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Acupuncture for Cats and Dogs: Holistic Therapies for Companion Animals and Farm Livestock

The most popular holistic therapies chosen by people with chronic health problems are acupuncture, herbal medicines – both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – massage, aromatherapy and energy healing such as reiki.

It’s taken a little longer, but veterinary surgeons in Britain, Australia and the US are starting to embrace these holistic therapies for animals with chronic conditions.

Western Veterinary Medicine Vs Holistic Therapies?

Australian vets interviewed for a forthcoming series on holistic therapies stress it is not a case of either/or.

“It’s more a case of what is the best treatment or combination of treatments for that condition in that animal,” says Dr Bruce Ferguson, President of the American Association of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine.

Dr Ferguson divides his time between The Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine, Reddick, Florida, his holistic veterinary practice in Perth, Western Australia, and lecturing in TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) to final year veterinary students at Murdoch University, in WA.

“A vet must always act in the best interests of the patient,” he says.

“So, it’s important not to be exclusively for one therapy or another. The practice must be integrated to help the animal.

“Vets need to think outside of the box of their training. They should know that acupuncture, food therapy, herbs, can help, especially for chronic conditions that western veterinary medicine can’t fix.

Holistic Therapies for Chronic Conditions

Dr Ferguson is one of the growing numbers of vets worldwide practising holistic therapies to meet the needs of pet owners and breeders who want treatment for their animals when their western trained vet says “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do.”

The animals are generally suffering from chronic or degenerative conditions affecting their digestive systems, joints and skin. These are conditions that surgery can’t fix, or pharmaceuticals merely maintain or even make the condition worse.

“The demand is coming from our clients”, say many of the vets interviewed. “They know holistic therapies work for humans and they want the same benefits for the animals they love.”

Some holistic vets also work with wildlife rescue organizations, mainly applying acupuncture to relieve pain and distress.

Acupuncture the First Step

As with human medicine, acupuncture is often the first step for vets considering holistic therapies. Acupuncture is widely recognized for musculo-skeletal pain relief and neurological problems, and, combined with herbs, for treating chronic skin and digestive conditions such as eczema and irritable bowel.

Veterinary acupuncture has been practised in the US for well over a decade.

“Acupuncture has proven to be a safe and relatively painless treatment for a variety of illnesses in animals,” says Dr. Mark Crisman, professor of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

He recently used acupuncture to cure a horse of painful lameness resulting from a leg infection.

Animals Find Acupuncture Soothing

President of the Australian Veterinary Acupuncture Group (AVAG), Dr Esther Horton says acupuncture is suitable for a wide range of animals. She mainly works with dogs and cats, but has also treated koalas for a wildlife organization.

Most animals find acupuncture quite soothing and relaxing, she says, and are usually docile, especially if they have had the treatment before. Cats, in particular, tend to fall asleep.

“The koalas were better behaved than some cats and dogs that I see, so it really depends on the individual animals, as to how well they take the treatment.

“In general though, most animals find acupuncture quite relaxing, as people do, so they usually do not need restraint and only rarely need sedation.”