Veterinary Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used for at least 5,000 years, with China considered the site of origin. About 500 AD, the practice of acupuncture spread to Japan and Korea, who established their own forms. By the 6th century, acupuncture had spread throughout Asia. By the 17th century it was found in Europe, and finally arrived in North America during the 19th and 20th century. It was not until 1971 that acupuncture made its way into American culture. This was the result of a New York Times journalist being treated with acupuncture while on assignment in China. He had his appendix removed and was treated with acupuncture for postoperative pain. Over the past 30 years, acupuncture has slowly become more mainstream in American culture.

Veterinary acupuncture also has a long history. Evidence of elephant acupuncture dates back about 3,000 years in Sri Lanka. Several veterinary applications were recorded by the Chinese Chou Dynasty dating back to 1066 to 221 BC. The father of Chinese veterinary medicine is Shun Yang (Pao Lo) who was the first full time practitioner of Chinese Veterinary Medicine in 430 BC. Veterinary acupuncture has developed in various parts of the World, especially in Asia, over the past 2,000 years. In 1974, the National Association of Veterinary Acupuncture (NAVA) was established as the first veterinary acupuncture association in the West, but was only active for five years. Later in 1974, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) was established, and has since become a core association for veterinary acupuncture in the United States and the World. Since 1998, three other teaching organizations in the United States have offered training in veterinary acupuncture.

Acupuncture is one part of the holistic health system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Other TCM components include proper nutrition, exercise, herbal remedies and appropriate lifestyle. The main premise of TCM is that we are all part of nature and health is achieved by establishing balance with the natural world. This balance of nature is characterized by the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang, which is the balance between such things as light and dark, wet and dry, hot and cold, etc.

Acupuncture involves the placement of fine needles into specific points on the body to elicit a physiologic and energetic response along special pathways known as meridians. Meridians are interconnected energetic pathways that run throughout the body. These pathways carry the body’s Qi (vital life force or energy). The presence of Qi is what defines the existence of life. The placement of acupuncture needles into points along these meridians enables the body to restore itself to homeostasis by affecting the Qi flow.

The physiologic effects of acupuncture are being studied and verified by scientific methods. Physically, there is an increase in nerve endings, small capillary beds and aggregations of mast cells at the site of acupuncture points. As a result, a measurable physiologic effect in beta endorphin release, stimulation of circulation and decrease in inflammation results from acupuncture stimulation. In pain control, experiments have shown a modification in neural impulse transmission from the spinal cord to the brain after acupuncture. This effect is known as “gate control” theory, which proposes that acupuncture can block the action of pain fibers in the spinal cord.

A variety of acupuncture techniques exist. The use of the different techniques depends on the species and general cooperation of the patient, type and severity of the condition being treated and personal preference of the acupuncturist. Traditional dry needling is commonly used in animals. Needle size depends on the size of the patient and the specific acupoint. The use of 20gauge by 1.5 inch needles is appropriate for large dogs, while 36 gauge 1/2 inch may be used in birds. Electro acupuncture involves stimulation of acupoints with a mild electrical current to elicit a stronger stimulation than dry needling alone. Another alternative to traditional needling is aquapuncture. This technique involves the injection of cyanocobalamin(vitamin B12) or saline into the acupoint using a 27 to 29 gauge hypodermic needle and 0.5 to 1 cc syringe. The aquapuncture technique has the added advantage of providing a longer lasting effect at the site. Another technique for potential use in small patients is laser therapy. Low intensity, cold laser lights are effective in penetrating the skin to stimulate shallow acupoints. Disadvantages of laser therapy include the lack of specificity for acupoint stimulation in areas where multiple points are close together and lack of stimulation of deeper acupoints. Gold beads or wire implants have been used for chronic cases requiring much longer periods of stimulation. Moxabustion utilizes the burning of the moxa, a chinese herb, over the acupoint. This can be used by itself over the area of the point or in conjunction with needles. This can be performed by clients at home in cases where more frequent stimulation is necessary, such as severe yin and Qi deficiencies.

The clinical applications of veterinary acupuncture include everything from pain management to treatment of systemic diseases. Acupuncture is effective for many chronic disorders, such as allergies, urinary incontinence and reproductive disorders. Typically, acupuncture is combined with Chinese herbs and proper nutrition to achieve the greatest effect.