A friend of ours who works at a local veterinary office stopped by the other day and happened to mention that she had a set of acupuncture needles and was learning how to use them. When I asked who she was going to use them on, she said that the veterinarian at her clinic intended to start offering acupuncture as an option for some of the pets that came in for treatment. Later I did a little research on the internet and it appears that her clinic isn't alone -- a good many veterinarians are turning to alternative medicine in certain cases, particularly the use of acupuncture.
According to traditional Eastern medicine, acupuncture is considered to be a method of correcting an imbalance in the flow of energy (or "qi") along certain pathways or "meridians" in the body. Small needles inserted in any of hundreds of specified acupuncture "points" redirect the flow of energy and restore the body to health. Western medicine explains the effectiveness of acupuncture by pointing out that most of these acupuncture points are located at clusters of nerves and blood vessels. Stimulating those areas through the insertion of small needles can trigger a number of reactions, including increased blood flow, the release of endorphins (the body's pain regulators), and the release of smaller amounts of cortisol, the body's own anti-inflammatory drug. The improved biochemical balance that acupuncture produces stimulates the body's natural healing abilities and promotes physical and emotional well-being.
Today veterinarians are using acupuncture to treat various conditions including chronic pain, digestive disorders, hip dysplasia, allergies, asthma, neurological problems and urinary tract disorders. Even behavioral issues can sometimes by alleviated through acupuncture treatments. Of course acupuncture by itself doesn't cure disease but it can help the body to heal itself by altering various physiological and biochemical factors.
An acupuncture session will usually involve inserting very thin needles (about the diameter of a thick hair) along the animal's bladder, kidney, and spleen meridians. The animal is conscious during the entire process and shouldn't experience any discomfort; in fact most animals actually tend to become relaxed during a typical session. The size and exact location of the needles varies depending on the size of the animal and the type of illness being treated, with short needles about half an inch in length being used on areas around the head while longer one-inch needles are used elsewhere. A typical session may last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a half hour, although a particularly complicated case can take somewhat longer. If the treatment is done by someone trained and experienced acupuncture is a very safe procedure and you should see some improvement in the animal's condition in a few days or a few weeks at most.
There are numerous documented examples of the successful use of animal acupuncture. In one instance, a woman's 16 year old border collie was diagnosed with kidney disease. Traditional veterinary medicine gave the owner two options -- dialysis or euthanasia. The collie's owner chose another option - acupuncture - and for over a year now acupuncture treatments have helped alleviate the border collie's symptoms and have relieved much of the discomfort. The disease hasn't been cured, but acupuncture has prolonged the dog's life and has done it in a way that provides a decent quality of life.
Another example from a local veterinary clinic involves a 12 year old German Shepard with degenerative spinal disease. The shepard gets weekly treatments using a number of needles in his back to maintain feeling in his spine and other needles at points in his lower legs to preserve feeling in his toes. There isn't any surgical cure for his condition and without these treatments he would soon begin to lose the use of his back legs.
While the examples above both involved dogs, acupuncture can be applied to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, horses, cows, and even birds. Veterinarians first began to use acupuncture in the 1970's and today it's rapidly becoming an accepted part of the veterinarian's arsenal as an alternative to or in addition to drugs and surgery. It may or may not be something you would choose to have used on your pet -- but it's certainly something to think about when you look at the growing number of successes in providing help for animals, particularly those who have run out of traditional treatment options.
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