Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese form of medical treatment. It dates back thousands of years in Asia, and has gained popularity in the western world since the 1970's. Research into the methods of acupuncture have demonstrated its usefulness as a medical treatment when administered by a qualified practitioner. However, more research is needed to identify the mechanisms of why and how acupuncture works.
Acupuncture is a technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that places very small needles into certain locations of the body to allow the body to heal. TCM theory holds a holistic view of health. Energy (Qi) flows through our bodies to keep us healthy. Qi (pronounced "Chi") circles through our bodies in specific patterns through channels or meridians.
Disease is caused from a blockage of this energy flow. By placing acupuncture needles at specific points along these meridians, energy can flow again and heal the illness. We replenish Qi through eating and breathing, so nutrition and exercise are very important to our well-being.
We can use TCM and acupuncture in animals as well, sometimes with dramatic results. Veterinary acupuncture is a tool we can use to help animals in pain, cancer patients, and older debilitated animals. It is best used in addition to Western diagnostics and therapies, and does not replace modern therapies. It can enhance quality of life of many ill animals. It does not claim to "cure" the incurable, but is another tool to help manage many conditions. Some of the more positive results have been seen with animals suffering from intervertebral disk disease, hip dysplasia, degenerative joint disease, and seizures, just to name a few.
Acupuncture needles are very small and are tolerated well by most animals. Usually there is no pain during needling, but some sensations may include tingling and warming. The number of needles and acupoints needed depends on the condition of the animal and may include anywhere from 1 to 60 needles. The average treatment is usually 15 to 20 needles.
Most patients are tired after a treatment and may sleep up to 24 hours depending on their condition. This is because acupuncture causes a release of natural endorphins and opioids (painkillers) in the body. The average treatment lasts for about 20 minutes, but can range from 10-60 minutes. Occasionally, we see a slight reddening at the needle site due to a local histamine release. This has no consequence to the animal and just means that the acupoint has been stimulated.
The number of treatments needed depends on the condition and how long the pet has been ill. Usually the animal will start to feel better after 3 to 5 treatments. The time between the treatments can be as little as 2 days apart up to every few months, depending on the disease being treated. On average, once or twice a week is needed to achieve results. Follow-up treatments may be needed every so often depending on how your pet feels, usually monthly or every few months.
Is Acupuncture Safe?
Yes, acupuncture is safe when practiced by a qualified practitioner. On animals, it should only be performed by a veterinarian certified in veterinary acupuncture. Sterilized high quality needles should be used and disposed of after use.
What about herbal therapy?
Occasionally herbal therapy has been used to enhance the effects of acupuncture treatments. The problem with herbal therapy is that there is no quality control and guarantees established for herbal medicines and nutritional supplements. Claims of efficacy are hard to establish and verify. Herbs can also react and interfere with western treatments. They should only be prescribed by a qualified veterinarian who knows the history and medical treatments of your pet. Herbs safe for one animal species may not be safe for another.