Retired medical technician Jason Smith had exhausted the medical options for his little canine friend of 10 years. "Sampson" had suffered from severe chronic allergies that could only be controlled by ever-increasing doses of steroids.
Now his buddy had just been diagnosed with a serious heart condition and Sampson's veterinarian was concerned that the allergy medications would make the heart disease worse.
"Ten years isn't old for a Shitzu and I wasn't prepared to give up. My veterinarian had heard that acupuncture might help Sampson with his allergies. He felt that if we could just control Sampson's allergies without using steroids, his heart condition would be more manageable. He referred us to a veterinary acupuncturist," Smith said.
Sampson responded well to acupuncture. Within hours of his first treatment, his constant scratching had lessened dramatically. Within a month, he no longer needed his steroid medication. It has been two years since Sampson took his last pill, and his allergies are controlled by acupuncture treatments once every eight weeks. His heart disease is managed well with conventional veterinary medicine.
"Sampson really likes his acupuncture treatment. Because he responded so well, I began going to a human acupuncturist myself," Smith said.
The use of acupuncture in veterinary medicine is growing. In 1998, the American Association of Equine Practitioners reported that only 16.6 percent of respondents used acupuncture in their practices. By 2002, that percentage had risen to 33.1 percent. Success stories like Sampson are driving the interest in veterinary acupuncture. At a recent Western Veterinary Conference, an acupuncture wet lab was filled to capacity with veterinarians interested in learning more about this "alternative" therapy.
As interest and application of acupuncture grows in veterinary medicine, practitioners are using the modality for much more than pain control. In fact, acupuncture can be used to help treat allergies, seizures, reproductive problems, and liver and kidney disease.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of small gauge needles to various points on the body in order to cause physiological responses in the body. It can be especially useful in relieving pain. Acupuncture is used in China as a part of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).
The practice of TCVM is an entire medical system which also includes food therapy, herbal prescription medications, massage therapy (known as "tui-na") and addressing emotional, behavioral, and home environmental issues.
Acupuncture works by stimulating nerve endings near acupuncture points. These nerve fibers then conduct impulses to the brain and spinal cord, causing changes in the body that speed healing.
Animal owners are showing a growing interest in this field in an effort to find the best care for their pets, especially when conventional medicine and surgery options may not have been successful.
Some veterinary acupuncturists believe that acupuncture works by stimulating energy flow. Dr. Huisheng Xie, DVM, PhD is a third generation practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and is on the faculty at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In a recent article in Veterinary Practice News he explains the differences between Western and Chinese medical practice.
"In general, Western medicine believes in control, while traditional Chinese medicine believes in balance. Western medicine seeks to diagnose and address the symptoms, while traditional Chinese medicine seeks to determine the underlying cause and to restore the flow of energy and balance in the body," he said.
While increasing numbers of veterinarians are becoming more comfortable with acupuncture as a treatment option for some of their patients, there remain skeptics.
Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor in the department of small animal medicine and surgery at Texas A&M University said, "There is very little in scientific peer-reviewed journals about these alternative modalities. Until you can develop techniques that can be evaluated and scientifically replicated, you can't be sure it works."
While critics of veterinary acupuncture argue there is little scientific proof the modality "works," in reality, thousands of scientific papers have been published on acupuncture, both from the standpoint of how it works and what it treats.
Gayla Gaskin, an air-traffic controller at DFW airport and an avid dog-lover doesn't care that there may not be "scientific proof" that acupuncture is effective. She believes otherwise.
"When my dog, Katie, was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease, the doctors gave her a few weeks to live. She was very weak and uncomfortable. I'd do anything for her and had heard that acupuncture might help. She got treatments every other week and not only did her appetite improve, she wanted to play again and felt better. Acupuncture may not have "cured" her kidney disease, but it certainly extended her life by nine months and most important, it was a good quality of life," she said.
As with any medical treatment, successful veterinary acupuncture depends upon the training, knowledge and skill of the practitioner. Pet owners interested in acupuncture should ask their primary veterinarian for a referral to a well-qualified colleague.
For more information on veterinary acupuncture visit The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture at www.aava.org.
Dr. Michele Smith is the owner of 29th Avenue Animal Hospital. Dr. Smith can be reached at www.29thanimalhospital.com.
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