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A healing art heads mainstream: veterinary schools teach acupuncture as the ancient therapy grows in popularity to treat a variety of conditions.

Nick, a 12-year-old mixed breed, is a regular patient at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Every one week to two weeks, his owners take him to receive electroacupuncture treatments for his aches and mobility problems related to chronic arthritis.

"He develops a spring in his step after each treatment," says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., chief of the Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Service at the University Hospital for Animals. He and Curtis Dewey, DVM, are board-certified in acupuncture and provide the therapy for dogs.

Sophie, an 8-year-old Labrador Retriever, had a lifetime history of urinary incontinence and developed an adverse reaction to medication. Three years ago, her owners took her for regular acupuncture treatments offered by Polly Fleckenstein, DVM, at the Veterinary Medical Center of Central New York in East Syracuse.

Marked Improvement. "Within two months of weekly treatments, there was a significant decrease in Sophie's leaking," says Dr. Fleckenstein, a Cornell graduate certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary spinal manipulation therapy. "In the past 18 months, she has leaked only three times and now needs to come in only every six weeks for acupuncture treatments."

Acupuncture is a 3,000-year-old Chinese healing art fast becoming a popular therapy for use on 21st-century cats, dogs, horses, even birds. Its goal is to promote the body to heal itself. It has been shown to boost blood circulation and spur the release of pain-controlling endophins and anti-inflammatory hormones.

Dr. Fleckenstein has incorporated acupuncture in her practice for two decades. She believes that pet owners are seeing the benefits of integrative medicine for themselves and want the same type of care for their pets. "More owners are willing to do more for their pets in terms of medicine, pain management and nutrition," she says. "They are looking for that extra little bit that may improve the quality of life for their pets and acupuncture is a viable option."

The most recognized type of acupuncture involves tiny needles inserted strategically at acupuncture points located throughout the body on meridans. Meridians, or channels, are a network of pathways through the energy known as Qi is believed to flow in traditional Chinese medicine.

No Side Effects. On average, 20 to 30 needles are placed, depending on the health needs of the specific dog. Many patients relax and fall asleep during treatment that ranges from a few minutes to a half hour. The therapy is generally safe and has no side effects. The biggest risk is to make sure a dog does not lick and swallow an acupuncture needle. "I've inserted over 100,000 needles and only one dog has swallowed one needle, Fortunately, the needle passed harmlessly, though there is, of course, a risk and sometimes removal is required," says Dr. Fleckenstein.

Dr. Wakshlag is among those who believe acupuncture should be mainstreamed. "Using the word complementary is now a bit of a misconception. I have no stats on the number of veterinarians who are certified in acupuncture, but if Ithaca (N.Y.) is a measure, we have seven in our area now."

The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, which has seen an increase in enrollment in training programs since the mid-1990s, was recently admitted to the American Veterinary Medical Association's House of Delegates. At least a half dozen veterinary schools teach acupuncture. But while the therapy represents a growing practice among veterinarians, and thousands of studies have shown its effectiveness in certain human cases, only several hundred studies have been done on dogs and cats.

Although many of acupuncture's physiological effects have been studied, many more are still unknown, says the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. "Further research must be conducted to discover all of acupuncture's effects and its proper uses in veterinary medicine."

Meanwhile, personal reports about the use of acupuncture therapy in animals continue to grow about its benefits for dogs with:

* Arthritis

* Sore muscles and joints

* Muscle spasms

* Degenerative joint disease

* Paralysis

* Digestive issues, including constiption, diarrhea and vomiting

* Cushing's disease

* Hypothyroidism

* Diabetes

* Heart, kidney and liver disease

* Ruptured discs

* Cancer. Acupuncture provides supportive care, Dr. Fleckenstein says, citing pain control, helping the white blood cell count, the immune system, chemotherapy induced-nausea, anorexia and loss of appetite.

* Dermatologic conditions, including allergic dermatitis and lick granulomas

* Asthma and other respiratory problems

* Epilepsy and seizures

* Weakened immune system

In addition, acupuncture is used to maintain the health of dogs active in sports such as hunting, agility and fly ball.

To maximize the benefit of an acupuncture session, dogs under Dr. Fleckenstein's care enter a quiet room with dimmed lighting with their owner present. Dogs lie on blankets or comfortable bedding during the treatment. "Owners need to relax as much as possible because their dogs read their energies," says Dr. Fleckenstein. "IVe had some owners fall asleep next to their dogs who also fall asleep."

Weekly Sessions. The number of acupuncture treatments depends on the dog, but on average, treatments are weekly with the goal of extending to maintenance visits every month or six weeks or as needed. Some owners may note their pet does better with more frequent treatments and come in more often.

"People see that they are investing in the quality of the health of their pets with these acupuncture treatments," says Dr. Fleckenstein. "After an acupuncture treatment, we advise that the dog take it easy--no big, long walks."

Treatment sessions, on average, range from $70 to $150. Acupuncture may qualify for pet insurance but coverage varies. A check of five pet insurance companies found one company covers acupuncture if it's performed by a licensed veterinarian for a covered accident or illness, but it excludes acupuncture as preventive or routine care. Another company requires owners to purchase an additional coverage for acupuncture reimbursement, and still another allows it as a wellness benefit.

Many dogs display an eagerness for acupuncture treatments. "Sophie is quite happy to get the first needle inserted and seems to quickly relax into her happy place," Dr. Fleckenstein says. "Once the all the needles are in, she falls asleep."

AMONG THE THERAPY'S OTHER USES

Acupuncture therapy has expanded to these applications:

* Electroacupuncture involves electrodes hooked to the needles to deliver a mild electric current to stimulate nerves damaged by injury or trauma.

* The use of laser to provide needle-less treatments, an advantage for pets who don't tolerate needles or move around, which could cause the needles to fall out.

* Aqua acupuncture (aquapuncture) involves the injection of a liquid such as a water-soluble vitamins, saline or medicinal herbs.

* Moxabustion applies warmth from the burning of a Chinese herbal compound to the needles to provide added heat to treat joint stiffness and muscle soreness. Acupressure is sometimes taught to owners to use on their own to supplement treatments between sessions.

TO FIND A VETERINARY ACUPUNCTURIST

If you're considering acupuncture for your dog, seek a veterinarian certified in the field from these sources:

* International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, www.ivas.org.

* American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, www.aava.org.

* Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, www.tcvm.com.

"The veterinarian should have received training which usually involves over 150 hours of class work, 30 to 40 hours of internship with a certified veterinary acupuncturist, an in-depth examination and often a written case report of publishable quality, " says Polly Fleckenstein, DVM. "Go to the practice and make sure you feel comfortable there. Ask the clinic how much they use acupuncture--look for one that isn't just dabbling in this field."
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Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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