Veterinary medicine continues to advance. We, as veterinarians, can now offer MRIs, CT scans, radiation treatment, and advanced chemotherapy to our patients on a daily basis. Yet for some animals, treatments that have been around for 2000 years still prove to be the most successful.
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is the oldest form of veterinary care on record. One of the first veterinary textbooks was printed in 700 BC and described acupuncture points in horses. Not only does TCVM incorporate acupuncture, or the placement of needles into certain points on the body, but also the use of herbal medications, food therapy and Tui-Na, which is therapeutic massage.
While many of us have heard of acupuncture, most people have never thought about this treatment for pets. There are actually about 400 specific acupuncture points identified in dogs and cats. Each point has a very exact anatomical location on the body and a very specific action. Modern science has identified these points microscopically as having a dense concentration of nerves and blood vessels superficially located in the skin. When a needle is inserted into a point, the Qi, or energy, is activated.
At our veterinary hospital, the majority of animals benefitting from acupuncture are being treated for neurological or orthopedic disease. For some patients, the goal is to avoid major surgery, while others are recovering from such procedures. The use of acupuncture often speeds recovery and aids in the patient’s general well-being. A major benefit of acupuncture is that medications can often be altered, reduced or eliminated altogether. Many conventional medications can cause serious side effects in patients. Acupuncture and herbal remedies are used frequently to circumvent these issues and support liver, kidney and hormonal functions. For example, Cushing’s disease and epileptic seizures are often treated effectively and safely with herbal medications, as opposed to more toxic conventional prescriptions.
Another compassionate use of acupuncture is as a palliative treatment for terminal patients. Though the idea of hospice in veterinary medicine is a very new one, more and more pet owners are seeking a middle ground between extensive, invasive treatments and preparing for their pet’s passing. General well-being, appetite stimulation and pain relief are all common goals of palliative acupuncture sessions and when combined with conventional medications and therapies, can add significant quality to the pet’s end-of-life journey. Acupuncture and herbal medications can also be used for behavior modification to help patients suffering from separation anxiety, storm phobias, and mild aggression.
Acupuncture is extremely safe when performed by a trained practitioner. Most animals seem to enjoy acupuncture treatment and many even fall asleep! A treatment session lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on the pet’s condition and response to treatment. Though certain acupuncture points may elicit more reaction from the patient than others, it is not a painful process. With some animals, positive results are immediate. Full effects can require several treatment sessions, which initially are on a weekly basis. The number of necessary treatment sessions can vary based upon what the pet is being treated for and how quickly the pet responds to treatment.
Veterinary acupuncture practitioners must have advanced training and licensure by the American Society of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. You can learn more about these treatments from the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS), the Chi Institute in Reddick, Florida, or the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Originally published August 2014 in the Lake Norman Citizen