Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing modalities dating back over 4000 years ago. It involves the stimulation of specific points on the body that lie on channels of energy, or Qi, flow, called meridians. The ancient Chinese discovered that the health of the body depends on the free balanced flow of Qi (pronounced chee) which is the vital life force, through these meridians. There are two polarities of Qi: Yin and Yang. In a healthy body, the organs and bodily systems work together in harmony and Yin and Yang are in balance. Disease and disharmony occur whenever there is a disruption in the flow of Qi, throwing the balance off between Yin and Yang. For example, if Qi is blocked by any pathological factor (such as a virus, bacteria, trauma, inflammation or cancer) then pain, dysfunction or dis-ease can result. Acupuncture can resolve the blockage, freeing the flow of Qi and stimulating the body’s own healing response.
Modern research indicates that many acupoints and meridians are anatomically lined up with the nervous system and contain a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles and lymphatic vessels. Research supports that the stimulation of an acupuncture point induces the release of beta-endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters that are involved in the mechanisms of pain relief and healing.
There are a variety of ways to stimulate the points to achieve different therapeutic effects: the insertion of very fine needles (dry needling), manual pressure (acupressure), electricity (electro-acupuncture), injecting saline or vitamin B12 (aqua-puncture), applying essential oils, sound vibrations from tuning forks, or heat from burning sage (moxibustion).
The vast majority of dogs and cats tolerate and actually enjoy their acupuncture treatments, especially once they experience the relaxation effect from the release of endorphins and serotonin. To answer the most common question, “How do you get them to hold still?”, this relaxation effect is the answer, particularly when they are lying on their own bed, or their human’s bed, in the comfort of their own home. For those animals who do not tolerate needles well, the other techniques mentioned above can be used, and are often just as effective.
What conditions can acupuncture treat?
Acupuncture is one of 5 branches of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). Because it treats the entire body, (w)holistically, it can be used in a large variety of conditions, whenever the body is out of balance.
Clinical trials and research in the West have primarily focused on the following conditions:
Musculoskeletal problems: muscle soreness, back or neck pain, osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease.
Neurological disorders: seizures, laryngeal hemiplegia, facial and radial nerve paralysis, intervertebral disk disease
Gastrointestinal disorders: diarrhea, vomiting, gastric ulcers, constipation, impaction, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and anorexia.
Chronic conditions: asthma, cough, uveitis, behavioral problems, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, infertility, renal failure, geriatric weakness, skin problems, allergies, liver disorders and some cancers.
It is ideally used as prevention against dis-ease and the maintenance of well-being. If a condition is treated while it is still at the level of the meridians, before it has become a more entrenched chronic physical condition, the imbalance can be rectified easier and quicker, and the patient brought back to a full state of health.
In my practice, I have observed acupuncture help paralyzed animals walk again, increase longevity, along with quality of life, in seniors, improve recovery from orthopedic and neurological surgery, augment allopathic cancer treatment helping to maintain quality of life and mitigate the side effects of chemo and radiation, and allow hospice patients to live out the last days of their lives comfortably and with grace, often times leading to a natural death in the comfort of their own home. I get reminded on a regular basis, by my patients, how powerful the insertion of these little needles through the skin can be.