Acupuncture For Animals
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ANIMAL ACUPUNCTURE: MORE PETS GET THE POINT
By Sean Markey
National Geographic News
November 25, 2002
When Mary Morrison's 16-year-old border collie, Shadow, was diagnosed with
kidney disease last year, traditional veterinary medicine offered two
options: kidney dialysis or euthanasia. Neither was acceptable to Morrison,
so she chose an alternative: acupuncture.
Three times a month for the past year, Morrison has brought Shadow to the
Del Ray Animal Clinic in Alexandria, Virginia. At the clinic Shadow is
treated by Anne Mixson, a board-certified veterinarian trained in veterinary
acupuncture, who inserts up to a dozen needles into various acpuncture
points on the dog's skin during a typical 20-minute session.
Acupuncture has not cured Shadow's kidney disease or slowed the decline of
old age. But it has helped alleviate the collie's symptoms and discomfort.
"She has more interest in life, more pep. She's eating," said Morrison. "We
haven't felt like she was ready to be put down."
Shadow represents both the promise and challenge facing veterinary
acupuncture today. While there is wide anecdotal evidence to suggest
acupuncture is an effective treatment for a host of ailments in animals,
much remains unknown about how and why acupuncture works. The challenge now,
supporters say, is to bridge the research gap to better understand the
promise of this alternative therapy.
According to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, acupuncture can
be used to treat ailments ranging from hip dysplasia and chronic
degenerative joint disease to various respiratory, gastrointestinal,
neurological, and urinary tract disorders. Horses, cows, dogs, and cats are
the most commonly treated animals. But acupuncture can be applied to more
exotic pets like ferrets, rabbits, and birds.
The demand for acupuncture services has increased over the last decade, and
it is raising fewer eyebrows from skeptical colleagues, practitioners say.
"Clients are asking for it every day," said Kevin Haussler, a lecturer with
the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University's College of
Veterinary Medicine. "[They] are the number one reason why any of us are
doing alternative therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic, because they
want something more than just drugs or surgery."
"Within the greater veterinary medical community, I would say that
acupuncture is very well accepted," said Haussler. "Because we're always
looking for the next thing that is going to make animals feel better [and]
Historical Uses of Acupuncture
Acupuncture was first developed and used on people more than 4,500 years ago
in China. It is the process by which small needles are inserted into
specific locations, or acupuncture points, on the body to stimulate healing.
The first use of acupuncture on animals can be traced to the Western Jin
Dynasty period of China from 136 to 265 A.D. The technique in this early
form used sharp stones to cut and bleed specific locations on horses and
other large animals used in agriculture.
In the United States, interest in the use of acupuncture on people
mushroomed in the early 1970s after James Reston, a reporter for the New
York Times who was covering United States President Richard M. Nixon's
historic 1972 visit to China, fell ill with appendicitis. Chinese doctors
used acupuncture to treat Reston before and after surgery. Acupuncture has
been used in veterinary medicine in the United States since the early 1970s.
Acupuncture is explained in traditional Eastern medicine as a method to
assess and rebalance the flow of qi, or energy, that travels along 12 main
linear pathways, or meridians, in the body. Sickness is believed to be
caused by blocks or imbalance in the body's qi. To correct these imbalances,
small needles are inserted in any number of 365 basic acupuncture points to
redirect the flow of energy and bring the body back into health.
Western explanations of acupuncture center instead on the fact that most of
the body's 365 main acupuncture points are located at clusters of nerves and
blood vessels. Stimulating these areas trigger a host of local and general
physiological effects in the body, leveraging the body's own healing
Studies have shown that acupuncture causes specific physiological effects in
the body, such as increased blood flow, lower heart rate, and improved
immune function. Acupuncture is also known to stimulate the release of
certain neurotransmitters like endorphins, the body's natural pain-killers,
and smaller amounts of cortisal, an anti-inflammatory steroid.
Closing the Research Gap for Animals
A small number of scientists are leading research into the veterinary
applications of acupuncture. Some of that research is taking place at
Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical
Sciences in Ft. Collins.
Researchers there are exploring how acupuncture used in conjunction with
anesthesia during and after surgery can reduce the amount of anesthetic gas
and post-operative pain medicine required for a patient. The reduction in
medication can significantly lower the risk of adverse drug reactions in
patients, according to Narda Robinson, a veterinarian and adjunct faculty
member leading research in the veterinary program at Colorado State
"I think the thrust of all this [research] is, how can we improve patient
safety from medicial procedures and [improve] their quality of life," said
Robinson. "The more that veterinarians learn and accept acupuncture and some
of the other complimentary [alternative] medical techniques, the safety of
medical intervention for animals will be that much better."
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