With our companion animals we use acupuncture successfully for a variety of problems. Although often sought for pain relief, acupuncture is known to have effects on all major physiological systems. The following are just a few examples of conditions we use acupuncture for in pets: pain, arthritis, intervertebral (spinal) disease, muscle spasms, epilepsy, auto-immune disorders, allergies, chronic infections, incontinence and behavioral disorders.
There are some conditions for which a single acupuncture treatment is all that is required. In most instances, however, there are multiple treatments spread over weeks or even months to reverse various chronic conditions.
So how do pets react to the acupuncture needles? During the acupuncture treatment itself, most animals exhibit little or no pain or discomfort. In fact, most of our patients will lie down during a treatment with their owners holding them, and take a nap. The treatment itself may last 10 seconds to 30 minutes, the average treatment being 20 minutes.
For thousands of years, acupuncture has been used to promote balance in the body's total energy system and ability to heal. In all animals there are precise locations on or near the surface of the body known as acupuncture points; these points, when stimulated, may produce changes in the body's internal organs and functions.
Traditionally, inserting a fine stainless steel, gold, or sterling silver needle into the point causes a specific desired effect. Veterinary acupuncture utilizes both the ancient theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the western observations of physiological response and correlation of effect, in the selection of acupuncture points to treat.
The ancient theories of TCM describe the body as having a network of energy channels, called meridians, which conduct flow of Qi (pronounced "chee") - the body's sustaining energy force. Qi regulates bodily functions as it flows to and through all parts of the physical body. When Qi flows in a smooth harmonious manner, health is the result. The healthy flow of Qi through the meridian channels may be disrupted by any number of things, such as advanced age, chronic injury, sudden trauma, poor or inappropriate nutrition, inadequate exercise (or even overexertion) and stress.
Whenever Qi becomes disrupted, imbalance occurs and disease may result. But according to theories of TCM, the flow of Qi may be influenced by the stimulation of acupuncture points using needles. Acupuncture helps to reset the energy system "circuit board" by balancing the flow of Qi within the body.
So what does acupuncture actually do to the body physiologically?
Well, among other things, the use of acupuncture has been shown to provide generalized oxygenation and increased blood flow to specific areas of treatment. It also aids production of cortisone and other anti-inflammatory secretions, and can increase the internal production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. Studies show that it can also stimulate immunity by increasing white blood cell count and antibody production.
Several theories have been used to explain the effects produced by the treatment of acupuncture, but none of these theories, standing alone, is able to explain the effects observed. At least with dogs and cats we know the effects are real and not a result of the mental expectation of improvement.
Acupuncture can be the only method of treatment or can be combined with other treatment modalities, such as conventional western medicine, chiropractic, and herbal or nutritional support.
There is a limit to how much acupuncture will help an animal. It may be that the disease or trauma has progressed beyond the point where acupuncture can arrest or reverse the damage, and all it can do is provide supportive care and symptomatic relief.
In order to practice veterinary acupuncture, a considerable amount of knowledge is required. In the United States, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) is the visible leader and currently sets the standard for recognized training and certifications of American veterinary acupuncturists. At our office we have two veterinarians certified and treat hundreds of pets this way each year.
--Dr. Franklin Utchen, shown with his dog Tory, has been practicing veterinary medicine in the San Ramon Valley since 1989 and currently co-owns Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care. For questions or comments e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.