Canine Acupuncture - Acupressure and Homeopathy
Heres how to find qualified practitioners of complementary healing arts.
Not long ago, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, massage therapy, and homeopathy were regarded with scorn and suspicion by some dog owners and much of the veterinary establishment. Today, these healing modalities are becoming widely accepted and respected as viable companions to traditional Western veterinary medicine. As East and West form a working relationship, they are often referred to as “complementary therapies,” as more veterinarians use them in conjunction with the medical skills and protocols they learned in veterinary college.
When their dogs present them with conditions that fail to improve with traditional veterinary treatment – things like persistent lameness, digestive ailments, training and behavior challenges, and many other mysterious canine puzzles – dog owners will try anything that they think will help. Frustration with a lack of results from the standard medical approach has led thousands of dog owners to try one or more of the complementary therapies. And everywhere you turn you hear success stories, cases where one or more of the complementary therapies improved a formerly hopeless condition.
But until recently, little controlled research was conducted on alternative therapies. Not until the last 20 years have the methods been scrutinized with Western scientific methodology and shown to be effective. Though the studies may mean little to people who have already seen the methods heal their dogs, the positive results have helped motivate the scientists and the veterinary establishment climb onto the complementary bandwagon.
And, suddenly, the bandwagon’s starting to get crowded. Look in the classified ad section of any dog magazine and you’ll be faced with a bewildering array of complementary therapy choices: canine massage, trigger point myotherapy, laser and pulse magnetic therapy, all-natural herbal remedies, homeopathic remedy kits . . . the variations seem endless.
The problem today is not finding an alternative suitable for your dog and his health situation, it’s figuring out which of the many alternatives will be most beneficial, and locating a qualified practitioner. How do you avoid the well-intentioned but misguided or under-trained practitioners in the field, or worse yet, the scam artists who are riding the wave with glossy but insubstantial treatments? Dog owners are not alone with these questions – they are also on the minds of the responsible practitioners of the complementary disciplines.
Take heart! Education and guidance from well-schooled practitioners – whether they are veterinarians, practitioners who usually treat people, or skilled lay people – is available. Many of the alternative practices have formed national organizations that train and/or certify members, set training standards, and maintain a minimum level of quality control for practitioners of the therapy. You can contact these organizations for more information about the modalities or even referrals to certified practitioners. Below, you’ll find a brief description of the most popular modalities and contact information for their national associations.
As you will discover, however, the demand for qualified professionals still outstrips the supply. Unless you’re lucky enough to have one conducting business close to your home, you might need to rely on your local veterinarian for providing emergency and day-to-day health care for your dog, and complement that treatment with the services of a traveling “alternative” practitioner when available or with the advice from one of the many holistic veterinarians who offer telephone consultations.
Holistic practitioners differ significantly from those who practice conventional Western (called allopathic) medicine, in which symptoms are treated in isolation. Diseases are believed to have one specific cause – a germ, virus, or bacteria. Instead, using a matrix of treatments, they address the entire, complex blend of body, mind, and spirit that makes up each individual.
The goal of holistic medicine is to use whatever gentle treatments may be effective to bring all aspects of a being into balance, encouraging the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Treatments may include conventional medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and homeopathy. They contend that the strictly allopathic approach may be effective in the shorten, but can also disrupt the body’s intricate system, inviting long-term harm to the whole.
The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, established in 1981, does not offer any certification protocols or training sessions, but acts as a clearinghouse for anyone – veterinarians and non-veterinarians who want information about any of the therapies currently available. The association publishes a quarterly journal (a one-year subscription is $65). Its largest endeavor is an annual conference featuring presentations on a wide range of health topics. For an introduction to the wide world of healing modalities, this convention can’t be matched.
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Smile when you see acupuncture referred to as a “new” therapy. It has been practiced for at least five thousand years by millions of people all over the world.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into the skin at specific points around the body. Acupressure uses fingertip massage instead, and in recent years, lasers and other electronic devices have been used on these same points too.
