Westminster veterinarian Dr. Heather Bowles, right, applies an acupuncture needle to her patient, Eva, with help from vet assistant Barbara Wastler. Eva recently had knee surgery and the acupuncture helps cope with pain in her recovery.


Written By: Donna Engle, Photos By: Phil Grout

Fashionista? You may want a hot pink polka-dot harness dress with matching leash for your four-legged family member. Or perhaps a Yappily Ever After tuxedo in traditional black and white if Fido is going to a wedding.

Do you see an acupuncturist for relief from arthritis pain? So does Spot.

Love your neck-cooling bandanna when temperatures hit the 90s? Fifi also loves her harness or coat with pouch pack that can be chilled or heated to keep her comfortable.

“Just for fun” fashions, gear that improves pets’ comfort and safety, advances in veterinary medical techniques – the line between “people only” and “pets, too” has become increasingly blurred.

Pet outfits are nothing new. Queen Victoria dressed her spaniel in jackets and pants. But she would be astonished at the products and services available to modern pet owners. There are dresses with matching hats for girl dogs and shirts with bow ties for guy dogs. Americans spent more than $370 million in 2013 to costume their pets as fairy princesses or caped superheroes for Halloween.

Today’s pet owners also buy gear intended to make a dog’s or cat’s life better and safer. That is where people like Dori Mayer come in. Mayer is owner-operator of the Carroll County-based web business

“It’s apparel with a purpose,” Mayer said. She stocks items such as boots to protect paws on sun-scorched pavements and electrical cord covers impregnated with hot pepper and citronella to discourage chewing.

There are nonskid-tread dog booties for use on hardwood floors; dog owners say they can also be sprayed with water repellent and used for walking on ice. There are hooded raincoats that fold up into a pouch attached to a doggie bandanna. Sudden storm? Unfold the coat to cover Bowser.

The pet products business kept booming right through the recession. The American Pet Products Association reports that total spending on pets more than tripled in the last 20 years, from $17 billion in 1994 to $55.7 billion in 2013.

Time magazine cited increased status for pets (81 percent of pet owners consider their pets equal members of the family) as part of the reason owners dress up their dogs like junior humans or put little birthday crowns on their heads to celebrate the Special Day with treats and presents.

Mayer’s cat, Meghan, led her into the business of selling pet products for health and safety.

“Meghan was a special needs cat,” Mayer explained. She was diabetic, suffered thyroid problems, chronic urinary tract infections and an enlarged intestine that makes it difficult to eliminate waste. One cold winter day, Meghan had a veterinary appointment, but Mayer hesitated to take the frail cat outdoors.

Mayer said to herself, “You’re a quilter, do something about it.” She made a warm flannel cover for Meghan’s cat carrier. The veterinary staff loved it, and Mayer saw a business opportunity.

Meghan died four years ago at age 13. By then, Mayer was selling items such as head-covering caps that gray-out the surroundings like a heavy veil to promote serenity for dogs that overreact to visual stimuli, and Thundershirts, soft knit shirts that wrap snugly around animals suffering separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms or other fears. The Thundershirt cuddles pets. “It’s almost like swaddling a baby,” Mayer said.

Veterinary medical care, like human medical care, has become increasingly sophisticated. Cancers, urinary-tract disorders, kidney ailments, joint failures and even canine dementia can now be diagnosed and treated through MRIs, drugs, new surgical techniques, hydrotherapy and acupuncture.

“I blend different types of medicine together,” said Dr. Heather L. Bowles, associate veterinarian at Feathers Scales and Tails in Westminster. She is one of three avian veterinary specialists in Maryland and a certified veterinary acupuncturist, trained in traditional Chinese medicine.

Veterinary acupuncture is a postgraduate course, not part of traditional veterinary education. Bowles motivation to earn certification? “I wanted another tool in my bag” to treat patients, she said.

Bowles said most of her acupuncture treatments are used for arthritis in dogs, cats or rabbits, but treatments may also benefit animals with kidney disease. She has used acupuncture to treat feather-picking, a problem that leads birds to pluck out and damage their feathers.

“I’ve treated birds and ferrets, but on a practical level, it’s hard to get them to keep still,” she said. To make the acupuncture treatment longer-lasting for restless birds, she injects them with a shot of vitamin B12 as part of the procedure.

Bowles also uses food therapy, an aspect of traditional Chinese medicine. She tailors diet plans to individual patients based on their unique inborn tendencies, age, species, geographical location, personality and disease. For example, a dog with hot, itchy skin may be prescribed cooling foods such as fish and spinach.

At the Carroll County Veterinary Clinic in Westminster, Dr. Ian Hannigan is certified in a more Western-medicine approach to acupuncture, based on studies that show hitting certain points with acupuncture needles is effective. But the results he seeks are similar.

“What I do is targeting pain signals from nerves,” said Hannigan. “We give the nerves a different kind of signal to send.” He said acupuncture can be appropriate to treat nausea, bladder problems, hip and elbow pain.

Hannigan also uses laser therapy, another emerging complementary veterinary therapy. It can be very helpful for wound healing, he said.

Dr. Ronald Schueler, a veterinary neurologist, uses a hydrotherapy pool at his Westminster-area neurologic hospital and rehabilitation center. Water treatment can help pets rehabilitate after surgery or rebuild muscle tone.

“Most of our patients aren’t walking. They can’t walk,” said Deborah Schueler, who manages physical and hydrotherapy for the practice. “Should they require surgery, they’re under eight weeks of post-surgery confinement, where they can’t put any weight on their legs,” The pool allows dogs to maintain muscle tone and cuts healing time in half, she said.

“When [post-operatively] they’re able to walk, it’s just an awesome thing for them,” Schueler said.