Alternative Medicine/Complimentary Medicine

There is a dramatic shift in the way we approach and treat animal diseases today. This new approach, commonly referred to as “Integrative Medicine,” uses the traditional techniques of Ancient Chinese Medicine and combines them with modern Western Medicine to provide the best possible patient care.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is often viewed as a form of complementary therapy, and is best when used in conjunction with other modalities such as Western Medicine. Chinese Medicine is a holistic approach that is suited to assessing the well-being of the whole patient, and treatments are generally non-invasive with few side effects. However, it often lacks the tools necessary to pinpoint illness to specific disease-causing agents like pathogenic bacteria or viruses, and treatments are better suited for chronic conditions than acute ones. On the other hand, Western Medicine utilizes the tools of modern science to diagnose disease with great precision, and western drugs and procedures are powerful and fast acting. Integrating Chinese and Western Medicine appears to be the most logical and effective way to help our patients and has been proven safe and effective.
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, although relatively new to the Western world, is a medical system that has been used in China to treat animals for thousands of years and is an adaptation of traditional Chinese Medicine used to treat humans. Chinese Medicine is a complete body of thought and practice grounded in Chinese Daoist philosophy. Though it can be traced back over thousands of years it continues to evolve today as current research is beginning to shed light on its mechanism of action and therapeutic benefits.

Chinese Medicine Theory

Chinese Medicine is based on the Daoist worldview that the body is a microcosm of the larger surrounding universe. As such, the cosmic laws and forces that govern the external world also govern the body’s internal environment. Just as life-energy or “Qi” is an innate force of the universe, it too is a fundamental force of the body, driving its every action and transformation. Yin-Yang theory, which is central to Daoist philosophy, also features prominently in Chinese Medicine. This theory describes how opposing forces of the universe create and transform each other, and play a key role in the characterization of physiological function and disease.

The Ancient Chinese observed yearly cycles through five seasons, spring, summer, late summer, autumn, and winter, which they corresponded to the Wu Xing, or Five Elements, consisting of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Just as the Earth cycles through these five seasons, the body, too, passes through the five phases in its own life cycle. In this way, a young pup is said to be in its Wood (or spring) phase of life, while an old mare is said to be in its Water (or winter) phase. Moreover, the bodily organs have also been mapped to the five phases, and the Five Element Theory is used to explain the functional relationships between organ systems.

Disharmony and Disease

In Chinese Medicine theory, disease is understood as an imbalance in the body, and a diagnosis is obtained through identifying the underlying “patterns” of disharmony. Pattern diagnosis differs from conventional Western medical diagnosis in that it takes into account not only disease signs but how these signs relate to the individual patient. This approach stems from the belief that the body is as an interconnected system of forces and functions so that disease and disharmony must be examined with respect to the whole patient. For this reason, Chinese Medicine is often regarded as more holistic than conventional Western Medicine.

Branches of Chinese Medicine

Once a particular type of disharmony or disease pattern is identified, treatment often proceeds through a combination of treatment modalities. Though the terms Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are often used interchangeably in the West, acupuncture is actually only one modality or “branch” of Chinese Medicine. There are actually four branches which include Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy, and Tui-na (Qi-gong, a form of Chinese meditative exercise).

Acupuncture is a treatment that involves the stimulation of points, typically achieved through the insertion of specialized needles into the body. Acupuncture points typically lie along the body’s Meridian Channels along which Qi flows. Most veterinary acupuncture points and Meridian lines are transposed to animals from humans, though knowledge of some “classical points” defined on particular species have been retained and are used to this day.

Herbal Medicine utilizes herbal ingredients listed within the ancient Chinese Herbal Books in particular combinations or formulas to treat particular disease patterns. Herbal formulas are administered orally and are typically given in powder form to horses and other large animals and in tea pill or capsule form to cats and dogs.

Food Therapy is the use of diet to treat and prevent imbalance within the body. It utilizes knowledge of the energetics of food ingredients to tailor diets for individual animals.

Tui-na is a form of Chinese medical massage in which different manipulations are applied to acupressure points and Meridians to promote the circulation of Qi and correct imbalances within the organ systems.

