Before you roll your eyes, you should know that using acupuncture on animals has been shown to lessen the affects of arthritis, calm allergic reactions, even treat kidney disease. Sometimes, with acupuncture, it takes longer to see results and can be more expensive than conventional medical therapies. Be sure to discuss all options with your veterinarian before taking any action.
By all appearances, Charlie is a healthy, happy dog. But not so long ago, he was miserable, suffering from severe allergies.
"If you were to part his hair… what you would have seen was a color that was red, hot, inflamed. Hot to the touch," says owner Heddy Frank.
After years of using conventional treatments to no avail, Charlie's dermatologist suggested acupuncture.
Says veterinarian Dr. Dana Liska, "The very first night after he had his acupuncture, I feel very strongly that he was at least 90 percent improved."
Did that shock the vet?
"I was very shocked. I was," Liska replied.
So for the last eight months, Heddy Frank has been making regular 2-1/2-hour trips to the University of Florida Veterinary School to see Dr. Huisheng Xie. A native of China, Xie is a leading authority in animal acupuncture and has practiced it for 22 years. He says it's often used for pain and chronic disease, especially in older animals.
"We use acupuncture to help maintain the body," explained Xie. "Make the body balance, able to recover quicker."
The basic principles of acupuncture are the same in animals as with humans. Chinese medicine says that disease is the result of a blockage in energy flow along pathways in the body called meridians. Inserting needles into these pathways unblocks the energy and restores health.
Xie sometimes uses electrical currents to enhance the effectiveness of the needles. And while people might be squeamish about needles, most pets don't seem to mind at all. In fact, many catch a quick nap during the treatments.
Acupuncture in animals is not a "New Age" concept. In fact, it was first used on the horses of Chinese emperors 2,000 years ago and has been widely used in equine medicine in the U.S. for decades.
Although some veterinarians regard acupuncture as an unproven science, even the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the leading professional authority, acknowledges it has benefits.
Says Dr. Janet Donlin of the AVMA, "Anecdotally, there is some evidence that it does cause some good things. And so we do want to consider that. And so that's why the AVMA is open to consideration of the use of acupuncture."
Others are waiting for more scientific proof. "It's not the silver bullet," says veterinarian Dr. Brian Voynick. "You know, it's another tool in the tool chest to use."
Voynick added acupuncture to his conventional veterinary practice almost 15 years ago when nothing else would work for a patient's paralysis. Three days after the first acupuncture treatment, Suzy was walking again.
Explains Voynick, "You can use acupuncture on all animals. I have attended lectures in China where they do acupuncture on dolphins. And I've attended lectures in Florida where we have an acupuncturist there that has worked on tortoises."
And it works on cats. Because of severe arthritis, Tom the cat had trouble walking. But now he;s as nimble as…a cat!
Says Michael Ascough, Tom's owners, "He's just a cat, but we would do anything for him. And we think that giving him the acupuncture has been the greatest improvement in his medical history."
It's a sentiment that Heddy Frank shares: "I can't think of anything I wouldn't do for him, really. He's a healthy, happy dog now. It's worth it."