Animal acupuncture is considered to have originated around 2,000 years ago, during the Chinese Han Dynasty (220BC-200 AD). It was a period of civil war as local tribes fought each over the control of their territories.
Many horses were used during the military conflict and it is thought that acupuncture techniques were developed for the first time to treat these animals.
Around that time, there emerged a legendary practitioner named Shung Yang who is considered the father of veterinary acupuncture. Most medical texts available today were written several centuries later during the Tang dynasty (600-900 AD) and we have records of the creation of a school and department of veterinary acupuncture during that period.
As Chinese medicine began to spread to the neighbouring countries of Japan and Korea, several variations of techniques were recorded.
Finally, the end of the 19th century saw China experience a devastating epidemic that killed millions of pigs before specific acupuncture techniques were devised to stop the onslaught. It resulted in the publication of a book named A Complete Collection of Pig Diseases in 1900. Remarkably, it is still one of the most popular reference books in China.
Acupuncture was probably introduced into Europe by the French Jesuits who had been living in China and Macao since the 16th century; a priest named Jarvieu wrote the first book on acupuncture in a European language in 1671.
In the United States, acupuncture really took off after President Nixon's visit to China in 1972.
The International Veterinary Acupuncture Association was formed two years later and now has members in over a dozen countries. These practitioners have successfully treated a wide range of animals, including racehorses, cattle, pigs, cats, dogs and even birds.
Veterinary acupuncture is prescribed for a variety of conditions ranging from reproductive problems in cows, to musculo skeletal problems such as paralysis or disc pathology in horses and dogs, as well as skin disease and feline asthma in cats, and diarrhoea and incontinence in pets.
As an example, I have read about a Siberian Tiger being successfully treated with laser acupuncture for a chronic condition that would otherwise have been fatal. The Washington Post newspaper recently reviewed a case in which acupuncture was highly successful in treating two dachshunds suffering from terminal paralysis caused by herniated disks. Veterinary acupuncture is used on a regular basis with racehorses to treat minor sport injuries, and to reinforce their immunity to disease.
According to the principles of Chinese medicine, all living beings are tiny parts of the macrocosm of the universe. As such, humans and animals are subject to the same rules. Disease and pain occur when the circulation of vital energy (Qi) throughout the body is disturbed.
When receiving an acupuncture treatment, our animal companions are assessed in a similar way to we humans, by way of the four traditional Chinese diagnostic methods of looking, hearing, smelling, and feeling.
As animals can't speak our language, their owners will be asked questions regarding their diet and favourite foods, as well as their lifestyle. For example, does the dog like to lie in the sun, or does it prefer a cooler spot? Do the problems occur at a specific time of the day?
As all pet owners know, animals from the same breed can have very different temperaments. Is the patient restless and aggressive, or content to chew its bone in peace regardless of what's happening around it? This will need to be taken into account.
The examination will include the colour of the eyes and tongue, and palpation of specific diagnostic acupuncture points on the back, abdomen and sides. Finally, the pulse will be taken at several points to evaluate the condition of the organ system and channels. Then a diagnosis will be made and the treatment begin.
As a general rule, acupuncture points on large animals are primarily based on reversing the human acupuncture pathways to all four positions adopted by our ancestors.
For small animals the insertion of needles is almost painless, while the larger needles necessary for larger animals may cause a small degree of temporary pain as they penetrate the skin.
The length and frequency of treatments depend on the condition of the patient. A simple ailment such as an ankle sprain may require only a single treatment, while more chronic respiratory or skin dysfunctions would probably need to be treated over several weeks.I must confess that my acupuncture experience has been restricted solely to the treatment of my fellow human beings. But I am enjoying thinking that as the evidence builds that acupuncture can be very successful in helping our four legged friends, the theory that its success is purely the result of a placebo effect is slowly being destroyed.
Olivier is on holiday and we are rerunning this column which first appeared in NOVA in March 2012.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com