Though acupuncture may not be the first thing you think of in terms of veterinary care, for many ailments, perhaps it should.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of healthcare (its exact date of origin is debated, but it is thought to be at least 3000 years old), and it's use on animals (on a more limited basis) dates just as far back. It is used to promote healing, whether used preventatively or as a treatment for an existing condition. An acupuncturist accesses points on the surface of the skin with small needles to balance the body's energy–Qi (pronounced "chee"). Laws concerning who can practice acupuncture on animals vary by state. Some states require that a person be a veterinarian trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine to perform acupuncture on animals, and some states allow licensed acupuncturists to practice on animals with a veterinary referral.
A licensed acupuncturist friend of mine treats her own animals and animals from the shelter at which she volunteers, which fascinates me. She directed me to the acupuncturist who taught her, Becca Seitz.
I spoke with Portland-based Becca Seitz, MAcOM, LAc, and owner of Thrive Acupuncture, who treats both people and animals with acupuncture. She is board certified with the NCCAOM in Oriental Medicine (Acupuncture and Chinese Herbalism), is licensed with the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners, and is board certified with the American Board of Animal Acupuncture.
Animal acupuncture may seem like just one more trendy thing we can do to spend money on our pets in extravagant ways, but Seitz explained the history to me:
Some very limited acupuncture was used in animals as far back as the history of acupuncture. It was typically done on farm animals, however, it looked nothing like the acupuncture we know today. There were only a few points ever located on animals (11-13, depending on the species, as opposed to the over 400 in common use today), and there wasn't really a system to it, just a 'poke here for this symptom.' Acupuncture being done on animals in current times and in its current form was introduced by my friend Gene Bruno back in the late 1960s (before the Nixon trip to China!). He and a couple of friends started treating their own dogs and found that there was no one else doing it at the time–not even anyone in China.
I wondered how acupuncture for pets differs from that for their human counterparts and learned from Seitz that it differs very little. It can help all of the same conditions that are treated in people, which include:
disorders of the bones, joints, and muscles
disorders of the nervous system
sleep and stress disorders
emotional and psychological disorders
supportive therapy for many chronic and debilitating disorders
The only difference is a positive one: Seitz stated that pets usually require fewer treatments than humans. But, why? Seitz says "No one is quite sure why this is the case. Many believe it is because pets don't tend to internalize and hang onto their daily stressors. Perhaps it is because pets are natural meditators and thus promote the smooth flow of Qi all the time."
All I could imagine was someone trying to "pin down" a rambunctious or uncooperative pet for an acupuncture session. I mean, humans have enough trouble allowing needles to be inserted into their skin, and they can understand the possible benefits. How does an animal stay still without being sedated? Seitz said "To tell you the truth, they usually just do. No anesthesia or sedatives are required. Once the needles have been inserted, many pets actually fall asleep during their treatments!"
Seitz reports that the most common ailment she treats in pets is arthritis. "Acupuncture is great for treating pain, and many people in Portland have either experienced that pain relief for themselves, or they know someone who has, so they want to try it for their pets, as well." The second most common ailment she treats in pets is allergies, the issue she had that got her hooked on acupuncture in the first place. In animals, skin allergies are the most common and can be caused by a variety of reasons. Seitz says that treating skin allergies in pets is her favorite thing to do because she can usually achieve very fast results. Seitz most often treats dogs and cats but has also treated iguanas, ferrets, and rabbits.
Hybrid Rasta Mama, Jennifer, witnessed veterinary acupuncture success, herself, when she worked in a chiropractor's office. The chiropractor she worked for treated a great number of patients with service dogs. Jennifer stated that "she would treat the service dogs who were 'load bearing' dogs, meaning they helped physically support their owners. All the patients would rave about how energized the dogs were after treatment."
I asked Seitz to tell me about a success story:
One of my favorite success stories was in a dog named Tilly. She was an English Bulldog mix. When she first came to see me, she had very little hair and her skin was bright red from scratching non-stop. She was four at the time and had been on cortisone for the itching since she was just six months old. Needless to say, it didn't seem to help much. I treated Tilly for the itching and gave her owner some herbs to give her over the next week until her next appointment. The next week Tilly was almost completely better, except for a red patch on her belly. After just a couple more visits, she was completely better except for needing 'tune-ups' during the worst allergy seasons.
Veterinary acupuncture can be a tough sell for some, but acupuncture.com reports that acceptance is increasing:
Along with acupuncture's increased use in human medicine, veterinary acupuncture has moved closer to mainstream practices. It also might be said that the mainstream has moved closer to acupuncture, given that chapters on acupuncture now are standard in many major veterinary texts. In addition, acupuncture has become a big business worldwide. Today nearly 3 million veterinary and medical practitioners, assistants, and pharmacists are trained in acupuncture. Of this number it is estimated that 150,000 are veterinarians and 700,000 are paraveterinary assistants.
Seitz is currently writing a textbook for acupuncturists on acupuncture point location on small animals. She and Bruno will use the textbook for their certification course (in development) for licensed acupuncturists to learn how to treat animals safely and effectively. She and Bruno continue to make a positive impact on this ancient, yet growing practice.
Acupuncture for animals can be used as an ongoing treatment or in a series based on the needs of the patient. It can also be used in conjunction with conventional (western) medicine and will not affect pharmaceutical or over-the-counter medications. For this reason, it may be more approachable. It's not an all or nothing proposition. Some may arrive at veterinary acupuncture at the first sign of concern, while some may arrive at it as a last resort. Either way, it seems clear that acupuncture is a valuable resource in veterinary care.
Have you tried acupuncture treatment for your pet? Please tell us your story!
This article by me appeared in its original form in December 2013 on Hybrid Rasta Mama, a blog to which I contribute regularly, and has been reprinted with minor changes with permission.
Please hop on over to Hybrid Rasta Mama and check out my January 2013 article, "Apple Cider Vinegar as a Supplement for your Pet."