Acupuncture for pets: Benefits beyond pain control

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Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2013 12:15 am | Updated: 5:14 pm, Thu Mar 6, 2014.

For thousands of years, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, which includes herbs, nutrition, therapeutic massage and Tuina, have been effective treatments for pain, allergies, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and all other illnesses.

Acupuncture is the insertion of small needles into specific points on the body to bring about physiologic responses in treating illness and injury; it is especially useful for pain relief. More broadly, acupuncture is a TCM treatment which treats whole-body conditions.

Evidence of acupuncture performed on elephants dates to 3,000 years ago. Experts say acupuncture has been practiced for at least 4,000 years. Earlier evidence of acupuncture was found when Oetzi, a frozen 5,300-year-old body, was discovered in a glacier in the Alps in 1991. Oetzi’s body was perfectly preserved and had tattoo marks (not ornamental tattoos) at acupuncture points used to treat the documented arthritis, body ailments, and injuries specific to his body.

Why has acupuncture been used for so long? The theory is that it works well with few side effects, because it is a system of diagnosis, nutrition and treatment. It considers the way body systems develop and work together. Nothing in the body can work well when one of the organs is failing. As an example, when the heart is failing, Eastern medicine treats the heart and internal organs, which become damaged through heart failure, like the kidneys. In contrast, Western medicine treats the heart with drugs whose side effects often accelerate damage to the kidneys.

I was introduced to veterinary acupuncture studies in 1985 by a vet who had traveled to China and formed a non-profit group called IVAS in 1974. These vets studied acupuncture in China and subsequently promoted TCM studies, research and education for vets internationally. I feel very fortunate that I can offer TCM to my patients, because of these veterinarians’ efforts.

So does acupuncture work, and how does it work? The first answer is an emphatic “yes.” Acupuncture works to treat many acute and chronic conditions.

In acute illness and emergencies, there are several life-saving points that work like CPR in support of the heart and cardiovascular system. In 1990, a scientific paper was published in the Journal of AVMA by a veterinarian who was able to revive an animal in cardiac arrest using a single acupuncture needle. This animal had been hooked up to monitors and had not responded to a previous 20-minute course of CPR and drugs. Many other case studies and articles document benefits of acupuncture: accelerated healing, and recovery, improved hormone and neurotransmitters levels and decreased pain.

I perform acupuncture and TCM as part of daily practice, because the pets feel better, recover faster and often respond positively in ways that are not achieved with Western drugs.

Generally, in cases of pain, emergencies and acute illness, I recommend combinations of Eastern and Western treatments, which produce the quickest response for pets. When a pet comes into the office in shock, I use IV fluids and drugs to support the heart, respiratory and healthy brain functions. In addition, I place acupuncture needles at sites that support blood pressure, heart rate and effective cardiac output of blood.

In cases of pancreatitis, pets that receive acupuncture have a quicker return of appetite and recovery. Patients with more chronic or degenerative illnesses, such as joint diseases, arthritis, disc disease, cancer, liver, kidney and heart failure, also show great response. Patients with liver disease can regenerate healthy tissue as a response to acupuncture, as several of my dog and cat patients have done. Many diabetic pets have been able to come off their insulin and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, while others have recovered from diabetic neuropathy.

When acupuncture is combined with patent-formula Chinese herbs, pets reap even more benefits. If you decide to treat your pet with TCM, look for a vet who has experience and training in acupuncture and Chinese herbology for the most effective treatment.

Keep in mind that TCM is like any other treatment; not every patient has great results. Acupuncture may be less effective in the following situations:

•The pet has poor nutrition;

•A pet is suffering from untreated diabetes or hypothyroidism (remember that hormones and neurotransmitters are needed for healing to occur);

•Pets have uncorrected chiropractic misalignments, affecting spinal nerves (pressure on nerves can give abnormal chemical signals to organs causing persistent illness);

•It is performed by someone who has little experience or has made an incorrect TCM diagnosis.

•Not enough time or treatments have been given for full effects to be seen. Chronic illness usually requires several treatments before long term positive effects are observed.

If your pet is ill, consider getting acupuncture therapy. You can find a directory of veterinarians with post-graduate acupuncture training by visiting www.ivas.org and www.aava.org.

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Coliin

2 years old, male, medium, terrier mix

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