by Amy Shojai
Acupuncture for pets is considered a holistic therapy but has become a mainstay of many traditional veterinary practices. Therapies similar to acupuncture may have arisen 7000 years ago in India, and have been used for at least 3000 years in China.
Acupuncture inserts needles into the skin, and is a bioenergetic therapy based on the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) system of life energy. This energy, or Qi, is said to flow along invisible pathways that communicate with specific organs or tissues throughout the body. TCM views all illness as an imbalance of the flow of Qi. Acupuncture seeks to cure disease by correcting the imbalance of Qi by pressure-stimulation of acupoints that fall along the pathways, or meridians, using needles.
WOO-WOO MAGICAL MEDICINE?
To many people, talk of meridians sounds like magic, and science is still trying to explain how the acupoints and meridians really work. A Spanish study in humans that injected radioactive tracers at acupoints found that they traveled along similar pathways to the traditional meridians – the paths may be invisible, but they are there.
Acupoints also appear to have lower electrical resistance than other areas of the body. Some studies indicate the meridians’ energy flow may be a system of information transmission through neurochemicals. That’s similar to the mechanism that carries thought processes from the brain throughout the body. Other theories propose a bioelectrical system independent of the nerves, which may be similar in concept to a computer software program that provides an internal operating system that’s never seen.
ACUPUNCTURE & ACUPRESSURE WORKS FOR PETS, TOO
Although the mechanism remains a mystery, even conventional medicine recognizes that stimulation of acupoints works. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has funded many studies in humans that point to relief of pain, nausea, addiction, and asthma, and the World Health Organization lists a variety of human health conditions that may benefit from these therapies. And in 1996, the American Veterinary Medical Association endorsed acupuncture, calling it an “integral part of veterinary medicine.”
Fewer studies have been performed in animals, but the benefits appear to be similar. The stimulation of these points will actually release neurochemicals or endorphins in the brain that cause pain relief. Conditions in pets such as arthritis, reproductive disorders, back and musculoskeletal problems, skin conditions like allergy, pain relief, and neurological disorders such as seizures have been shown to benefit from this therapy.
At a demonstration, I witnessed an aging arthritic dog struggle to climb stairs up onto a stage. This old Labrador wagged his tail, though, because it wasn’t his first treatment and he knew what to expect. After the 20-minute session, the needles were removed—and he BOUNDED from the stage, pain gone.
FINDING THE PROPER POINTS
Veterinarians follow a kind of body map developed by the Chinese thousands of years ago that locates the meridians and the point positions. Acupuncture points in the horse date back to around the same time as those for people because the horse was considered valuable property, and was so important to keep healthy. Many of the points in humans or horse also work in other animals, though, and over the years veterinarians have mapped dog and cat acupoints by transposing human and horse points to the dog and cat.
There are 14 meridians and 361 traditional acupoints; many of the points are duplicated in mirror images on either side of the body. Additional points may not be located directly on a meridian. The meridians and points have traditional Chinese names, but in the United States and Europe most commonly are designated by letters that correspond to the meridian’s ruling organ (i.e., L=lung meridian, LI=large intestine meridian, ST=stomach meridian) along with a location number of the individual point. Therefore, ST-25 refers to the 25th point on the stomach meridian.
TREATING PETS AT HOME WITH ACUPRESSURE
While only a veterinarian certified in acupuncture should “needle” your pet, you can safely treat your cats and dogs at home with acupressure. Acupressure is helpful for many conditions, including acne, diarrhea, vomiting and asthma, and also relieves pain—especially arthritis. For instance, the BL60 point on the rear ankle is known as the “aspirin point” because it relieves pain anywhere in the body.
Acupressure points are found in depressions between the muscles and the bones, and will feel like a slight dip in the tissue. They are almost never on a bone like the elbow, but will be immediately next to it. Some specialists say they can feel temperature changes at the acupoints which alert them to problems. A warm point indicates an area of an acute blockage, as compared to a cold point where it’s more of a chronic state, and the energy has been depleted from that area.
Once you know the acupressure point (or points) that correspond to your pets’ symptoms (found on pages 32 and 33 of New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats), you can treat your pet. Place your index finger (or thumb when treating a big dog on the point and press straight down into the body to make an indentation in the tissue but without causing pain. Hold for five to 60 seconds, then release. Repeat the treatment daily.
Holistic care offers ways to treat acne to boredom, itching to wounds with acupressure, herbs, supplements, chiropractic, healing energy and more natural modalities for your animal companions. Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, nationally known pet care specialist, and author of 30 pet books including New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats.