The Veterinary Corner
Although acupuncture is now widely available and accepted in human medicine, and increasingly so in the veterinary field, it still retains an air of mystery and even quackery to some. Perhaps this is because our scientific understanding of how acupuncture actually achieves its therapeutic effect came about thousands of years after its invention, although modern research now supports the basis for its effectiveness.
“The first question I usually get when discussing acupuncture with pet owners is ‘does it work?’” commented Dr. Erica Morgan, a veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways. The answer is generally a resounding “Yes!” “You have to understand which types of cases are best suited to this type of therapy, but I am consistently amazed and gratified to see how well so many of the patients respond to acupuncture therapy. To see a geriatric, arthritic dog that came to me on medication but barely able to walk now getting around with more comfort and enjoying a better quality of life – it just doesn’t get any better than that!”
Most people are aware that acupuncture involves inserting needles into specific points in the body. These points are located in areas with a high density of free nerve endings, lymphatic vessels, small blood vessels and cells that are active in the immune response. Studies have shown that stimulation of these points causes increased blood flow, decreased muscle spasm, release of neurotransmitters and an increase in the body’s natural painkillers (endorphins). The points can be stimulated with needles alone, or by using electro-stimulation or fluid injected under the skin (known as “aqua-acupuncture”). Traditionally, acupuncture is also believed to help bring the body’s energy (“Qi”) into balance, and to maintain the proper flow of this energy.
Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain conditions such as osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc disease, and can also be beneficial for other ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal disorders, behavior issues, epilepsy and more. Acupuncture can be used as a tool in preventative medicine as well. Although there are no miracles when it comes to disease or aging, it is wonderful to have another tool to reach for when animals are either not responding to more traditional medical therapies or for some reason cannot tolerate them. By combining a holistic evaluation of the patient – personality, lifestyle, diet, etc. - and bringing to bear the best of both western and eastern medicine, better therapeutic results can often be achieved.
“The second question people always ask is – how are you going to get my pet to sit still while you poke a bunch of needles into him?!” Dr. Morgan says. Contrary to what you might think, the pets usually tolerate it quite well. The needles are extremely slender, and most animals accept the treatments readily. Many become so relaxed that they even take a nap once their needles are in place. Although the animals cannot tell us what they are feeling, people often describe that the insertion of the needle is virtually painless.
Some say a mild tingling, numbness, or heaviness around the insertion point of the needle may develop over the course of the treatment.
Dr. Morgan became interested in acupuncture after she herself received acupuncture treatments that helped her when traditional therapies were failing.
Although the special training required to learn veterinary acupuncture necessitated a lot of extra coursework and several trips to a specialized program, Dr. Morgan was determined to attain the skills necessary to bring the benefits of this exciting form of treatment to her patients. As always, the main goal is to improve the quality of life for our animal companions. The results that can be achieved using acupuncture can be quite remarkable.
The doctors at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways are excited to have Dr. Erica Morgan as a member of their staff. Her skills bring to the hospital another effective treatment for our patients. If you have any questions and wish to discuss if this is appropriate for your pet please do not hesitate to call 718-474-0500 or stop by at the Animal Hospital.