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Traditional Chinese Medicine was practised before 1766 BC
Acupuncture is a therapeutic treatment that originated in China over 4000 years ago, long before the origin of most of our modern-day medical practices; yet we continue to learn more about its many benefits. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very small needles into specific parts of the body to achieve healing and pain relief. All acupuncture insertion points are located along specific channels or meridians that are networks of energy, or Qi (pronounced “chi”) that travel throughout the body via blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerve fibers. Chinese Medicine recognizes that proper flow of blood and Qi is essential for maintaining good health and normal body functions. If an imbalance or disruption occurs in the flow then disease will result. This is the basic underlying principle that guides the use of acupuncture.
Acupuncture has been increasingly incorporated into veterinary medical practices. It is often used in combination with traditional Western medical treatments to treat disorders in a variety of body systems, such as musculoskeletal, neurological, respiratory, dermatological, urinary, and gastrointestinal, even to help treat behavioral disorders. In veterinary medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to assist in the treatment of inflammatory, painful, and paralyzing conditions, such as arthritis, intra-muscular trigger points, and spinal and nerve compressions. It is also used to help manage post-surgical pain and wound healing. Veterinarians are also seeking the use of acupuncture to help increase the quality of life of cancer patients, by way of stimulating the immune system and reducing pain.
When thinking about acupuncture for your pet, there are some questions to consider:
Will the needles hurt? Most pets tolerate the needle insertions very well, though there are certainly some areas of the body that might be sensitive to the needle stimulation, resulting in a small “jump” or “flinch” reaction. The size of acupuncture needles for dogs and cats is very small, much smaller than what your vet uses to give your pet an injection. In many cases, the acupuncture treatment actually induces a calm, relaxed state since the treatment itself triggers the body to release natural “feel-good” chemicals, like endorphins and serotonin.
Is acupuncture safe for my pet? When preformed by a trained veterinary acupuncturist, it is one of the safest treatments we can use. Often acupuncture is combined with other more “traditional” medical and surgical treatments. In many cases patients receiving acupuncture in combination with more modern treatments may show a more complete and in some cases quicker recovery. Incorporation of acupuncture sometimes even has the benefit of being able to use lower doses or shorter courses of traditional pain medications.
How long will treatments last and how frequently are they needed? Treatment sessions and frequency vary on a case by case basis, as each pet is an individual and treatments are tailored accordingly. In general, acute conditions may require fewer overall treatments while chronic conditions will likely require more long-term treatments. Acupuncture may be done as frequently as once or twice per week and over time may be tapered to once every 2-4 weeks for chronic conditions. The initial evaluation and treatment may take about 60-90 minutes, and subsequent visits approximately 45-60 minutes.
Modern studies have shown that the ancient techniques of acupuncture are beneficial in the treatment of many conditions in our pets. As we continue to increase our knowledge of its positive effects and feel comfortable with its safety, veterinary medicine is seeing an increase in its practice of acupuncture. It will not be the right choice for every disease or for every pet, but when used appropriately and in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities it can make a big difference in providing comfort and quality of life for your furry friend.
Dr. Shelley Skopit DVM is a small animal veterinarian graduate of Ross University of Veterinary Medicine and the Chi Institute of traditional Chinese medicine. Along with her husband Dr. Damian Battersby they own Park Animal Hospital in Darien CT.