There seems to be an ongoing conversation that one must “believe” in acupuncture–as if it is a religious-based healing or its complementary opposite, voodoo–for it to be effective. Despite acupuncture’s success as a medical treatment documented in archeological findings dating back seven thousand years, and despite any other sensible attempts that show empirical evidence, such as happy Yelp reviewers and its popularity in hospitals around the world, the conversation surrounding its credibility will continue.
Nonetheless, it helps to know there’s one group of patients that does not, and will never, need studies, research, Dr. Oz, or their internal dialogue telling them that acupuncture works: Animals.
The roots of animal acupuncture can be traced back to traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, which has practiced acupuncture on animals for thousands of years. Until the Yuan dynasty of the fourteenth century, Chinese veterinary medicine was used only sparingly on large animals—horses—at first to support the Chinese military effort.1Acupuncture Today, September, 2014, Vol. 15, Issue 09 Today, it is practiced on nearly every animal imaginable in pursuit of true, holistic treatment.
“You didn’t even hear about acupuncture in America until the 1970s, let alone acupuncture for animals,” said Vikki Weber, executive director of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society in Fort Collins, Colorado.2Pet acupuncture more popular as practice becomes more mainstream, The Washington Post, Wax, E., 2012 “Then some Chinese acupuncturists came to UCLA’s pain management center, where they trained physicians to use acupuncture in labs, using dogs. The American physicians realized that the dogs were actually getting results, and they contacted veterinarians.”
Since then, veterinary acupuncture in America has been growing, helped in part by the founding of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) in 1974. Today, U.S. veterinarians practicing animal acupuncture are certified by the American Board of Animal Acupuncture, and over six thousand veterinarians have been trained in the practice.
“There’s such substantial growth in veterinary acupuncture, and it’s driven by pet owners who had acupuncture and want their pets to have the same kind of therapy,” said Simon Flynn, executive director of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture.3The Washington Post, “Pet acupuncture more popular as practice becomes more mainstream”
Heather Loenser, DVM, an emergency veterinarian in Lebanon, New Jersey, has used animal acupuncture in her practice for years to treat common ailments in pets. While she understands it may seem like superfluous pampering to outsiders, the science supports its use and effectiveness, and the results speak for themselves.
“I am a strong proponent of acupuncture and physical [and] massage therapy when performed by a veterinary professional trained in these areas,” said Loenser. Her patients—both human and pet—regularly benefit from acupuncture in the treatment of respiratory, skin, gastrointestinal, and musculoskeletal issues.
“It’s been very helpful for treating my cat, Mindy, with chronic upper respiratory diseases,” said Heather Lou, Mindy’s owner of seven years. “We just don’t have anything in [conventional] medicine that works like these acupuncture treatments do.” Lou has brought Mindy to acupuncture appointments for years and is a testament to its effectiveness in managing the condition.
What Can We Learn from Our Furry Friends?
While the placebo effect will continue to be credited with acupuncture’s efficacy, and the gold standard will never be met, pets will continue to reap the benefits of this time-tested medicine. Only 6% of Americans have had acupuncture4Acupuncture Use among American Adults, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 710750, however the number is steadily rising; thus, more and more humans will continue to benefit from this ancient practice, believers or not.