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TRADITIONAL CHINESE VETERINARY MEDICINE (TCVM)
Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD
Board Certified Veterinary Dermatologist
Atlanta Veterinary Skin & Allergy Clinic, PC
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is complementary medicine and can work hand in hand with Conventional Western Medicine. TCVM includes acupuncture, herbal supplements, food therapy, and movement/exercise. Acupuncture is a form of complementary medicine which involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. One of the aims of acupuncture is to stimulate specific points on the body in order to improve blood flow and release natural chemicals so the body can heal itself. This technique has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a variety of illnesses in horses, oxen, humans and dogs. It is a key component of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TVCM). TCVM asserts that disease is caused by an imbalance in the body and this imbalance disrupts the natural flow of “energy” or “chi/ qi”. The disruption of qi, if sustained, may then cause a blockage of energy flow in a particular organ or tissue leading to clinical signs or symptoms. The blockage causes the specific disorder or complaint that your pet has. TCVM asserts that placing needles in specific points on the body releases these blocks, regulates the flow of blood and chi/qi energy and re-establishes balance and allows the body to heal. TCVM in general and acupuncture in particular has been used all over the world to treat a variety of conditions on many species of animal for thousands of years but is just beginning to gain interest in the West. In conventional Western medical terms, needling specific points releases chemicals that result in turning on or off certain biochemical and electrical activities that contribute to the clinical signs we associate with disease. For instance, acupuncture can change the perception of pain and lead to the release of endorphins and chemical mediators that influence organ function and stimulate healing. The fascinating thing is the release of these chemicals subsequent to acupuncture and the concurrent effects on the brain have been measured by MRI. For those who need western proof that this eastern form of medicine works, these types of studies are abundant in the literature.
Acupuncture is usually well-tolerated by animals. The needles are very thin, solid, and sterile; insertion is not usually painful, but some points can be more sensitive than others. In fact the degree of sensitivity at a point of treatment often provides support for the abnormality that is being treated. Once the needle is in place, there should be no pain. Oftentimes acupuncture results in a very relaxed state–your dog or cat may even fall asleep! This is sometimes mistaken for a worsening condition, but be assured that it is temporary and actually indicates that your dog or cat’s body is responding to the treatment. The success of the treatment will vary according to the skill of the veterinarian, the acceptance of the patient, the condition being treated, and the length and frequency of acupuncture sessions.
If acupuncture has been recommended for your pet, it is believed that the addition of this treatment to your pets treatment plan will aide and enhance arriving at the desired outcome. As with most modalities used to treat chronic dermatologic conditions, TCVM requires vigilance on the part of the owner and clear communication between the doctor and pet parent regarding response as well as any challenges or concerns. Response to treatment with needles alone typically lasts from 2-7 days. Our recommendation is to have your pet treated at least four times (once every two weeks for four treatments) before concluding that it does not work for your pet. A standard initial course of therapy is 6-8 treatments. If the therapy is successful, we will see either a more rapid or a more complete response to previously prescribed therapy. With chronic disease, maintenance therapy is often needed and hopefully we will be able to wean your pet off of some of the anti-itch and antibiotic therapies that have been required to manage the secondary conditions thus far. The bottom line is, like other forms of therapy, your pet determines whether the chosen therapy is successful by how much improvement is achieved.
Herbal medications may also be recommended and can be used to bring about resolution of some of the more severe and chronic signs more quickly than acupuncture alone. An herbal supplement is chosen with care as some animals will develop diarrhea when it is added too quickly or if too much is given. If an herbal medication has been recommended, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter and call if any adverse side effects (worsening of clinical signs, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) occur. Herbs are MEDICINE, and unlike a vitamine or nutritional supplement, must be given as prescribed. However, under no circumstance should previously prescribed conventional medications be discontinued without your doctor’s specific and directed instructions.
The statement "Food is Medicine" couldn't be more true than with TCVM. Often just adding (or removing) one or two foods to your pet's diet can work wonders and follows a specific and directed formula based on the condition and specific diagnosis made. Of course changes (improvements) observed with TCVM can take time as they are more physiologic than pharmacologic. A good analogy might be the story of the Tortoise and the Hare ... slow and steady often wins the race!
If TCVM is something that interests you as an option for your dog or cat, talk to us about how you might be able to include it in the treatment process. When looking for a veterinary acupuncturist, remember to choose someone who is both a licensed veterinarian and has formal training in the practice of veterinary acupuncture/ TCVM. The more he or she knows about Eastern TCVM and Western Conventional medicine, the more certain you can be that your pet will be treated with a focus on blending the two for the best possible outcome.