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Acupuncture Gaining Ground as Pet Therapy

Posted: March 5, 2009

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Over time, he said, veterinary acupuncturists have created "transpositional maps" that shifted the well-known acupuncture points of the human body to animals. This wasn't always easy. "Obviously, horses don't have five fingers like people do," Crisman said. "So, the experts took the points that were equivalent to points on our hands and transposed them around the hooves."

Today, Crisman teaches a certifying course at the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, which lists more than 2,000 members worldwide, with hundreds practicing in the United States. Two other centers, one at the Chi Institute in Florida and another at Colorado State University, offer degrees in the practice.

Crisman said that veterinary acupuncture has proven effective in healing or easing the symptoms of arthritis, acute injuries, hip dysplasia, respiratory disorders, immune system ailments and a host of other problems. It appears to work on a wide range of livestock and household pets, even creatures as small as gerbils and birds. Some specialists have used acupuncture to enhance the fertility of Kentucky racehorses, Crisman said.

A small minority of animal patients balk at the idea of having needles poked in them, the experts said, but most actually appear to enjoy their treatments. That may be because acupuncture seems to release natural painkillers called endorphins. "Usually by the second or third treatment, they … will just lie down, ready for their treatment," Alvarez said. "I have one cat that's known in the rest of the practice as a rather fractious cat. But this cat will literally purr during his treatment."

Both Alvarez and Crisman stressed that while acupuncture sometimes works well on its own, it is often best used alongside Western medicine. "If you have an infection, for example, and perhaps the infection is a result of poor circulation to that area, then you can improve the circulation [with acupuncture] and use the antibiotics to kill the bugs," Alvarez said.