|A veterinarian performs acupuncture and moxibustion on a dog.|
The 10-year-old Pekingese named Nezha lies in a treatment hammock, its legs dangling through the holes of the net, waiting for the veterinarian to place needles all over its body.
Nezha whimpered, but calmed down as its owner Zhang Dachun, 70, comforted it. As the needles were inserted at various acupoints, the dog stayed quiet, its pains eased by the treatment.
Nezha, unlike the mighty Chinese deity it was named after, is physically weak and timid by nature. One day, during a walk, the dog was startled by an tumultuous thunderclap. That night, it suffered a high fever and convulsions. After days of IV drips and oral medicine, Nezha was healing but still not able to walk straight; it had lost balance in its rear legs. Shang Taicheng, a veterinarian at Beijing Sicheng Animal Hospital, suggested acupuncture.
After a few treatment, the dog was recovering well and able to walk again. Meanwhile, Zhang learned basic moxibustion skills to treat Nezha at home.
Shang, a vet of 40 years experience, told Metropolitan that animal acupuncture is especially effective for treating muscular dystrophy, arthritis, fever, convulsions, coma, paralysis and digestive diseases.
Cheng Zhi, a veterinarian at Beijing's Chongfuxin Animal Hospital, agrees. "Take paralysis, for example. Western medicine alone is not very effective or won't take rapid effect, but acupuncture can help paralyzed dogs within a short period," he said.
Cheng mainly uses acupuncture to treat older pets who have developed degenerative joint diseases and spine conditions. "Recently, we have also been trying to treat skin conditions and help pets losing weight by acupuncture," he added. "The results have turned out to be quite satisfying."
According to Shang, animal acupuncturists have access to the full range of tools and techniques (fire needle, plum-blossom needle, acupoint bloodletting, acupoint electrotherapy), but must learn a different set of acupoints. "The Baihui acupoint is located on top of a man's head, and stimulating it heals headaches, while a dog's Baihui is on its rear end and stimulating it helps to cure paralysis," said Shang.
Another difference is that animal patients are not very cooperative. "Sometimes the needles fall off as they struggle," Shang said. Some pets need to be restrained to the table by belts or wear a protective collar.
Even zoo animals are benefitting from the alternative therapy. A tiger in Israel received acupuncture to treat its infected ears, according to a China Central Television (CCTV) news report in June. The Associated Press reported in May that two endangered sea turtles got acupuncture to treat inflammation on their flippers and to regain their appetite.
"But in general, acupuncture is still an auxiliary treatment [to surgeries and medication]," Shang notes. Massage and oral medicine are often used to enhance the treatment, Cheng said.
For Cheng, the greatest challenge is persuading pet owners that he can achieve good results, despite the fact that animal acupuncture has a long history in China. "Medical services for pets only have a history of about ten years in Beijing. Before that, veterinarians usually treated horses, cattle and other livestock."
TCM theories are trans-species, said Cheng. The acupoints may be different but the underlying theory is the same. "You have to have a comprehensive overview of deficiency and excess, chills and fevers, exterior and interior, and yin and yang," Shang said.
"Acupoint maps are handed down from generation to generation to show the positions and functions of each acupoint," he notes.