Acupuncture has been used over 2,000 years to treat different kind of diseases. It is safe and effective to treat conditions such as pain, geriatric diseases and exercise related diseases. During the past 25 to 30 years there has been tremendous growth and development of acupuncture in animals in Europe and the United States. Acupuncture has been used to treat diseases in horses, cattle, dogs, cats, and birds and many clinical studies have documented the benefits provided from acupuncture. Clinical results from acupuncture vary with the disorder being treated and with the type of acupuncture technique employed. There are 361 points located throughout the body on the meridians which are energetic channels that connect all points to each other. These points are stimulated by various means to produce a physiological effect on the body. All points have various functions that can be used to treat different diseases in the body. Certain precautions must be taken when treating weak, debilitated and pregnant animals.
Veterinary medical acupuncture is the insertion of hair-thin needles at specific points in the body to create a physiological response. For the majority of animals, acupuncture is virtually pain-free. By activating the central nervous system, acupuncture releases the body’s natural painkillers (such as endorphins), hormones (such as cortisol) and neurotransmitters (such as serotonin), thereby affecting all systems of the body.
The Chinese refer to this as restoring the balance of the vital energy, or Chi. Numerous scientific papers have verified that acupuncture not only relieves pain, but stimulates circulation and the immune system, decreases inflammation, relieves muscle spasms, and induces a feeling of well-being.
Different Acupuncture Techniques:
Many techniques have been developed to stimulate “acupoints” such as dry-needle, moxibustion, electro-acupuncture, aqua-acupuncture, hemo-acupuncture, acu-pressure and pneumo-acupuncture 10. Dry-needle is the insertion of an acupuncture needle into an acupoint for stimulation of that point. The needles are filiform, sterile and of varying widths and lengths. Dry-needle is the most common treatment modality used in veterinary medicine. Moxibustion is a form of stimulation that works by warming the acupoint and causing activation of the point. It uses crushed dried leaves of Artemisia argyi rolled into a cigar-shaped fashion. The herb is burned and then placed over an acupoint without touching the skin. The warming effect of the burned herb causes stimulation of the acupoint. Electro-acupuncture is the attachment of electrical leads to dry-needles and connection to an electro-acupuncture machine. The purpose of using the electro-acupuncture machine is to control the frequency and amplitude applied to each point. This allows for more effective stimulation than dry-needle alone. Aqua-acupuncture is the injection of a soluble, sterile medium into acupoints. The purpose is to provide a constant stimulation via the pressure induced by the liquid injected into the acupoint. The most commonly injected substances are sterile water, saline, or vitamin B12. Hemo-acupuncture is performed by inserting a hypodermic needle into a blood vessel that contains an acupoint to draw a few drops of blood. The purpose of this modality is to release heat from the body. Acupressure is the use of one’s fingers to apply direct pressure to an acupoint. Each point requires about 5-10 minutes of constant pressure for stimulation. Pneumo-acupuncture is the injection of fresh air into an acupoint. The pressure created by the air bubble within the subcutaneous tissues causes stimulation of the acupoint. This modality can be used for muscle atrophy of the hip or shoulder.
Applications of Acupuncture:
Acupuncture can be used for a variety of clinical conditions in animals, especially chronic diseases. Acupuncture is most commonly used in three areas, namely pain management, geriatric medicine, and sports medicine
Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture
1) Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury
2) Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma
3) Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
4) Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea
5) Selected reproductive problems minimal side effects.
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 racing, jumping, or showing, acupuncture can help them keep in top physical condition.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Although acupuncture has its roots in ancient times before modern scientific methods were available with which to study it, many important studies have been done to indicate how acupuncture works and what physiologic mechanisms are involved in its actions. Using functional MRI (fMRI), to examine 15 different points, the basic tenets of acupuncture have been proven. Those are that acupuncture is based upon the point selected, the method of stimulation, and the duration of stimulation. Stimulation of these points results in specific changes in the central nervous system. It was shown that acupuncture points that have pain relieving properties associated with them tend to activate specific pain-association brainstem regions. There was compelling evidence that acupuncture was useful in the management of osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal pain.
Is Acupuncture Painful?
For small animals, the insertion of acupuncture needles is virtually painless. The larger needles necessary for large animals may cause some pain as the needle passes through the skin. In all animals, once the needles are in place, there should be no pain. 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.
Is Acupuncture Safe for 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 a treatment. Other animals become lethargic or sleepy for 24 hours. 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.
How Can My Pet Benefit from Acupuncture?
The success of the treatment will vary according to the skill of the veterinarian, the condition being treated and the number and frequency of acupuncture treatments. The length and frequency of the treatments depends on the condition of the patient and the method of stimulation (dry needle, electro acupuncture, aqua puncture, etc.) that is used by the veterinary acupuncturist. A simple acute problem, such as a sprain, may require only one treatment, whereas more severe or chronic ailments may need several treatments.
Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of diseases including pain, geriatric diseases, and exercise-related diseases. Different acupoints and different methods of stimulation can be employed to treat specific diseases. Although few, there are cautions and contraindications to using acupuncture therapy. Therefore, it is highly recommend that a licensed veterinarian take a course certifying them in veterinary acupuncture before implementing it as part of their practice. With the increasing amount of clinical trials and research being performed using acupuncture therapy, we have a better understanding of acupuncture’s mechanism of action. Also, our animal patients greatly benefit from this recent understanding and application.
In general, acupuncture can be effectively combined with most conventional and alternative therapies. Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists have the comprehensive training, knowledge and skill to understand the interactions between different forms of treatment and to interpret the patient’s response to therapy.The American Veterinary Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine.