Acupuncture for Animals


Veterinary Acupuncture

Although this feature aims to focus on the Scientific/Veterinary use of Acupuncture we should, as a possible explanation of how it works, consider the Eastern Philosophy which gave rise to the development of this form of treatment in humans, and later, animals.

Acupuncture was first brought to Europe from China in the late 17th century but has steadily grown in popularity in the last 50 years. According to many Eastern beliefs, normal health is the result of a continuous circulation of energy called Qi (pronounced Chee) through the body. If there is an interruption of the smooth flow of this energy there is an imbalance created. This leads to an excess of Qi building up in one area and a corresponding deficiency in another, which could lead to illness. The object of acupuncture treatment is to re-establish normal energy flow.

Yin Yang

With thanks to John Saxton MRCVS for guidance with this acupuncture section

See also Veterinary Acupuncture

How Acupuncture Works

Qi flows through the body along 14 pathways known as "meridians" and, although these usually closely follow the nervous system they are said not to be nerves. There are 12 meridians each duplicated on either side of the body and two others which run in the dorsal (top) and ventral (underneath) mid lines. Linked to the concept of Qi is the concept of the "Yin-Yang" balance. Yin is negative and Yang is positive and these two qualities are intermixed and interdependent for normal function. Acute disease is an excess of either Yin or Yang whereas Chronic disease is a deficiency of either Yin or Yang. Acupuncture aims to help maintain the balance.

YIN

YANG

Lung

Large Intestine

Spleen

Small Intestine

Heart

Urinary Bladder

Kidney

Stomach

Pericardium

Gall Bladder

Liver

Triple Warmer

In Chinese Medicine the concept of internal organs is different to that of western medicine:- there are 12 major organs in the body which have their own meridian and to which they give their name. Each of these organs are classified as predominantly Yin or Yang.

Triple Warmer - a difficult concept! Best described as an energy pathway, spanning from the jaw to the anus, responsible for the regulation of fluid and heat throughout the body.

The Yin organs work continuously and dysfunction of any of them will lead to chronic illness whereas the Yang organs work sporadically and a dysfunction would cause a painful condition. According to Chinese medicine the organs of the body are considered to consist predominantly of one of 5 elements - with a balance of yin and yang organs associated with each of the five elements.

FIRE

Small Intestine
Triple Warmer
Heart
Pericardium

EARTH

Spleen
Stomach

METAL

Lung
Large Intestine

WATER Kidney
Bladder
WOOD Gall
Bladder
Liver

In the body all these elements and their organs are in a set pattern and in balance, with energy flowing between them in a set direction. In disease this balance becomes upset. So - what causes this disruption in the flow of energy? Whilst both Chinese and Western medicine accept that "state of mind" can affect physical well-being, Chinese medicine is more precise in saying that state of mind and emotion can have a major effect on particular organs:-

Fear, anxiety and overjoy

Heart

Anger, depression and grief

Liver

Grief, overthinking and anxiety    

Spleen

 

 

 

Acupuncture treatment aims to restore the balance by stimulating or depressing particular organs using the appropriate acupuncture points. For example, infection is a heat pathogen i.e. an excess of heat, therefore it needs cooling by stimulation of the water elements. This is why the acupuncture needle is not always inserted in the area where the problem is located.

The acupuncture points are found at different depths. The ones near the surface are about the size of a pea and the deeper ones about the size of a penny. If an acupuncture point is in need of stimulation it is tender to the touch and an acupuncture needle placed in the correct position penetrates the tissues easily and without pain. The needles remain in place for about 10 minutes. A point that does not need stimulating, or because of treatment no longer needs stimulating, often resists the entry of an acupuncture needle. Finding the tender points can often help the Vet in diagnosis.

The fundamental difference between Chinese and Western Medicine

In the West, disease is thought of as a dysfunction of an organ or body system caused by, usually, an EXTERNAL influence - perhaps an infection, bad nutrition etc. This dysfunction will then produce physical symptoms. No consideration is given to the part that the body's own energy might play in this, or indeed whether this energy exists or not.

Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, considers that a disease condition is allowed to exist only because of an INTERNAL influence - a disruption of the flow of energy within the body. No-one would deny the body's own ability to heal itself. Any vet or doctor would freely admit that, for the most part, they do not CURE a disease: in many cases their treatments simply help create the conditions in which the body can heal itself. After all, the drive for survival is the strongest instinct there is and animals, like humans, have complex and powerful mechanisms constantly working to maintain a healthy body - destroying infection, regenerating worn, diseased or damaged tissue etc. In normal circumstances, the body's own defense and repair mechanisms would be able to counteract, and therefore prevent, the onset of any disease condition. If, for whatever reason, the body's energy flow is altered this weakens normal defense mechanisms allowing disease to take hold and flourish.

It could be said then, that Acupuncture, in correcting the flow of the body's energy, aims to treat the REAL cause of disease - rather than, in the case of Western medicine, treating the symptoms.

Acupuncture - the view of Western Medicine

Although there are many, many vets (and doctors) using Acupuncture in the West it remains a controversial subject and there are many differing opinions as to how acupuncture works, how well it works and the most effective method of application. Traditionally Acupuncturists use needles but there are other ways of stimulating acupuncture points:- acupressure, laser, injection, electrical stimulation, application of hot and cold, and ultrasound. The actual method used is usually influenced by a precise diagnosis of the condition. Many vets do not believe that acupuncture can affect the course of a disease condition but most are convinced of its pain killing effect and that "whether the so-called acupuncture points are stimulated by needles, massage, laser or whatever, the effect is just as genuine" (Colin Vogel MRCVS - The Complete Performance Horse).

When acupuncture needles are used they are much thinner than normal hypodermic needles, very flexible and are usually made of stainless steel - although gold, silver or copper can be used depending on whether a stimulating or suppressing effect is required.

Acupuncture - the Scientific Explanation

There is a scientific explanation as to how acupuncture works - at least in its painkilling role. The stimulation of acupuncture points trigger various sensory receptors (pain, temperature, pressure and touch). These receptors then transmit impulses from the outer body via central nervous system (CNS) to the hypothalamic-pituitary system (located at the base of the brain). The hypothalamus-pituitary glands are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and "natural painkilling" hormones. These are opium-like substances, called endorphins and enkephalins, and act like morphine in their ability to suppress pain - nature's own painkillers! They may also produce other beneficial effects throughout the body: increasing circulation, relieving muscle spasm, stimulating nerves and the body defense system.

Black's Veterinary Dictionary quotes research (Martin, B.B. & others JAVMA 190 1177) where "Chronic back pain which did not respond to conventional treatments improved in from 2 to 8 weeks in 13 out of 15 racehorses. An injection of sterile saline at nine acupuncture points once a week enabled training and racing to be resumed."

In the field of human medicine, major operations have been witnessed where the patient, obviously fully conscious, has been talking to the surgeon and even eating while the operation takes place with no other form of anaesthesia other than a single steel acupuncture needle sticking out of the arm!

This is also thought to be a reason why twitching a horse is so effective. The nose is a tender area so the twitch should (in theory) be painful but anyone who has seen an excitable or anxious horse twitched and then relax almost to the point of falling asleep will know that this can't be so. There are acupuncture points on the nose... so maybe in twitching your horse you are actually giving an effective acupressure treatment!

So whether you, or more importantly your vet, believe in more than its painkilling effect or not, acupuncture is a form of Complementary Therapy worth considering in those cases where your vet recommends it.

See also Veterinary Acupuncture

The Law!

A Veterinary Surgeon is the only person able to give acupuncture treatment to an animal.

It is totally against the Law for anyone else to do so.

Only a vet can diagnose an animals' condition, recommend the right course of treatment and administer that treatment.

In addition, the use of needles is an invasive procedure which, again by Law, only a vet can perform.

If anyone other than a vet gives an animal acupuncture treatment they are committing a criminal act!

Vets who perform acupuncture are properly trained and usually members of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture.

See also Veterinary Acupuncture