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K-State veterinarian uses acupuncture to treat array of animal ills

By Tina Deines


Acupuncture has been used by the Chinese for centuries to cure ailments. While the practice started out on human patients, acupuncture is now a treatment option for animals as well.

Dr. Tammi Epp, veterinarian and research assistant in anatomy and physiology at Kansas State University, said just about any animal can be treated with acupuncture, a practice that positions and inserts fine needles strategically throughout the body.

Photo of OnyxThe placing of needles in the body causes a release of chemicals that can reduce pain and inflammation as well as increase blood flow to the target area, resulting in muscle relaxation. Epp said the most common ailment treated by acupuncture is arthritis, but it can also treat a host of other medical problems in animals including heart, respiratory, gastrointestinal, reproductive and dermatological problems. Acupuncture can even fight side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea.

Some of the most common animals treated are cats, dogs, horses and cattle. Epp said horses are often treated for lameness and back soreness while dogs are most commonly treated for arthritis and vertebral disc disease.

Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with traditional Western medicine, as an alternative in cases where traditional therapies have not been successful or when the client simply prefers alternative medicine, Epp said.

"I guess you could look at it like another tool on your shelf," she said. "It's just another treatment when other things won't work."

The treatment costs $75-$120 per visit. The number and frequency of treatments depend on the individual animal and their response to the treatment.

"Some animals need treatments once a week, some need it once a month and some need it every six months," Epp said.

The frequency that animals need treatment can be easily determined by the owner, who can observe a return of clinical signs such as limping or an expression of pain on the animal.

"The owners can definitely tell that acupuncture is making a difference, " Epp said.

While acupuncture may not completely cure an animal's illness, Epp said, it can alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Epp said acupuncture is a safe treatment option for animals.

"There are very few side-effects," she said. "If you choose the wrong points, most of the time the worst you would do is not help."

Several different types of acupuncture are available to animals. The most common type is dry-needle acupuncture. This involves the insertion of needles into specific locations of the pet's body. Other types of acupuncture include electro-acupuncture (applying micro current to the needles) and aqua-puncture (injecting a liquid such as vitamin B12 into the points, which increase and prolong the effects of the treatment). Laser acupuncture can be used for parts of the body that are difficult to access or for more tender areas such as feet.

Most of the needle points for animal acupuncture are trans-positional, meaning they have been taken from the traditional human locations and applied to corresponding positions on animals. However, traditional acupuncture points exist for the horse that were used by the ancient Chinese.

Spring 2003