Animal Acupuncture: A Veterinarian’s Perspective

By Karin Krisher

Among those involved with Western veterinary medicine, acupuncture is a controversial topic. But Vetri-Science is interested in all methods of healing and health, and for many practicing vets, canine and equine acupuncture hold special meaning and produce special results.

I spoke with one vet who has a special interest in acupuncture, Dr. Bob Emery of Beadle Lake Large Animal Clinic. Dr. Emery takes a similar stance on the journey to health: it is not a cut and dry procedure, but instead a holistic experience that can include many different methods. Treating mostly equine (and about 20 dogs per month), Dr. Emery has seen remarkable results with acupuncture, and remains interested in moving forward in the profession with an open mind.

“Veterinary medicine is like karate, where you’re moving through the belts,” says Emery, who has made a gradual transition into treating animals holistically. While he mostly treats athletic animals, Dr. Emery moved through dentistry, chiropractic, lameness and sports medicine care; he still focuses on all of these aspects of animal medicine.

But acupuncture is especially interesting because of its relationship to energy. Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese treatment, focuses on redirecting or reawakening energy through several meridians in the body, usually through the use of very thin needles that are meant to manipulate that energy. Horses, Emery notes, are a special case for this reason.

“People can tell you what they want. People and dogs have a lower general energy, but horses have so much energy, it’s amazing.”

Aside from that energy, there’s another difference between treating dogs and humans and treating horses: “You can get yourself killed,” says Emery. “People might just say, ‘that hurts.’ A horse will tell you in a different way.”

To calm the horses he treats, Emery feels out their most sensitive energies. “I do my little thing of calming. I let them know I’m there to help.” Emery then focuses on feeling out the “hot points” along the 12 meridians, the biggest being the bladder, kidney and liver.

He notes the importance of acupuncture as a diagnostic tool, “if it leads that way.” It’s not absolute, says Emery, but if, in focusing on five trigger points, one of those trigger points is “lit up,” he might use it to indicate if there is an appropriate form of Western medicine to try.

Some experiences have really hit the needle on the head, so to speak. Emery notes a case where a little pony had a “chest and abdomen issue” that lead his legs to “look like tree trunks.” The pony was on its last leg and wasn’t eating. Emery had focused on strengthening the pony’s immune system and other treatments, but the only thing he hadn’t tried was “some crazy concoction using ancient Chinese medicine.” So he tried acupuncture. Then the owner called. “His legs were getting smaller,” says Emery. “He made a full recovery.”

Acupuncture isn’t for every horse. It’s not for every human, either. But sometimes, it can be just the thing. Dr. Emery notes that it is a form of integrative medicine, and that it offers vets a whole other perspective on animal health.

Many vets still aren’t open-minded enough to make the move into referring animals to an acupuncturist, so business generally relies on word of mouth. That said, that business is good business, because so many animals (and humans!) that experience acupuncture become fast believers.

You might not see results immediately in equine, especially in comparison to dogs (because dogs are so present in the home and we keep close watch on their behaviors). But that doesn’t mean acupuncture isn’t a viable option in veterinary medicine. Any treatment designed to heal and promote a better quality of life is just fine by Vetri-Science!

Have you ever tried acupuncture with your animals? Have you ever performed it at your clinic? Share your story on our Facebook page!