Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very small needles into specific points on the body in order to stimulate a variety of cellular responses. While the theory is based upon ancient Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, founded on the principles of restoring balance to the body, the knowledge gained over thousands of years is now being scientifically proven to treat a variety of conditions. As more and more pet owners seek alternative methods of pain control and treatments for their animals (and themselves), scientific research in the field of acupuncture continues to grow in both human and veterinary medicine.
Veterinarians can be trained in acupuncture in a variety of ways. Some veterinarians take a quick lecture at a veterinary conference and begin offering services, while others pursue intensive certification trainings. Dr. Staple pursued a 6-month certificate training through the Chi Institute, which is based on Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, with many of the courses taught by board-certified veterinary neurologists and internal medicine specialists, thereby creating a foundation of Eastern and Western medicine. She elected this particular program due to its high regard within the professional community, but also so that she could understand both the medical nature as well as traditional theory, thereby being able to provide the best of both worlds for her patients and clients.
How does acupuncture work?
Eastern theory: The body is composed of a number of energy channels (or meridians) that correspond to different organs within the body. In a perfectly functioning individual, all of the energy is in balance, and all of the organs work together to keep each other strong. However, in times of injury or illness, the balance is thrown off, and the body's energy can become weak or stuck within the channels, which can also make the animal more susceptible to invading disease. Acupuncture needles are inserted into powerful points in the channels to direct the flow of energy of the organs to restore balance within the body.
Western evidence: Studies have shown that tissue of acupuncture points is different than tissue in other areas on the body. When tissue layers were compared between a known acupuncture point and a neighboring tissue, the acupuncture point was found to have lower skin resistance, a higher density of nerve endings, and a larger concentration of immune cells. Studies have also shown that some of the traditional energy channels in fact follow the pathway of the body's nervous system. The effect of placing a needle in these points causes a mild irritation which signals the body's immune system to react to the area, thereby increasing circulation and sending immune cells to protect the body. The needle insertion also stimulates nerve fibers to release feel-good substances, such as endorphins, and decreases feedback from other areas of the body where the animal feels pain.
What types of conditions can be treated with acupuncture?
Pain - any pain, anywhere
Intervertebral disc disease
Gastrointestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal cancers
Feline idiopathic cystitis
Poor appetite and nausea
Canine athletes and working dogs
Geriatric animals to improve overall quality of life
Pets with cancer
... And many more
While some animals feel better immediately during or after a treatment, some conditions take multiple treatments to see a result. For this reason, it is recommended to commit to at least 3-5 sessions to assess if acupuncture is working for your pet.