Q: I have started acupuncture on myself for back pain and it has worked wonders. Does the same treatment exist for animals?
A: Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is practiced around the world and incorporates acupuncture, food therapy, massage, exercise, and herbal medicine. The central principle is that the balance of different channels of energy that flow through the body (called qi, or “chi”) is responsible for both the birth and death of disease. If a disharmony exists between channels, the astute acupuncturist will insert needles at different points to promote harmony, encourage healing, and relieve pain. Acupuncture can also be used as a practice that promotes overall wellness in a patient. It is commonly used in horses, dogs, and cats, but can also be used in exotic patients (birds and reptiles) as well! The most common purpose for acupuncture in veterinary medicine (and the most evidence-based) is for the treatment of pain. However, it is possible to use acupuncture and TCVM to add a new level of holistic wellness to your pet’s life.
The western medical explanation for acupuncture begins with the insertion of the needle. Studies have shown that a variety of biochemical substances are stimulated and then communicate with nerve endings, muscles, the circulatory system, the brain, and internal organs in order to invoke a positive change. Many scientific studies have proven the benefit of acupuncture in human cardiovascular disease, endocrine disease, and orthopedic disease, as well as painful conditions.
A typical acupuncture consultation is lengthy and explores not only your pet’s disease, but also many aspects of your pet’s life (diet, other pets, environment, exercise, travel, etc.). You may or may not see your pet receive needles on the first visit. If needles are placed, it is usually to see how the pet responds emotionally to being needled, so that a plan can be instituted for future appointments. A major difference between a veterinary patient and a human patient is the ability for the practitioner to place the appropriate needles without getting bitten or without the pet becoming too “stressed.” However, even an aggressive dog can be trained to understand that acupuncture is not painful and can be a pleasant and relaxing experience, so don’t give up if your pet seems too anxious.
The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, which means that the more treatments you pursue, the better the total effect. The treatment strategy is very individualized, and may need to be more or less frequent depending on your pet’s condition. This can create a logistical or financial burden on you, so it is important to consider these criteria before scheduling your initial appointment. It would be silly to schedule only one appointment and assume that this will fix your pet’s problem as the healing process is typically slow and gradual. However, as your pet feels better, the sessions will typically be shorter and less frequent. You may eventually only need to schedule a “tune up” at your discretion. Acupuncture is a wonderful way to integrate holistic medicine into you and your pet’s life!