Two very different trains of thought exist as explanations as to how acupuncture benefits the body. According to Chinese philosophy, the body contains two opposing forces: yin and yang. When these forces are in balance, the body and its organs are healthy. From this point of view, energy, called qi (pronounced “chi), flows like rivers along pathways, or meridians, throughout the body. This constant flow of energy keeps the yin and yang balanced. Disruption of optimal health results when the flow of energy gets blocked, like water getting stuck behind a dam. A disruption in the flow of energy can lead to disease.
From the western point of view, acupuncture likely works by stimulating the central nervous system – the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves of the body – to release chemicals called neurotransmitters and hormones. These chemicals reduce pain, boost the immune system and regulate various body functions to promote restoration of health.
From whichever point of view one chooses to view veterinary acupuncture, there is no question that it works. While people may have the ability to convince themselves that any course of treatment helps their given condition, a phenomenon know as “placebo effect,” dogs and cats do not experience this phenomenon. For dogs and cats, a treatment either will work, or it will not, typically leaving little grey area or room for interpretation.
In my practice, I use acupuncture regularly as augmentive therapy for, and relief from: degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, and intervertebral spinal disk disease. It is painless, and canine and feline patients actually progress into a state of relaxation they receive treatment. My results have been particularly impressive in cases of intervertebral spinal disk compression injuries, where since adding acupuncture as an ancillary treatment used in combination with other alternative modalities, I have enjoyed unprecedented success in helping patients to avoid expensive and invasive spinal disk surgery.
Musculoskeletal disease and spinal disk disease are just the tip of the iceberg for veterinary acupuncture, however. Acupuncture has shown vast improvement in a broad range of diseases, including seizure disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, skin allergies, autoimmune disease, and even behavioral disorders. It can therefore be helpful to decrease or even eliminate a patient’s dependence on medications for many of the aforementioned chronic disorders, medications that unlike acupuncture, have the potential to create unwanted side effects.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.