Veterinary article about Acupuncture
Nick Thompson BSc.(Hons), BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS. has been a practising Veterinary Surgeon for almost 10 years, currently working as a consultant for 6 Veterinary Practices in the south of England. He can be contacted on 01243 535 494 or through his web site www.holisticvet.co.uk
Veterinary Acupuncture - by Nick Thompson MRCVS
Everyone has heard about this strange Oriental treatment where they put needles in your body. Not everyone has heard that you can also use it in animals. Yes, dogs, cats and horses are being treated successfully every day in the UK and throughout the world by vets trained in Acupuncture. In the UK, the law states that only vets trained in acupuncture can treat animals with needles. Human-trained acupuncturists can treat people, but not animals, surprisingly. Here's a concise resume of Veterinary Acupuncture. If you would like more information, contact the Secretary Onno Weiranga MRCVS on 0207 937 8215 for a list of vets practicing acupuncture in the UK.
History - From Stone Needles to Laser Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a treatment method for all species, as well as humans, developed in the Orient over the last 3,500 years. As very practical peoples, they discovered that they could stimulate healing within the body by stimulating certain special points, "acupoints", with 15cm bian stone needles. The Chinese believe that energy, or Qi (pronounced 'Chi') circulates around the body maintaining the vitality and health of all tissues. When this Qi flow is blocked, disease flourishes. These blockages can occur, according to Traditional Chinese philosophy through trauma, scars or through exposure to 'pathogenic factors' such as wind, damp and cold. Huang Ti, the Yellow Emperor, warrior, road builder, astronomer and author of "Huang Ti Nei Ching" ('Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine') wrote in China around 2,700 BC.
Traditional Chinese Medicine - TCM
He observed that:
- acupuncture was developed in southern China
- moxibustion (where needles or skin is heated) was developed in northern China
- herbal medicine in western China
- massage and acupressure techniques in central China.
These were all brought together during his reign as 'Traditional Chinese Medicine'. It is said that doctors of this ancient time were paid by how many healthy people they had on their books. This seems to be a very good idea, perhaps one that could help our modern medicine!
Animal acupuncture is nearly as old as human acupuncture. Horses were incredibly important at the time. Their primary role was as war machines to help the feuding armies fight and mobilise resources. Horses were also used in agriculture on the wealthier farms. To have a horse acupuncturist was as important then as the Royal Army Engineers are today; no transport, no war!
Only during the last 30 years has attention been paid to the acupuncture treatment of cats and dogs. In the 1970s, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society was launched in United States. Practitioners sprouted up all over the world dealing with all types of species. The last three decades has seen a massive boom in the popularity of small animal (pet) and equine acupuncture all over the world. There are now practitioners in nearly every country on the planet using basic needling techniques to sophisticated laser gadgetry to stimulate acupoints. Pets and horses throughout the world are now benefiting from this wonderful Chinese healing art.
Modern Western Veterinary Acupuncture
Modern Western Medicine has come to conclusions, in the last few centuries, similar to those realised by their Chinese counterparts 2,000 years ago. Their investigation technique is called Science. From anatomical and physiological studies doctors have worked out how blood flows, how the immune system works and how the nervous system controls it all. Where Traditional Chinese Medicine theory says you have blockages of energy flow, modern medicine could describe this as poor blood circulation leading to fibrositis if in the muscles, angina if in the heart and strokes if in the brain. Western medicine uses drugs to combat these effects where the Chinese would use needles and herbs. Needling carefully chosen acupoints has been shown, scientifically, to release morphine-like substances called 'endorphins' and to change the way the brain and the nervous system recognises an area of disease. It is as if acupuncture has a re-educating effect on the body dealing badly with an injured a limb or diseased organ. So, waking up of the immune system, the circulatory system and focusing this new activity through carefully repeated needling seems to be the physical effect of acupuncture. It must be said that the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach can often work better than the high-tech scientific approach! This is especially true when dealing with longstanding disease.
In the UK now, there are dozens of vets trained in veterinary acupuncture. Between them they treat Rats, Birds, Horses, Elephants, Dogs, Ponies, Pigs, Cats and Rabbits. Most are in regular practice, but have a special interest in acupuncture. Almost every county in the land has at least one vet whose interests include acupuncture.
