improve nerve function and inflammation, and increase blood flow. One of the biggest and best things I’ve seen is an overall improvement in quality of life. They’re happier, they’re perkier, they’re moving around with more comfort, and they just seem brighter.”

Inevitably, new patients can be nervous. This is a big reason she’s tried hard to design her office, what she calls her “Zen Den,” to be a comfortable and welcoming place to both patients and owners. Lush green plants line the walls. Soft lighting and large windows invoke a feeling of peace. Blankets cover the floor and drape over the back of plush chairs and couches. A water feature murmurs in the corner. “A big thing for me is that animals come in here and have a positive experience from start to finish. I want them to know this is a safe place,” said Dr. Ann.

“Acupuncture has completely changed how I practice, how I communicate with animals, and how I do exams,” she said. “It has been a very enriching experience for me and made me appreciate vet medicine even more. I establish an even closer bond with clients and patients than in my general practice and that bond is the most important thing to me.”

About half of Dr. Ann’s patients come from referrals from other vets. She also gets clients through word of mouth from current clients as well as customers from the nutrition store that have noticed her card on the counter. She hasn’t established a website or Facebook page yet, but if you’re interested in talking to her about your furry friend, you can contact her by phone at 406. 529.9534.