Acupuncture may be defined as the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to produce a healing response. This technique has been used in veterinary practice in China for thousands of years to treat many ailments and as a preventative health treatment. Acupuncture is currently used all around the world, either by itself or in conjunction with Western medicine, to treat a wide variety of conditions in every species of animal including humans.
Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury.
  • Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma.
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea.
  • Selected reproductive problems.

For large animals, acupuncture is again commonly used for functional problems. Some of the general conditions where it might be applied are the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems such as sore backs or downer cow syndrome.
  • Neurological problems such as facial paralysis.
  • Skin problems such as allergic dermatitis.
  • Respiratory problems such as heaves and “bleeders”.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nonsurgical colic.
  • Selected reproductive problems.

In addition, regular acupuncture treatment can treat minor sports injuries as they occur and help to keep muscles and tendons resistant to injury. World-class professional and amateur athletes often use acupuncture as a routine part of their training. If your animals are involved in any athletic endeavor, such as racing, jumping, or showing, acupuncture can help them keep in top physical condition.

Although acupuncture has its roots in ancient times before modern scientific methods were available with which to study it, many important studies have been done to indicate how acupuncture works and what physiologic mechanisms are involved in its actions. Using functional MRI (fMR) it has been shown that stimulation of acupuncture points results in specific changes in the central nervous system. Those changes may be responsible for the activation of pain receptors, release of important hormones and chemicals, or simply to stimulate organ function. In western medical terms, acupuncture can assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiological changes. For example, acupuncture can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasm, and cause the release of hormones. Although many of acupuncture’s physiological effects have been studied, many more are still unknown. Further research must be conducted to discover all of acupuncture’s effects and its proper uses in veterinary medicine.
For small animals, the insertion of acupuncture needles is virtually painless. The larger needles necessary for large animals may cause some pain as the needle passes through the skin. In all animals, once the needles are in place, there should be no pain. Most animals become very relaxed and may even become sleepy. Nevertheless, acupuncture treatment may cause some sensation, presumed to be those such as tingles, cramps, or numbness which can occur in humans and which may be uncomfortable to some animals.
Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when it is administered by a properly trained veterinarian. Side effects of acupuncture are rare, but they do exist. An animal’s condition may seem worse for up to 48 hours after a treatment. Other animals become lethargic or sleepy for 24 hours. These effects are an indication that some physiological changes are developing, and they are most often followed by an improvement in the animal’s condition.
The success of the treatment will vary according to the skill of the veterinarian, the condition being treated and the number and frequency of acupuncture treatments. The length and frequency of the treatments depends on the condition of the patient and the method of stimulation (dry needle, electroacupuncture, aquapuncture, etc.) that is used by the veterinary acupuncturist. A simple acute problem, such as a sprain, may require only one treatment, whereas more severe or chronic ailments may need several treatments.
Acupuncture should never be administered without a proper veterinary medical diagnosis and an ongoing assessment of the patient’s condition by a licensed veterinarian. This is critical because acupuncture is capable of masking pain or other clinical signs and may delay proper veterinary medical diagnosis once treatment has begun. Elimination of pain may lead to increased activity on the part of the animal, thus delaying healing or causing the original condition to worsen.

In general, acupuncture can be effectively combined with most conventional and alternative therapies. Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists have the comprehensive training, knowledge and skill to understand the interactions between different forms of treatment and to interpret the patient’s response to therapy.

The American Veterinary Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery.

There are two important criteria you should look for in a veterinary acupuncturist:

  1. Your veterinary acupuncturists must be a licensed veterinarian.
  2. Your veterinary acupuncturist should have formal training in the practice of veterinary acupuncture.

In most countries, states, and provinces, veterinary acupuncture is considered a surgical procedure that only licensed veterinarians may legally administer to animals. A veterinarian is in the best position to properly diagnose an animal’s health problem and then to determine whether the animal is likely to benefit from an acupuncture treatment, or whether its problem requires chemical, surgical, or no intervention. Because of the differences in anatomy, and the potential for harm if the treatments are done incorrectly, only a properly trained veterinarian should perform acupuncture on animals. The proper training for a veterinarian would include an extensive post-doctoral educational program in veterinary acupuncture. The more your veterinarian knows about traditional Chinese philosophies and the western scientific basis for acupuncture the more you can be assured that your animals will be treated properly.

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