A Consultation in Veterinary Acupuncture
Your animals' first acupuncture consultation will usually take 30-60 minutes to take a full history, treat the animal and discuss aspects of the case. Further consultations are usually about 30 minutes. Acupoints used by the vet are generally transposed from human acupuncture. We have a skeleton very similar to horses, dogs and cats and so points can be located fairly accurately from species to species. Points can be found all over the body, from the little toe to the tip of the nose. They are areas rich in nerve and blood vessel supply; the skin actually looks microscopically different at these foci. Points are distributed along lines of 'energy' called meridians or channels. These energy highways have associations with the organs and are called, for example, the Bladder Vessel, or the Large Intestine Meridian to emphasise some of their uses. When your vet has taken a history and examined your pet, they will select points that need stimulation to free up 'blockage'. The idea of energy blockage can be thought of as a way of explaining the effects the needles have to make animals and people better.
Some vets are uncomfortable with the concept of energy. That's ok. They think of the flow of blood and get equally good results. Stimulation of acupoint sites can be by inserting very thin, one or two inch (2.5cm in cat and dogs to 5cm in horses) needles through the skin to prompt a response. It can also be done by using an intense light source, laser light and by using pressure, a technique known as acupressure. Needles need to be left in for 15-20 minutes and can be stimulated gently by twisting. Once needles are in they are painless. I have even had dogs falling asleep during treatments! Needles are removed carefully at the end of the session of 10 - 20 mins. Sometimes the needles have worked their way out themselves and are just holding on by the very tip. Most needles will loosen in the skin. This is a good sign and suggests good response. When we start an animal on a course of acupuncture, the frequency of treatment will depend on the condition, but weekly sessions for 4 - 6 weeks initially is typical. After this time, progress will be assessed and you will be guided as to how to go on from there by your veterinary acupuncturist.
Is Acupuncture Painful?
This is a question I'm often asked. I'll go through the various arguments with you here to let you see all sides of the argument. The first thing to say is that it is impossible to put a needle through the skin without provoking some sensation. It is not always painful, but can sometimes be a sharp sensation. If the acupuncturist has chosen a point that is very blocked, then sometimes stimulation of the point when the needle gets through the skin is uncomfortable. So why do we do it if it is painful sometimes? Answer: the benefits outweigh the mild discomfort of the treatment. The first thing vets are taught, the first thing that all animal and human healers learn is 'First, do no harm'.
If acupuncture really was excruciating and the results were equivocal, then it should be stopped. But the opposite is true. When we humans make a decision to go to an acupuncturist, we do so not for fun, but because we have a problem that we want fixed. Animals don't see it like that. They see it as 'I have this really sore back or leg and now they take me to see this person and all they want to do is put needles in me!'. This is why some pets are pretty confused the first time they go for treatment. So, our job as owners and vets is to reassure them. Pets can be brave or quite timid, just like us. So some will take acupuncture in their stride, some will need reassurance because they are scared. There will always be those pets who really hate needles of any kind. In these cases, the vet can use photonic therapy or laser. Both use light to treat the acupoints in the same way as needles, except nothing solid goes through the skin. The down side is that sometimes the effect of using light is not as long lasting as using needles.
Another alternative is to use gold bead implants at the acupoints. This is done under general anaesthesia and is usually done for conditions that need continual stimulation e.g. hip dysplasia in larger dog breeds. Three or four beads are placed in the tissue around the hip joint, in the case of hip dysplasia, at the acupoints, to maintain the mobility of the dog without the need for weekly treatments for years.
Conditions where Acupuncture can Help
To give you an idea of some of the conditions in your pets where acupuncture might help, below is a list of the type of problems where it has helped other animals. If you are in any doubt, find your nearest acupuncture vet. Ask them to examine your animal. They will then be able to give you specific advice on what would be best.
If you have a problem with your animal and would like to have acupuncture, please remember that first getting a diagnosis is a good idea; either from your vet or from the acupuncture vet. This is very important as there are conditions that need surgical treatment, not just medical/acupuncture treatment. Once a diagnosis has been made, or a surgical condition has been ruled out, then this is a green light to go ahead with acupuncture.
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