Veterinary Acupuncture: A way forward in animal health care?

Increasingly we are seeing the benefits of acupuncture for humans, when treating a variety of different disorders, including muscle pain, arthritis, back pain and sciatica. Research has shown that in many cases acupuncture is a very useful tool, and more and more often we are becoming accustomed to incorporating it into the Western model of medicine.

Over the past few decades acupuncture has been introduced into Veterinary medicine in the West. It is being used to treat many of the same conditions, such as arthritis, and muscle pain. For animals these conditions have traditionally been managed by pain relief, or in extreme cases, surgery. During the course of Veterinary Nurse training, I worked alongside a well-respected Veterinary Surgeon in the north Dublin area, who believes strongly in the use of acupuncture as well as everyday pain relief. He kindly agreed to answer some questions about this topic for me.

Gary Cregan, based in Lissenhall Veterinary Hospital, in Swords, Co.Dublin has been using acupuncture in practice for over 5 years. He believes it is a very effective treatment. Gary became very interested in acupuncture after he had the treatment himself to manage pain and was amazed at the results. Shortly afterwards, he began to study Veterinary Acupuncture, and is continuing to train and learn – he sees the study of acupuncture as a lifetime pursuit.

Most commonly, Gary practices acupuncture on dogs; and the problems he would treat are generally mobility problems caused by old age. For this condition NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) would be used, but these are contra-indicated in the use of older patients as they can cause serious kidney and liver problems. He has found, in these cases, that acupuncture does work more effectively then everyday medication.

I asked Gary how long, approximately, a course of acupuncture would last. A dog would generally have two or three treatments in the first week and once a month for chronic arthritis. He does believe that acupuncture does have an accumulative effect when used for long durations of time. Depending on the age of the dog and the conditions presented the treatment can differ. It also depends on the season, as Gary has found more dogs need acupuncture in the winter months rather than summer, much like humans.

While visiting Gary, I had a chance to talk to some of the owners of dogs which he had treated with acupuncture. Roisin who is a registered Veterinary Nurse, is the owner of a 5 year old Doberman x Rottweiler, neutered female called Evo. She had noticed that Evo had developed incontinence and it was also discovered she had spondylosis of the thoraco-lumbar junction of the spine (which may have caused the incontinence). She was brought to Gary who treated her with acupuncture for the problem. After about 8 sessions of acupuncture, Roisin noticed a vast improvement in Evo’s condition and her general well-being.

Anecdotally, acupuncture has also been useful in cases of animal paralysis, serious and extremely painful osteoarthritis, muscle wastage, and seems to have made a positive difference to the animal’s everyday life and well-being. And research seems to be emerging in line with the anecdotal success stories.

Increasingly we are seeing awareness amongst people that what is put into their body, be it food or medication, will affect them positively or negatively. That same mindset is coming into play for their animals, who are often regarded very literally as ‘part of the family’. They will look for other means or methods of treating an animal before putting them on a heavy course of steroids, or subjecting them to an invasive procedure. This is where acupuncture and other non-traditional Veterinary therapies might offer a way forward.

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