The theory passed down from its ancient Chinese originators is that acupuncture can influence the chi (pronounced chee), or life energy, that constantly circulates throughout the body. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine believe that chi comes in two complementary forms, yin and yang. When yin and yang are balanced, health results. When unbalanced, illness will follow.
Chi is believed to circulate through the body along invisible pathways called meridians. Each meridian passes close to the skin’s surface at places called points. At these points, the insertion of needles or other stimulation affects the flow of chi.
Modem Western medical practitioners have a few problems with this explanation. How can you make sense of a system, after all, that you can’t see? One devoted researcher, George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Department of Psychiatry at Deaconness in St. Louis and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri School of medicine, suggests that acupuncture works neuroelectrically. He postulates that the meridians may be motor nerves, the nerves connected to major muscles. Stimulating the acupuncture points with needles or finger pressure may change the flow of bio-electrical energy along the nerves and trigger the release of neurotransmitters – pain relieving and mood elevating chemicals such as endorphins – that allow nerve cells to communicate.
Obviously, the Western and Eastern theories that explain how acupuncture works are centuries and cultures apart. Both camps know it does work and the dogs respond positively as well. Does it sound too trite to say, “If you need one, use whichever explanation works best for you”?
It is interesting to note that the key organizing body for this group, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS), was founded by three veterinarians in December of 1974 – 10 years prior to the creation of the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists, which certifies human acupuncture practitioners!
IVAS offers extensive training programs that rotate through various locations throughout the U.S. and the world. Attendance at these programs is limited to veterinarians only. Many members also conduct local seminars and workshops and speak at meetings for other groups.
The group has about 1200 members. About half are veterinarians who have been certified in acupuncture through IVAS; the rest are non-certified veterinarians, associate members (lay people), and organizational members. Most of the 600-plus certified members are located in the U.S. To become certified, veterinarians must take a 100-hour course, pass a four-hour written exam and a practical exam, and complete a 40-hour internship with a certified veterinarian.
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This is the most difficult complementary modality to explain scientifically, and the one most likely to require a leap of faith from the user.
The word comes from the Greek homios, “like,” and pathos, “suffering,” to imply healing like with like. The founder of homeopathy was a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann, born in 1755. While translating a medical text, Dr. Hahnemann came across a description of a treatment for malaria, one which was made from the bark of a China tree (Cinchona succirubra). Out of curiosity, he ingested a bit of the bark; to his surprise, he soon felt a mild version of symptoms similar to those of malaria. More experiments led him to discover that extremely minute doses of the medicine sometimes reduced signs of the disease and cured the patient. From this work, he established the concepts of homeopathy.
Allopathic pharmaceuticals work by overwhelming and destroying the agents of disease. In contrast, homeopathic remedies mimic symptoms similar to those produced by the disease, engaging and strengthening the body’s own disease-fighting defenses.
Homeopathic remedies consist of doses of the active ingredient substance which are super-diluted, and then shaken vigorously or “potentized,” following dilution. The shaking process, or potentization, causes friction between the water molecules and the substance, transferring the medicine’s healing properties to the water. Most frequently, the active ingredients are plants used in traditional herbal therapies, although a few come from animal sources and others come from naturally occurring compounds.
Critics charge that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water, and that a placebo effect is responsible for any apparent improvement in a patient’s condition – though the placebo effect is notoriously absent in non-humans! It’s a seeming paradox that the greater the dilution, the more effective the remedy is believed to be, and some doses are so diluted that the solution may not contain a single molecule of the substance. This violates a principle of modern pharmacology, the “dose-response relationship,” which predicts that the bigger the dose, the greater the effect.
However, it’s a less-flashy principle of pharmacology thought to be at work in homeopathy. Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, Ph.D., of Eugene, Oregon, was one of the first veterinarians in the U.S. to offer homeopathy for animals. He explains something called “Arndtz law” describes the phenomenon: Weak stimuli excites physiological activity; moderately strong ones favor it; strong ones retard it; and very strong ones arrest it.
