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Veterinary Acupuncture

What is Veterinary Acupuncture?

Cat on a pontoon bridge

Acupuncture is a medical art that has been used for over 2000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat disease and maintain good health. In the West it was taught in veterinary schools until the 1800s. Many veterinary surgeons are now turning to acupuncture once again for the treatment of their animal patients.

Acupuncture involves placing needles into acupuncture points, which are points just under the skin or in muscle that have a good nerve supply. Stimulating particular points in this way asks the body to rebalance and heal itself using natural mechanisms of equilibrium (homeostasis). In addition to the well-known pain relieving effects of acupuncture, it can stimulate the immune system, regulate the organs, improve circulation, promote healing and relax the mind.

In TCM and Chinese philosophy all phenomena consist of Qi, which can be translated in the West as ‘Energy’ or ‘Matter’. It is the fundamental substance of the universe. Giovanni Maciocia, in The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, says: “Most modern physicists would probably agree that ‘Qi’ may be termed ‘energy’ since Qi expresses the continuum of matter and energy as it is now understood by modern particle physics.”

In the body, Qi is the fundamental substance and function of each organ, and of the organism as a whole. From a TCM perspective it is the Qi we are affecting when we use acupuncture. Acupuncture points are found on meridians, which are channels that connect the surface of the body with its deeper structures and major organs. The meridians correspond with circulatory and nervous pathways as we understand them in Western Medicine, and the flow of Qi corresponds with normal physiological processes.

What are the benefits of Acupuncture?

I am trained in acupuncture with both a Western scientific and Eastern holistic medical approach. I will use Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) in conjunction with the conventional treatment offered by your usual veterinary surgeon.

German Shepherd

TCVM is a system for diagnosing and treating animal disease that looks at the body as a balanced whole, and takes into account the individuality of each animal patient. TCVM diagnosis uses an in-depth physical examination in order to identify imbalances in the meridians and corresponding organs of the body. By treating the whole individual it can be possible to bring about lasting change and prevent further disease. TCVM diagnosis can be very useful in older animals that may appear to have a confusing combination of symptoms. Some animals, especially as they age, may tolerate conventional drugs less well and can benefit from the additional support that acupuncture can provide.

How does it work and what can be treated?

When we stimulate an acupuncture point we get a response at three levels. At the local level (in the area of most pain) there is a beneficial effect on circulation, immune function and muscle relaxation. At the spinal level acupuncture inhibits pain in the affected spinal segment. At the central (brain) level release of neurotransmitters, hormones and endorphins produces further pain relief and a sense of wellbeing.

Acupuncture is useful both in acute injury and chronic disease. It can be particularly helpful for long-term pain relief, in animals that react badly to conventional drugs, or to speed recovery after any kind of surgery.

Conditions that can be successfully treated include:

  • Arthritis and Hip Dysplasia
  • Back Pain and Disc Disease
  • Incontinence and Urinary Retention
  • Some types of Nerve Damage
  • Many Chronic Painful Conditions.

Acupuncture can also support in the treatment of:

  • Feline Asthma and Sinusitis
  • Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease and Cystitis
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye)
  • Kidney and Liver problems
  • Gastrointestinal Disease including Constipation and Megacolon.

Acupuncture can be a support as part of a palliative care regime for animals with cancer and terminal disease. Many other conditions can also be treated. Please contact me directly to discuss your individual needs.

Is Acupuncture painful or invasive?

Acupuncture Needles

Acupuncture needles are extremely fine sterile needles made of high quality surgical steel. Most needles are inserted just under the skin or a little way into the muscle. Generally animals tolerate the treatment very well, depending on individual temperament. It tends to produce relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. Extremely anxious or sensitive animals can be treated by acupressure or laser acupuncture. Very occasionally animals may be sedated to facilitate treatment.

Acupressure involves stimulating acupuncture points with touch rather than needles. It is a very gentle treatment and can be useful in animals that will not tolerate needles, or as an additional treatment that owners can carry out at home. See the section on Tui Na for more information.

Moxibustion is a treatment traditionally used in TCM. Moxa (Artemesia) is a warming herb that is used together with acupuncture in order to warm and stimulate acupuncture points. It can be particularly useful in cases of osteoarthritis aggravated by cold and damp weather. When indicated, Moxa is used as part of a regular acupuncture treatment, or at home between treatments.

Laser acupuncture utilises laser light on the body surface in order to stimulate acupuncture points in patients that do not easily tolerate needles. Laser treatment can reduce inflammation, improve circulation, promote pain relief and speed wound healing. I use a low power red light laser to stimulate acupuncture points.

What does treatment involve?

Dog with Acupuncture Needles

I do need a referral from your usual veterinary surgeon in order to start treating your animal. See the appointments section for more details about how to arrange this.

An initial acupuncture consultation will last approximately 75 minutes. In this time I will examine your animal and begin the course of treatment. Follow up treatments last approximately 45 minutes. Acupuncture needles are left in place for 5 to 20 minutes each session.

Acupuncture Needles

Further sessions (a few days to one week apart) can be arranged according to your animal’s response to the treatment. The effects usually improve after each additional treatment. In acute disease or injury 2 or 3 treatments will probably be sufficient. In long standing conditions and for older animals a longer course of treatment will usually be necessary. As a useful guide I generally find I need to treat these patients once weekly for about 6 weeks, then gradually reduce the frequency of treatments. Top-up treatments can be arranged and are usually needed.

Elly the Dog in Water

Please contact me to discuss any aspect of this information or the health of your animal. It is helpful to talk about your hopes and expectations of the treatment, the prognosis given to you by your usual veterinary surgeon, and my own experience of treating similar cases.

Veterinary acupuncture in the UK is defined by law as an act of veterinary surgery. This means it can only be practised by a suitably qualified registered veterinary surgeon.

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