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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Acupuncture

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Dear Dr. Shawn:
”I’ve heard about using acupuncture to treat many different conditions in people and in animals. My dog is getting older and has a number of health problems, and I’m wondering if acupuncture is something I should consider?”


Answer:
”Acupuncture is one of several complementary therapies that I use in my practice to help my patients. While acupuncture can treat many problems, I mainly use this therapy for pets with musculoskeletal problems (like arthritis) or back problems (like disk disease.)

Acupuncture is without a doubt one of the most field tested techniques available in complementary medicine. While it is hard to see exactly how long acupuncture has been around, evidence indicates that it is easily over 4000 years old, being used in the Asian and Indian cultures. For those skeptics who question the effectiveness of this popular complementary therapy, there is a large amount of empirical as well as experimental information and studies showing the effectiveness of acupuncture.

How exactly does acupuncture work?
The exact mechanism has still not been explained, but we do know that acupuncture points lie over free nerve endings wrapped in connective tissue or within the walls of blood vessels. Additionally, there is a high concentration of tissue secretory mast cells in and around acupuncture points. The release of histamine (and probably other chemicals) may explain an important part of acupuncture by causing dilation of surrounding blood vessels and stimulating surround nerve terminals.

There are in fact several proposed theories that attempt to explain how acupuncture exerts its effects. No one theory fully explains how acupuncture works; the actual mechanisms are complex and likely interrelated.

The theories that explain the workings of acupuncture include the “gate theory,” the humoral theory, the autonomic nervous system theory, the theory of local effects, and the bioelectrical theory (all of these are explained in detail in The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats.) Suffice it to say that acupuncture ultimately works by stimulating the nervous systems and immune systems to allow healing, reduction in pain, and reduction in inflammation.

Regardless of how acupuncture works, most pets respond quite well to this therapy. In many instances the response is equal to or better than with conventional medical therapies, depending upon the condition being treated.

In general, most pets are treated with regular sessions (usually twice weekly for 4 weeks) to determine if acupuncture may be helpful. While traditionally acupuncture is done by painlessly inserting tiny needles into acupuncture points, other techniques may also be used. These include laser therapy (stimulating points by low intensity or cold lasers;) aquapuncture (the injection of tiny amounts of fluid (often vitamins, but also sterile water, antibiotics, herbal extracts or homeopathics, analgesics, local anesthetics, corticosteroids, non-steroidal medications, or electrolyte solutions) at the acupuncture site;) implantation (beads made of gold, silver, or stainless steel are surgically implanted at acupuncture sites;) electroacupuncture (non-painful electricity stimulates the acupuncture site;) and moxibustion (the burning of an herb on or above acupuncture points.)

I would suggest talking with your holistic veterinarian about considering acupuncture for your pet. In my practice, I always combine acupuncture with other holistic therapies such as herbs, homeopathy, and nutritional therapies for a greater effect (readers who want more info on a natural approach to preventing and treating diseases are invited to send me an email for a handout on the topic.)

 

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