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Veterinary acupuncture can make pets more comfortable

Acupuncture is a method of treating disease that dates back more than 2,000 years. It was first practiced in China on people and then adapted to horses and cattle.
Acupuncture was first brought to the US in the 1970s and, since then, has been subjected to much “Western medical” research. Even more recently, acupuncture has been used to treat a variety of conditions in our companion animals. Acupuncture uses specific anatomical sites, or “points,” on the body (which we now know contain increased numbers of blood vessels, nerves and lymphatics) to influence the body’s own natural healing mechanisms in a directed way. Stimulation of these points increases chemicals in the body, such as serotonin and beta endorphins, that are known to relieve pain and decrease inflammation, creating beneficial effects for virtually any medical condition.
Two of the most common veterinary conditions treated with acupuncture are osteoarthritis and intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). Acupuncture can provide pain control for chronic arthritis, reducing or even eliminating the need for additional medications, such as narcotics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). This reduces or avoids the risk of side effects from these medications and can help greatly improve quality of life, especially for older pets.
Acupuncture also can be of great benefit for patients experiencing spinal pain from chronic IVDD. Even in severe cases, where a pet may have lost function of his or her hind limbs, acupuncture — typically in combination with medications and rehabilitation exercises — can be helpful in returning pets to nearly normal neurological function without resorting to invasive surgery. Furthermore, in cases where surgery is the best option, acupuncture can assist with pain control and speed recovery.
There are numerous other medical conditions that may benefit from acupuncture therapy. For example, it can be helpful as an adjunctive treatment for pets with cancer to improve appetite, increase energy and reduce side effects from chemotherapy. In chronic digestive diseases, acupuncture can aid in regulating function of the gastrointestinal tract, thus improving appetite and decreasing episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea. Pets with chronic diseases such as liver failure or kidney failure also can gain benefit in overall well-being, appetite and comfort level. Side effects are negligible, and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, significant benefit can be seen with regular treatments.
Treatment sessions may vary somewhat with different practitioners, but can take place either at a traditional veterinary practice that offers acupuncture or within your home by utilizing the services of a mobile veterinarian. Sessions generally take about an hour, including obtaining a good history, performing a complete physical exam and providing the actual treatment itself. The needles are very small, and pets generally exhibit minimal discomfort during their placement. Treatment sessions do not require sedation; most pets relax and seem to enjoy the session. The length of time needles are left in place varies, but 15 to 20 minutes is quite common.
Some practitioners also use electro-acupuncture to amplify the effects of their needle placement. This technique is very similar to a TENS unit or ESTIM used in physical therapy, where a mild electrical current is delivered through the acupuncture needle. In all cases, the frequency and duration of treatments depends on the type and severity of disease that is present.
If you have a pet you feel may benefit from acupuncture, don’t hesitate to ask your regular veterinarian if he or she feels that your pet would be a good candidate. He or she will be happy to discuss the pros and cons of acupuncture as it applies to your pet’s unique situation. If a veterinarian certified in acupuncture is not available in that practice, your veterinarian should be able to refer you someone who is.
Veterinarians who practice acupuncture are typically certified through one of three U.S. organizations. Certification is typically a six– to 12-month process, involving a large amount of classroom study, practice of skills and often a short internship with a certified practitioner. 
By Dr. Devlyn D’Alfonzo

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