Acupuncture is an ancient form of medical treatment that has been practiced in China and other countries for thousands of years. The first veterinary acupuncture book, Bole’s Canon of Veterinary Acupuncture, was written by Dr. Bo Le between 659-621 B.C. The term acupuncture is from the Latin, “acus” meaning ‘needle’ and “punctura” meaning ‘to prick’. Acupuncture is the treatment of conditions or symptoms by the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body in order to produce a response. Acupuncture points can also be stimulated without the use of needles, using techniques known as acupressure, cupping, or by the application of heat, cold, water, and laser.
The specific acupuncture points have been well charted for both humans and animals. There are 361 acupuncture points in humans and roughly 173 acupoints in animals. The points are connected with each other and various internal organs via meridians or channels. Many of these channels trace the paths of the body’s major nerve trunks.
Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated. Which acupuncture points are stimulated, the depth of needle insertion, the type of stimulation applied to the needles, and the duration of each treatment session depends on the patient’s tolerance, and the condition being treated.
Acupuncture can be used on all species of animals, but it tends to be more frequently used in companion animal species such as the horse, dog and cat. Most animals tolerate the treatments very well. It may be necessary to gently restrain the animal during the first treatment to minimize discomfort. Most animals relax and sit or lie quietly for subsequent treatments.
The American Veterinary Medical Association considers the practice of acupuncture to be the practice of veterinary medicine, and as such, should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian. A certified veterinary acupuncture training course is highly recommended. Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists have the initials CVA following their DVM.
The needles remain in place for 15-30 minutes. Initial acupuncture appointments are 60 minutes long and all subsequent appointments are 30-40 minutes long. The frequency of acupuncture treatments depends on the nature and severity of the illness. Often acupuncture is initially performed once a week for 4-5 treatments. The time between treatments is then gradually increased until a maintenance program is established, often every 6 months, or until the condition resolves.
In veterinary medicine, there is evidence for the success of acupuncture in treating disorders of the reproductive, musculoskeletal, neurologic, pulmonary, gastrointestinal and dermatologic systems. The most common conditions treated, include traumatic nerve injuries, intervertebral disk disease, degenerative myelopathy, epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders; gastrointestinal diseases, endocrine disease, cancer, asthma, allergic dermatitis, lick granulomas; and chronic pain such as that caused by degenerative joint disease. Any condition may potentially benefit from acupuncture. Acupuncture stimulates healing of some conditions, improves the overall function of the immune system, and provides effective pain relief.
Although acupuncture points can stimulate nerves to release various endorphins and neurologic transmitters, acupuncture has also been recognized to have a major impact on the flow of blood and lymphatics to major organs. Blood flow is regulated by enhancing blood supply to areas in need of nutrients and oxygen and shunting blood away from inflamed areas. The lymphatics system is a network of organs and tissues (including lymph nodes) that have a variety of jobs within the body one of which includes production and distribution of white blood cells (a major part of the immune system) throughout the body. Improving lymphatic flow helps improve immune function. Chinese Veterinary Herbal Medicine and Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy (Chiropractic) can be used as an adjunct therapy to improve the effectiveness of acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a very safe medical procedure when administered by a qualified veterinary practitioner. Very few side effects have been found in clinical cases. Such reactions may include mild transient bruising or swelling at the needle insertion site; a mild worsening of the condition for a short time (usually 24 to 48 hours); difficulty removing needles because of muscle spasm; injury to an underlying tissue or organ; and infection at the needle site. Certain acupuncture points are contraindicated in pregnant animals. Caution is exercised if certain drugs such as narcotics or corticosteroids are being used, or if the animal has a clotting disorder.
Comprehensive acupuncture treatment involves a thorough history and physical examination, followed by a patient assessment and formulation of a treatment plan. It rarely involves a single visit, and costs will vary according to the specific condition being treated, the equipment required, and the response of the patient.