Magnetic Therapy: Fact or Fiction?

Allen M. Schoen, D.V.M., M.S.

When one thinks of magnetic therapy for animals, one might envision those classic horseshoe magnets pulling a dog off the ground, but actually there has been quite a bit of scientific research documenting the benefits of magnetic therapy. Magnetic therapy has enjoyed a recent resurgence as a safe, simple and inexpensive method that produces positive results without harmful side effects. The most recent review of magnetic therapy for animals is by D. Hudson in the new textbook “Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, Principles and Practice” published by Mosby in November, 1997. Hudson defines magnetism as “the alignment of magnetic of magnetic, or permeable material so that the molecules face in a uniform direction (i.e. north facing one direction and south facing the other direction).Both the composition and the size of the magnet affects its strength. Magnets are thought to work by means of magnetic lines of force, measured and quantified in units called gauss.

There are two classifications of magnets, permanent (or static) magnets and pulsed electromagnetic field magnets (PEMF). Normally permanent magnets are taped over an effected area on an animals for a period ranging from a few minutes to a few hours to days. A relatively new addition to permanent magnets are bipolar magnetic strips or pads that can be taped on to a patient. These have been made for animals both large and small as strips that are wrapped around injured or arthritic joints or tendons, as blankets for horses and dogs as well as magnetic ped pads for older dogs. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy systems are devices that generate a pulsating electromagnetic field. Coils that produce the field are placed on the patient, generally for 30 to 60 minutes daily. Therapeutic permanent magnets usually range from 200 to 3000 gauss. The earths magnetic field is 0.5 gauss for comparison. The most recent addition to the field of magnetic therapy are bipolar magnets. Bipolar magnets are magnets where the north and south face are laid down parallel to each other side by side or in concentric circles. One manufacturer lays them down in checkerboard patterns. With all these patterns, both the north and south pole come in contact with the skin. These strips usually have a field strength of 500 gauss. Each manufacturer often claims that their magnetic configuration is the best. Clinically I have found that it is difficult to compare and some work better on some animals than others, but it is often a trial and error procedure.

There are different theories as to what is the best approach to applying magnets. Some recommend placing one specific pole, north or south on the injury, north relating to the negative pole and south relating to the positive pole. Advocates of this approach recommend using the north pole for healing injuries. Some practitioners report that the south pole stimulates growth of living tissues, which includes bacteria and viruses or even cancerous cells. Hence, they feel that the south pole should never be used. However, manufacturers of bipolar magnets disregard this theory. There is still quite a lack of agreement of concerning these theories. Most veterinary practitioners recommend using the north pole only facing the skin. Though many people use the bipolar magnets, apparently without any problem.

As far as the research goes, there are a handful of studies that do demonstrate that magnets do demonstrate biologic effects. However, there have been no good double blind studies to definitively document magnetic effects on living tissue. Actually, there are some concerns regarding the possible negative effects of high power tension wires and electromagnetic fields from cellular telephone towers and other smaller electromagnetic fields in houses. The concerns are related to the power of these fields and the long term chronic exposure to them. These are discussed in detail in two books by a famous orthopedic surgeon from Syracuse Medical school, Dr. Robert Becker . The books are titled “Cross Currents” and ” The Body Electric”. Both are excellent books on the subject. I would highly recommend reading these if you have concerns about this subject.

The big questions for our friendly pets are: 1. what are they used for and 2. how do I use them? Magnetic therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other modes of therapy, both traditional and natural.

Sometimes static magnets are used over acupuncture points, apparently helping to stimulate the points. The main indications for magnet therapy seem to be musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis in joints such as elbows, knees & as well as with back problems and hip dysplasia. I have a few clients who have used the magnetic blankets for their old arthritis dogs and claim that it has made a big difference in their pain relief and their energy levels and their ease of getting up and down and walking better. Many of my horse patients have definitely improved with magnets on their backs and around tendons. Some are very pleased with their pulsed electromagnetic blankets as well. They can be used in horses for tendon and ligament injuries. Studies have shown that PEMF units have helped heal non healing fractures and poorly healing wounds in humans and nonhuman animals.

The challenge with animals is how to keep the magnets on when they are always moving around. Different manufacturers have developed various ways to meet the challenge of moving animals! One approach is a magnetic bed that the dog or cat can lie on. Some dogs and cats, seem to gravitate to the bed and get on and off it as they wish, apparently sensing when they may have had enough. Others don’t seem to like them at all. Do they sense something we do not know? Good question! I certainly do not have the answer to that one.

Some manufacturers have developed magnetic blankets to wrap around horses and dogs backs. This seems to work out quite well. They have also made magnetic strips and that you can wrap with gauze around a particular joint as well as electromagnetic fields that can be held in place over the joint for a short period of time. This works well in horses, but is much more challenging with dogs and cats. Few cats will tolerate magnetic wraps or wraps of anything for that matter and on moving joints such as dogs knees, it is virtually impossible to keep the wrap on without sliding off.

The other option is to create some quiet time with you canine or feline companion and hold the magnets in place over the effected area while you pet them and enjoy the moments together. For our small animal companions, the magnetic strips or blankets or beds are probably the best options. The pulsed electromagnetic fields are more powerful, but are more expensive and are usually used by the veterinarian on your pet at the animal hospital, or some horse owners may have them if they have multiple horses. There you have, the positive and negative of animal magnetism. Till next time, may the beneficial effects of the electromagnetic force be with you!

If you would like a consultation with one of my Veterinary associates in the greater New York or Connecticut region, you can go to the practice part of my website, call the appropriate office and make an appointment with one of them to see how we can help your kindred spirit.

No article can replace the services of a trained veterinarian. This article is not intended to encourage treatment of illness, disease, or other medical problems by the layman. Any application of the recommendations set forth in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion and risk. You should consult a veterinarian concerning any veterinary medical or surgical problem. If a veterinarian is caring for your pet, for any condition, he or she can advise you about information described in this article.