“In homeopathy, this principle has far more importance than it would in conventional pharmacology, where they are looking for what they call ‘the therapeutic dose,’ which is the largest dose the body can tolerate,” Pitcairn explains. “The dose-response relationship doesn’t explain all drug interactions. There are substances which have very different and sometimes opposite effects when given to patients in various dosages; when you remember that, homeopathy becomes easier to understand.”
Homeopaths and their clients relate remarkable anecdotal successes, sometimes with almost immediate relief of symptoms in both human and non-human clients. And a growing number of studies indicate that the treatments are indeed effective.
In 1992, Dr. Pitcairn began offering a five-session, 128-hour homeopathy training through his practice, the Animal Natural Health Center. The course is open only to licensed veterinarians. Audio and videotapes of Dr. Pitcairn’s seminars, written materials and a remedy kit are available to lay people.
Very recently, Dr. Pitcairn and a small group of veterinarians he helped train have begun to organize an association to meet the needs of veterinarians who would like to use homeopathy. They have established a name for the association, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH), but are still in the process of defining their goals and curriculum. They do offer a short referral list of 32 veterinarians they have certified as qualified to practice veterinary homeopathy. Despite its newness, it looks as if the AVH is best positioned to become the definitive national association for veterinary homeopathy.
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The word “chiropractic” is derived from the Greek words cheir and pratikos meaning “done by hand.” Since the nervous system controls or coordinates all the other systems and tissues in the body, any problem with the nerve function, whether caused by mechanical, chemical, or psychiatric interference, may cause pain and disease. Less noticeable, but perhaps more important, chiropractors believe that nerve dysfunctions can deteriorate – or at least alter – normal and optimal health and performance.
Chiropractors seek to improve the function of the nervous system by addressing it directly and indirectly through a variety of manipulations to the body, most often to the spine. Only after careful analysis are the precise and delicate maneuvers performed, chiropractors explain, and always to achieve a predetermined goal.
One of the earliest descriptions of soft-tissue manipulation was found in a Chinese document written around 2700 BC. Soft-tissue manipulation was also practiced by the ancient Japanese, Indians of Asia, Egyptians, Babylonians, Syrians, Hindus, and Tibetans. Hippocrates, the celebrated Greek physician born around 460 BC, wrote at least 70 books on healing, including several on chiropractic. One was titled, “On Setting Joints by Leverage.”
Modem chiropractic was developed in the U.S. in the latter part of the 19th century. Daniel David Palmer, a one-time grocer and teacher, studied the effect of physical manipulations on people and trained many of his friends and associates in the practice. By 1913 the first state law licensing chiropractors was passed, and by 193 1, 39 states had given chiropractors legal recognition. Today, it is the most sought-after alternative health care for humans in the United States, and the practice of animal chiropractic is growing exponentially.
The American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) was founded in 1989 by Sharon L. Willoughby, DVM, DC. The initials tell you that Willoughby is one of only a handful of professionals who have both a veterinary doctorate and a doctorate in chiropractic. The AVCA’s mission statement includes a commitment to the continuing advancement of chiropractic as a health care choice for animals in the world community, and to bringing the veterinary and chiropractic professions together for a common and higher goal in the health care of animals.
While more than 600 veterinarians and doctors of chiropractic have taken the AVCA course, just over 200 have completed their certification requirements. The basic certification course consists of five separate modules, each with 30 hours of instruction (150 hours total). Written and practical exams are also required. Acknowledging the educational gaps in both groups’ backgrounds, the course includes veterinary basics for chiropractors and chiropractic basics for veterinarians. The modules can be completed in one year, and should be completed within two.
As with other alternative therapies, public demand for animal chiropractic has mushroomed recently, and practitioners can be hard to find. AVCA routinely makes referrals to only 230 certified animal chiropractors around the country.
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-By Pat Miller