Acupuncture- What’s the Point?

In this day and age, you probably have heard of Acupuncture.  It has become a main-stream modality of healing and health.  Many people pursue acupuncture for treatment of everything from chronic pain to fertility issues to stress management.  It is even covered by some health insurance carriers.   Did you know that acupuncture is commonly used within veterinary medicine as well?  I have been certified as a CVA- Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, for five years and incorporate it daily into our small animal practice.

Acupuncture has been a method of healing for over 3000 years.  It initially was discovered on the battle-field, and was initially discovered to help the injured horses.  The Chinese then extrapolated the findings to humans and have used acupuncture for all species since.  Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine incorporates the use of acupuncture as well as herbal therapy, food therapy, Qi Gong (Meditation) and Tui Na (massage).  All of these modalities can be used either individually or in combination and all strive to maintain balance and health within the animals and their people.

The basic principle of acupuncture is that our bodies (animals and people) are made of energy and this energy is arranged in lines called meridians.  These meridians track all over our bodies and blockages along these meridians cause pain or discomfort or general imbalances within one’s body.   In acupuncture, we take tiny needles and stimulate points along these meridians to break up the blockages and allow for the flow of energy (or Qi “chee”) to continue.   Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine in general, is all about maintaining balance and the flow of Qi.  Signs of sickness or pain are indications that the body is out of balance and we strive to correct those inconsistencies through acupuncture and diet and herbal supplements.

While this may sound all very “out there” to some, it really does make a lot of sense and is very applicable to our day-to-day lives.  Have you ever had a headache and rubbed your temples? There are acupuncture points there that relieve sinus pressure as well as releasing endorphins (the feel-good hormones).   Our pets are even more responsive to acupuncture than we are, in some cases.  I most commonly treat cases of arthritis and chronic disease patterns (diarrhea, vomiting, and epilepsy) with acupuncture.  Many of my patients come to me on a myriad of medications, all of which can be incorporated into acupuncture sessions.  Many times, however, after a series of treatments, some of the medications can be decreased and/or discontinued all together.   Acupuncture has been shown to be a viable, non-drug option for numerous medical conditions.

So, who needs acupuncture? Many of my clients do tend to be older dogs and cats, who are slowing down, not getting around as well as they used to, or showing signs of age and discomfort.  Some of my patients come because they cannot process western medications (e.g., liver issues, kidney issues).  Acupuncture gives owners another option in the management of the health of their pets.  Some of my patients are epileptics, some have chronic gastrointestinal issues and some come just for general “wellness”, to help keep their bodies in balance and healthier for a longer period of time.

Sometimes, we combine both acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapies to create a multi-modal approach to wellness.  Herbal therapies can be used on their own or with acupuncture treatments, and many of my patients do incorporate both, as using them together potentiates the effects of both treatments.

Very often both my patients, and their owners, are hesitant and even skeptical at first.  Sessions initially last between 30 and 45 minutes, and depending on the size of the pet, the sessions take place either on the floor or on a table, on a blanket.  The needles are tiny and the pets do not object to having them placed.  Sometimes, I incorporate electro-acupuncture stimulation, which connects wires to the needles and produces a small current that stimulates the needles while they are in the animal.  It feels like a low buzz and tickles for a few moments, before the body gets used to the stimulation.  I don’t always use the electro-acupuncture unit, but it can allow for a stronger response from the pet, and allows the effects of the acupuncture session to last a bit longer.  The first session has effects that only last for a few days, generally.  Subsequent sessions have a cumulative effect, and many of my long-term patients only get treated four or five times a year.    Once the pets understand what is going on, many of my canine patients drag their owners in for their acupuncture sessions.  It is wonderful to see the joy and enthusiasm many of these pets have for their acupuncture treatments.  Nothing is more rewarding than a happy tail wag and doggy kiss after their session is complete.   My cat patients generally purr and doze off during their sessions, and owners report that their feline friends are jumping and playing more after their treatments.

While acupuncture may not be appropriate for every patient in every situation, it absolutely can be applicable to the majority of our pets.  It can be used in conjunction with traditional western medications and therapies, and offers us another method of helping to keep our pets happy and healthy and with us for as long as possible.