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Introduction to Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine

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Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), although relatively new to the Western world, is a medical system that has been used in China to treat animals for thousands of years. It is an adaptation and extension of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used to treat humans. Speaking broadly, Chinese Medicine is a complete body of thought and practice grounded in Chinese Daoist philosophy. Though it can be traced back over two millennia in recorded history, like any medical system it continues to evolve today, and current research on acupuncture and herbal medicine is beginning to shed light on its mechanism of action.

Chinese Medicine Theory on disharmony and disease

In Chinese Medicine theory, disease is understood as an imbalance in the body, and diagnosis proceeds through identifying the underlying “pattern” of disharmony. Pattern diagnosis differs from conventional Western medical diagnosis in that it takes into account not only disease signs but how these signs relate to the individual patient. Thus, TCVM practitioners will consider the temperament, sex, age, activity, and environment of an animal along with the animal’s particular disease signs. This approach stems from the belief that the body is as an interconnected system of forces and functions so that disease and disharmony must be examined with respect to the whole patient. For this reason, Chinese Medicine is often regarded as more holistic than conventional Western Medicine.


The Four Branches of TCVM

Once a particular type of disharmony or disease pattern is identified, treatment often proceeds through a combination of treatment modalities. Though the terms Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are often used interchangeably in the West, acupuncture is actually only one modality or “branch” of TCM and TCVM. There are  four branches of TCVM – Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy and Tui-na - wide range of therapeutic massage and body work. Qi-gong, a form of Chinese meditative exercise, is a fifth branch of TCM that is excluded from TCVM because it cannot be performed by animals.

1. Acupuncture is a treatment that involves the stimulation of points, typically achieved through the insertion of specialized needles into the body. This stimulation is achieved either by:

  • - inserting needles alone - Dry Needle Technique
  • - injecting liquids like Vitamin B12 or physiological solution - Aqua Acupuncture
  • - Connecting mild electrical currents to inserted needles – Electroacupucture
  • - Encouraging a small amount of bleeding from specific acupuncture points - Hemoacupuncture
  • - Heating selected points with burning rolls of dried mugwort ( Artemisia vulgaris) also known as moxa sticks - Moxibustion

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Acupuncture points typically lie along the body’s Meridian Channels along which Qi flows. Most veterinary acupuncture points and Meridian lines are transposed to animals from humans, though knowledge of some “classical points” defined on particular species have been retained and are used to this day.

2. Herbal Medicine utilizes herbal ingredients listed within the Chinese Herbal Materia Medica in particular combinations or formulas to treat particular disease patterns. Herbal formulas are administered orally and are typically given in powder form to horses and other large animals and in tea pill or capsule form to cats and dogs. Chinese herbal formulas are used in conjunction with acupuncture in order to prolong its effects and manage chronic conditions over long term.

3. Food Therapy is the use of diet to treat and prevent imbalance within the body. It utilizes knowledge of the energetics of food ingredients to tailor diets for individual animals.

4. Tui-na is a form of Chinese medical massage in which different manipulations are applied to acupoints and Meridians to promote the circulation of Qi and correct imbalances within the organ systems.

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“INTEGRATIVE” MEDICINE: TCVM AND WESTERN VETERINARY PRACTICE

TCVM is often viewed as a form of complementary therapy, and is best when used in conjunction with Western Veterinary Medicine (WVM). Both TCVM and WVM have their own strengths and weaknesses. TCVM is a holistic approach that is suited to assessing the well-being of the whole patient, and treatments are generally non-invasive with few side effects. However, TCVM lacks the tools necessary to pinpoint illness to specific disease-causing agents like pathogenic bacteria or viruses, and treatments are better suited for chronic conditions than acute ones. On the other hand, WVM utilizes the tools of modern science to diagnose disease with great precision, and Western drugs and procedures are powerful and fast acting. However, its insistence on detailed diagnosis may come at the expense of getting the larger picture. Furthermore, while modern medicine can perform miracles for trauma and acute injuries, it has little to offer chronic conditions like liver failure and atopy which can be treated effectively with acupuncture and herbal medicine. In many ways, TCVM and WVM each has what the other lacks. Thus, the best medical system involves the integration of the two systems, so that the strengths of one can compensate for the weaknesses of the other.


INDICATIONS FOR ACUPUNCTURE AND TCVM

Acupuncture is generally thought of as having a place in the management of acute or chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis muscle atrophy or degeneration. However, various indications for acupuncture exist in the treatment of many other medical conditions:

  • Chronic diseases, such as kidney, liver or heart failure
  • Obesity management
  • Skin allergies
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Endocrine diseases such as Diabetes, Cushing’s or Addison’s disease
  • Chronic eye problems
  • Treatment of various cancer and chemotherapy side effects
  • Neurologic conditions causing paralysis or difficulty walking, as well as seizures or changes in mentation
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as IBD, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Maintenance of health and decreasing the use of traditional medications for chronic disease
  • Improving the wellbeing and quality of life for geriatric patients.


IS IT SAFE AND DOES IT HURT? 

Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment when administered by an appropriately trained veterinarian. Very few side effects exist with acupuncture. Occasionally, your pet may seem worse for up to 48 hours following a treatment session. Other animals may become sleepy or lethargic for about 24 hours following therapy. These effects are rare, but when they occur, they indicate that physiological changes are occurring and are most often followed by an improvement in the patient’s condition and energy level.

For most patients, the insertion of the acupuncture needles is virtually painless. For some animals, very mild pain is associated with passing the needle through the skin. In all animals, including humans, once the needles are placed, there should be no pain.


Most animals become very relaxed, many even fall asleep. Some sensations can occur, such as tingling, numbness or local contraction of muscles around the needles, but most human patients report a feeling of heaviness and sedation which frequently causes relaxation and comfort for our patients throughout treatment.

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