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Acupuncture Goes Mainstream for Pets

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Acupuncture for pets is becoming increasingly common. When Dr. Heidi Goss, DVM, was young, she watched her veterinarian uncle use acupuncture on patients that did not respond well to Western medical treatments.

Veterinary medicine has evolved dramatically in a relatively short time. "Just 20 years ago we didn't give animals post-op pain relief. Now the demand for high-quality care for animals has progressed tremendously,'' Goss said.

Now an integrative vet herself, Goss primarily practices Western medicine at the Quail Hollow Animal Hospital in Wesley Chapel, Fla., but turns to ancient Eastern practices when she doesn't get results.

Speaking at the 2008 American Animal Hospital Association convention in Tampa, Fla., Goss said she frequently uses acupuncture to improve the quality of life in her geriatric patients. It is particularly useful for enhancing strength in the hindquarters, she said. Acupuncture lessens pain and provides "more mobility, more energy and a better appetite,'' she said.

Gaining the trust of patients

To the uninitiated, the insertion of needles into pets might seem painful or dangerous, but a well-trained veterinary acupuncturist can quickly gain the patient's trust. As many human patients have discovered, acupuncture might look painful but it usually is not and can bring about pain relief and relaxation.

Goss personally attests to acupuncture effectiveness partly because of successful treatments of her own dog, Andie, a female Chow that is deaf. The treatments increased Andie's energy and well-being to the point where Goss has to run after her into the woods when the dog is chasing deer around the property.

Before approaching her patients, Goss prepares herself by breathing, relaxing and getting centered. "If I go in there wound up like a clock they won't tolerate the needle,'' she said. "It's all energy medicine because you're a conduit passing healing energy. You can also pass nervous anxiety. I usually like the owners to stay in the room, but if they are very anxious I'll send them out,'' suggesting they take a break.

Acupuncture defined

Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body to release blockages and restore the flow of qi (pronounced "chee''), the vital energy or life force that can enable animals to heal themselves.

"Dry needles'' (therapy with the needle itself) are frequently used, but another technique is electro stimulation, also known as electro acupuncture, when a mild electrical charge is conducted through the needles.

The treatment is not limited to dogs. "You can do acupuncture on reptiles, birds, hamsters - any species,'' Goss said.

It is especially beneficial for pain control in cats. "There are not a lot of pain meds for cats, and it's more challenging to get pain control in a kitty cat. Acupuncture is one thing we can offer that's safe,'' Goss said.

In fact, acupuncture treatments have been documented back to the year 659 B.C. in China in the earliest veterinary acupuncture book, Bole's Canon of Veterinary Acupuncture.

What ailments can be alleviated?

Acupuncture can be used for a long list of ailments including arthritis, kidney disease, liver disease and "upset in the head,'' Goss said. It's not unusual for her to receive client requests for acupuncture rather than psychopharmacological treatments.

According to publications by the Chi Institute in Fla., a school that offers the certificate of Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, clinical trials demonstrate that acupuncture is effective for the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, including osteoarthritis, back pain, disc problems and degenerative joint diseases.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, including vomiting, constipation, colic, gastric ulcers and diarrhea.
  • Neurological disorders, including seizure, facial and radial nerve paralysis.
  • Chronic conditions, including asthma, coughing, skin problems, geriatric weakness, behavior problems, renal failure and Cushing's disease.
  • Acupuncture can also be used for disease prevention and performance enhancement.

As East meets West in veterinary care, the range of options is expanding to improve overall pet health.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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