Questions & Answers
About Veterinary Acupuncture
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice involving the precise placement of acupuncture needles into points (called "acupoints"), which are located in specific locations on the body along energy channels (called "meridians"), which circulate the animal's vital life force (called "Qi"), in an attempt to stimulate the animal's own body to heal.
What is Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine?
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is the study that explains the body as having a continual flow of energy ( "Qi") that travels through each Meridian (energy channels). When the distribution of Qi is equally distributed, the body has achieved harmonious balance of Yin and Yang. Some organ systems relate to Yin (parts lower than the head, dark, cool) and the others relate to Yang (high on the animal's body, hot, energised). The Meridians are named after the organ system it follows, and are paired in a corresponding Yin -Yang relationship for balance.
The order in which Meridians are listed follows the direction of flow of Qi, specifically: Lung (yin) - Large Intestine (yang) - Stomach (yang) - Spleen (yin) - Heart (yin) - Small Intestine (yang) - Bladder (yang) - Kidney (yin) - Pericardium (yin) - Triple Heater (yang) - Gall Bladder (yang) - Liver (yin). There are also eight extraordinary Meridians, two having their own Acupoints: Governing Vessel (yang) - Conception Vessel (yin).
When there is pathway interference to the flow of Qi, Yin and Yang are thrown out of balance, resulting in either an Accumulation or Deficiency in the organ system preceding or following it.. This causes illness.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture dates back to millions of years ago, long before the advent of modern western medical advances and tests, where ancient Chinese practitioners used patterns of cause and effect to show repeatable outcomes. Current science continues to support theories which explain the benefits of acupuncture, from a medical point of view.
The effect of acupuncture on an animal will vary according to three variables: the Acupoint selected, the method of stimulation, and the duration of stimulation. In western terms, acupuncture assists the body to heal itself by affecting physiological changes in an individual. Acupuncture has been shown to raise levels of triglycerides, specific hormones in the body (like cortisol and endorphins), affect white blood cell responses in healing, improve circulation, relieve muscle spasms, and 'trick' pathways in the central nervous system involved in the resolution of pain.
What Conditions Can Acupuncture Treat?
Acupuncture is useful for conditions of pain, paralysis and inflammation originating from non-infectious causes. Some of the common problems I treat small animals for, include:
- Musculoskeletal conditions (osteoarthritis, nerve trauma, intervertebral disc disease)
- Psychological conditions causing inflammation (stereotypies, acral lick dermatoses)
- Respiratory conditions (bronchitis, feline asthma)
- Gastrointestinal conditions (pancreatitis, diarrhoea)
Large animals (horses, cattle, pigs, etc) benefit from acupuncture therapy as well, where it is often used in the treatment of:
- Musculoskeletal injuries (muscle inflammation and trauma, downer cows)
- Nerve paralysis (facial paralysis, isolated neuropathies)
- Skin conditions (dermatitis, allergies)
- Respiratory conditions (asthma or heaves in horses, allergic bronchitis)
- Reproductive conditions
How are Acupuncture Needles Used?
There are as many as nine types of acupuncture needles available, however veterinary acupuncturists generally use either Chinese needles (thicker and uncoated) or Japenese needles (thinner and coated), of desired length and size, in specific Acupoints to stimulate an effect. Needles vary is length, diameter, and shape of its head. Needles today are disposable and must be disposed according to local biohazard and waste regulations. Needles are inserted at different angles relative to the skin, and either slowly or abruptly placed or removed, in order to produce a desired effect. Placement should result in a desired sensation, called "da-Qi," which is not painful for the patient. Needle selection depends upon practitioner preference, patient size and ailment, and location of the Acupoints selected for therapy.
What Methods of Acupuncture Exist?
There are a few methods of acupuncture that may be utilised, starting with the ancient practices, moving onto the more modern techniques.
Moxibustion or "moxa" is a means of directly stimulating selectively placed acupuncture needles with a burning compressed cigar containing the herb Artemis vulgaris, or Chinese Mugwort. Moxa heats up the selected Acupoints and Meridians and is used to treat conditions requiring dispersal of Wind, Damp and Cold; such as, osteoarthritis, bronchitis, and diarrhoea. Moxa must only be applied to needles with metallic ends, to avoid melting or burning plastic. When burning, it gives off a smell resembling marijuana, and must not be lit near a smoke detector when using in the clinic!
Cupping is another ancient method of Chinese Medicine, where a cup is placed over the selected Acupoint, after a paper has burnt inside of it, so that when it is applied to the body, a vacuum effect is created, causing the cup to suction to the skin. This method of stimulation helps bring circulation to the treated region, and is also useful in the treatment of conditions requiring dispersal of Cold and Damp. It is not used frequently in veterinary medicine due to the limitations with fur and locations on different body shapes of our animal patients.
Electro-acupuncture is a method whereby small electrical currents are applied to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating Acupoints. Chinese practitioners in the 1930's inserted needles into desired points, and then connected electrodes from the electroacupuncture unit the metallic shaft of the needle to deliver between 10 - 80 milliamps of current. The intensity of the current is chosen by the practitioner depending on the desired effect and patient status. Electro-acupuncture provides stronger stimulation than hand manipulations alone and is often indicated for difficult cases of paralysis. Electro-acpuncture may be of significant benefit in the treatment of neurological disorders, chronic pain conditions, and paralysis. It should be used with caution in heart cases, and needles should be not electro-stimulated around the heart.
Gold Bead Implantation is a procedure where sterile gold beads are surgically placed into desired Acupoints to induce continual stimulation of that point. It is a form of permanent-acupuncture in a desired region or Acupoint to help patients with chronic conditions, like osteoarthritis in the hip (hip dysplasia, structural malformations, etc.). An animal must be under full general anaesthesia and sterility of the surgeon must be maintained to avoid complications. In the medical literature there is ongoing debate as to the safety and effectiveness of this procedure. My personal experience with gold bead therapy was a positive one, assisting Dr. Erika Raines at the Tree of Life Veterinary Clinic during my acupuncture internship.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Our veterinary patients tolerate the insertion of acupuncture needles very well. These needles are often coated, small diameter, and smooth and are virtually painless on insertion. Some animals will feel drained the day following their treatment and improvement in symptoms may not be noted immediately. However side effects are extremely rare and animals do seem to resist needle placement. In fact, a lot of animals become calm or even sleepy during their treatment.
Acupuncture is a valuable tool for the veterinary practitioner and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medical Doctor to aid in the recovery of your pet.