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Mon, April 1, 2013
Acupuncture for Pets: Get With the Flow
Acupuncture, in the minds of the American public, has always been accompanied by a certain romantic mystique and that is the way it was for me when I first started to learn and study it.

When I graduated Michigan State School of Veterinary Medicine there were no specialty centers in Detroit and certainly no veterinary acupuncturists.  After graduating veterinary school I practiced strictly traditional veterinary medicine for 10 years before becoming intrigued with the possibility of healing animals with acupuncture.   
 
I read everything I could find on human acupuncture with the hope that I could use what I learned to treat animals.   Unfortunately, that approach turned out to be very slow going and I did not progress very far or very fast until I discovered a small, infant organization known as IVAS, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.   
 
Back in the mid 1970’s IVAS was a fledgling, very unsophisticated organization that taught what is presently referred to as “cook book acupuncture”.  I remember early IVAS as a “good old boys club” where we sat around and traded “acupuncture point recipes” for the treatment of a wide variety of pet diseases.  To say the least, the organization has grown over the years and moved far beyond those good old day. IVAS now provides a more comprehensive, sophisticated curriculum where students come out with a much broader understanding of acupuncture. 
 
The students now learn what is referred to Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM includes 4 subdivisions including acupuncture, Chi gong, massage therapy known as Tui-na, and Chinese herbal medicine.  Of course, like any medical school curriculum, graduation is just a starting point for a life time of learning. 
 
So when I graduated from the IVAS course in 1982 and became the first certified veterinary acupuncturist in the greater Detroit area I was all alone trying to continue my education and fill in the gaps with only a few others to confer with.   I purchased a used electro acupuncture machine and began on my own personal journey into acupuncture and alternative veterinary medicine.
 
The TCM and acupuncture approach to supporting health and curing disease is based on an energetic perspective and not on the western biochemical perspective taught in traditional medical schools.  Acupuncture theory, whether human or animal, views disease as the result of blockages in the body’s energy flow which results in energy imbalances.  These imbalances produce what western medicine calls symptoms. 
 
Chinese medical doctors use these signs as the way to discover where the energy blockages exist and they develop a plan on how to remove such blockages and bring the body’s energy flow back into balance. This plan involves using Chinese herbs and nutritional supplements, acupuncture and acupressure, and therapeutic massage and chi gong.   
 
At the foundation of acupuncture and TCM is the concept that there is one universal energy known as Chi. The Chi has two aspects known as Yin and Yang. The basic principle of the “Yin-Yang” theory is that yin and yang are in a dynamic state, constantly interacting in the body and the universe. Yin and Yang are inseparable and one cannot exist without the other.  They are continually interacting with and reacting to each other with the goal of achieving a balance and maintaining health. 
 
The organs of the body are classified as Yin or Yang and each Yin organ has an associated yang organ. If either a yin or yang organ is deficient or in excess then ill health becomes apparent.  By using acupuncture needles, herbs, massage, or Chi gong the blockage can be opened and proper energy flow restored. 

Chi flows throughout the body and to each organ along energy channels called meridians. The meridians are named after the organ with which they are most closely associated.  Along these meridians are acupuncture points that have a lower electrical resistance than the surrounding tissue. 
 
These acupuncture points can be detected with an electric acupuncture point finder and can be stimulated or sedated using solid needles, lasers, magnets, moxabustion, or electricity or injections of B12.  Such treatment is meant to restore the proper flow down the meridian and re-establish the proper balance between yin and yang organs. The Yin-Yang theory is the traditional eastern explanation for how and why acupuncture works. 
 
On the other hand there is a western biochemical explanation that involves neuro-transmitters, hormones, and nitrous oxide. Acupuncture can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasms and cause the release of hormones such as endorphins (one of the body’s main pain control mechanisms) and cortisol. 
  
Acupuncture, in well-trained hands, has been shown to effectively treat pain, hip dysplasia, arthritis, paralysis, epilepsy, allergies, incontinence, intervertebral disk disease, feline asthma, diarrhea, and fertility issues, to name just a few conditions.  The effectiveness of acupuncture in treating dogs paralyzed from ruptured vertebral discs has been, in my experience, truly amazing. For dogs, the insertion of acupuncture needles usually produces minimal discomfort and once inserted most animals become very relaxed and may even become sleepy.  
 
I have found cats can be a bit more sensitive to needling so I frequently use laser acupuncture in place of needles.  When treating dogs with epilepsy I often use tiny gold beads that are placed under the skin at acupuncture points found on the top of the pet’s head or in his or her ear.  Spinal arthritis may also be treated with “gold bead implants”. 

When I treat dogs or cats with ruptured discs I place surgical staples in acupuncture points along the back so that I can hook the staples up to my electro acupuncture machine using wire leads and alligator clips. The staples, which remain in place for several weeks or months, allow the pet caretaker to give acupuncture treatments at home using magnets to rub against the staples and stimulate the points.
 
The length and frequency of acupuncture treatments depends on the condition of the patient, their degree of pain and the method of stimulation that is used by the acupuncturist. The stimulation of an individual acupuncture point many take as little as 10 seconds or as long as 30 minutes.  A relatively simple, acute problem may require only one treatment whereas more severe or chronic problems may need from several to several dozen treatments. The frequency of treatment may vary from one to three times per week. A positive response often occurs by the third treatment.

There are two important criteria to look for in a veterinary acupuncturist: 
  1. Your acupuncturist is a licensed veterinarian and
  2. Your veterinary acupuncturist should be trained and certified by a recognized veterinary acupuncture school. 
It is important to understand that acupuncture is not magic and does not always work even when performed by the best, most experienced acupuncturists, however, that is no different than with conventional western medicine.

Most animals accept acupuncture without a struggle but for those animals that are fearful, anxious or aggressive, acupuncture may not be the modality of choice.  Other holistic therapies that can be used in place of acupuncture include:  micro-current therapy, cold laser therapy, pulsed magnetic therapy, chiropractic and Prolo- therapy, however, using acupuncture along with one or more these therapies can prove very powerful and further accelerate healing.

If you ever find your pet with a problem that conventional western veterinary medicine does not seem to be solving then keep in mind that although acupuncture is great for treating pain, it is also very effective in treating numerous internal organ diseases that may or may not be painful.

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