Acupuncture may be defined as the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to cause a desired healing effect. This technique has been used in veterinary practice in China for at least 3,000 years to treat many ailments. Acupuncture is used all over the world, either by itself or in conjunction with Western medicine, to treat a wide variety of conditions in every species of domestic and exotic animals. Modern veterinary acupuncturists use solid needles, hypodermic needles, bleeding needles, electricity, heat, massage, and low power lasers to stimulate acupuncture points. Acupuncture is not a cure-all but can work very well when it is indicated.
Acupuncture is indicated mainly for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (ie. allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture:
Musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis or intervertebral disc pathology
Skin problems such as lick granulomas
Respiratory problems such as feline asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea
In addition, regular acupuncture treatment can treat minor sports injuries as they occur and help to keep muscles and tendons resistant to injury. If your animals are involved in any athletic endeavor such as agility, flyball or showing, acupuncture can help keep them in top physical condition.
According to ancient Chinese medical philosophy, the disease is the result of an imbalance of energy in the body. Acupuncture is believed to balance this energy and thereby, assist the body to heal disease.
In Western terms, acupuncture can assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiological changes. For example, acupuncture can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasm and cause the release of hormones, such as endorphins (a powerful natural pain control chemical) and cortisol (a natural steroid). Although many of acupuncture’s physiological effects have been studied, many more are still unknown. Further research must be done to discover all of acupuncture’s effects and its proper uses in veterinary medicine.
For small animals, the insertion of acupuncture needles is virtually painless. Once the needles are in place, there should be no pain (unless the animal moves around excessively). Most animals become very relaxed and may even become sleepy. Nevertheless, acupuncture treatment may cause some sensation presumed to be those such as tingles, cramps or numbness which can occur in humans and which may be uncomfortable to some animals.
Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when it is administered by a properly trained veterinarian. Side effects of acupuncture are rare, but they do exist. An animal’s condition may seem worse for up to 48 hours after treatment. Other animals may become sleepy or lethargic for 24 hours after acupuncture. These effects are an indication that some physiological changes are developing, and they are most often followed by an improvement in the animal’s condition.
The length and frequency of acupuncture treatment depends on the condition of the patient and the method of stimulation that is used by the veterinary acupuncturist. Stimulation of an individual acupuncture point may take as little as 10 seconds or as much as 30 minutes. A simple acute problem, such as a sprain, may require only one treatment, whereas more severe or chronic ailments may need several or several dozen treatments.
When multiple treatments are necessary, they usually begin intensively and are tapered to maximum efficiency. Patients often start with 1-2 treatments per week for 4-6 weeks. A positive response is usually seen after the first to third treatments. Once a maximum positive response is achieved (usually after 4-8 treatments), treatments are tapered off so that the greatest amount of symptom-free time elapses between them. Many animals with chronic conditions can taper off to 2-4 treatments per year.
Animals undergoing athletic training can benefit from acupuncture as often as twice a week to once a month. The frequency depends on the intensity of training and the condition of the athlete.
There are two important criteria you should look for in a veterinary acupuncturist:
Your veterinary acupuncturist must be a licensed veterinarian.
Your veterinary acupuncturist should have formal training in the practice of acupuncture for animals.
In the USA, the American Veterinary Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery, but extensive educational programs should be undertaken before a veterinarian is considered competent to practice acupuncture.
The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting excellence in the practice of veterinary acupuncture as an integral part of the total veterinary health care delivery system. The Society endeavors to establish uniformly high standards of veterinary acupuncture through its educational programs and accreditation examination. IVAS seeks to integrate veterinary acupuncture and the practice of western veterinary science, while also noting that the science of veterinary acupuncture does not overlook allied health systems, such as chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, herbology, nutrition, kinesiology, etc.
IVAS was formed and chartered in 1974. It is the only international veterinary acupuncture organization and has members in many countries. Consequently, it serves a networking and communication function. There are now veterinary acupuncture associations in several countries. However, it is expected that each state or principality eventually will develop local veterinary acupuncture societies to respond to local issues.
[IVAS. gratefully acknowledges the writings of Richer Panzer, DVM, MS in the preparation of this information.)