Q: What is Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM)?
A: TCVM is a medical system of treating pets based on the way people and animals were treated medically in China for over two thousand years. There is an emphasis on restoring and maintaining balance in the body: hot and cold, active and inactive, inside and outside, etc. Once this balance is upset by a poor diet, an injury, or a toxin, health is restored by treating the organ system that is unbalanced via diet, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medication. For more information, please visit the Chi Institute’s informative website:
Q: What is acupuncture?
A: Acupuncture is the use of small, thin needles inserted superficially into the skin to stimulate certain points on the surface of the body. In TCVM, there are channels or meridians that travel from the head to the hind feet and back to the chest, then from the chest to the front feet and back to the head. These meridians carry our qi/chi (pronounced “chee”) which is our life force. Along these meridians, there are certain points that can be stimulated with a needle in order to affect a certain result like releasing a blockage of qi, or increasing energy, etc. In western medicine, it has been found that many of these points correspond to gatherings of nerves or clusters of immune cells.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Q: How do I know that my pet needs acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs?
A: The most common reasons that I see pets for TCVM is for painful conditions like arthritis and back/neck pain, geriatric diseases that cause weakness, and for diseases that don’t respond well to western medication. In reality though, TCVM can be used to treat almost any condition that isn’t an emergency or a surgical problem. It can be helpful for gastrointestinal diseases, autoimmune diseases, heart/lung conditions, skin/ear disease, cancer, behavioral issues…you name it!
Q: Is getting an acupuncture treatment painful or stressful?
A: For most patients, the answer is no. Acupuncture needles are very thin and usually do not cause any pain when placed in the patient. Some cats and dogs that are very hyper, very painful or have very dominant personalities aren’t as accepting of needles as the very laid back patient is, but it’s a very rare case when we can’t get any needles placed. We can use treats to help distract the pet and make it a pleasant experience. Also we need to respect the pet’s boundaries and avoid using points that they object to. Doing the treatment in the pet’s home can be helpful as well because their stress level is so much lower.
Q: What kind of results can I expect from the treatments?
A: It greatly depends on the patient and the disease process. Sometimes there is a significant improvement after only one acupuncture treatment and sometimes it takes 2-3 treatments to see results. Occasionally we can see that they will actually feel a little worse or just very tired for 24 hours after their first treatment. For Chinese herbal therapy, it can sometimes take a couple of weeks to see the full effect of the medication. The general rule is that the longer a symptom has been present, the longer it will take to resolve.
Q: Are there any adverse effects associated with acupuncture and Chinese herbs?
A: There is always the possibility of an adverse effect with any substance we put in the body. That said, Chinese herbs are usually very well tolerated. Typically the only problem we can see is soft stool or diarrhea. We usually start the herb at 1/3 or 1/2 the full dose and gradually work up to the full dose to prevent any problems. There are some stronger herbal formulas which treat very serious conditions that are more likely to cause stomach upset. If there are any adverse effects, we can stop the herbal formula and ramp up to the full dose more slowly or we can pick a different formula that is more mild. For the acupuncture treatments, there are usually no adverse effects to be worried about.
Q: What is electro-acupuncture (EA)?
A: For EA, we place the acupuncture needles as we would normally and then attach small clips with wires to some of the needles. These wires are then attached to a small electrical box which when turned on, causes a mild electrical current to flow through the needles. We use this modality more frequently for painful issues, weakness and paralysis because it intensifies the neurologic effects and releases endorphins. It takes a lot more time to perform so there is a small additional charge. For pets that are very wiggly or sensitive, it can be difficult to perform so it is best used for pets that can sit or lay still for 20-40 minutes at a time.
Q: Can I use western medications along with Chinese herbal therapy?
A: Absolutely! An integrative approach is the best way to go. There is no denying that there has been a lot of advancement in western veterinary medicine in the last 50 years: sterile surgery, life-saving antibiotics, advanced chemotherapy, plus diagnostics such as bloodwork, radiographs, and MRI. The ideal is to use TCVM in addition to western medicine, but sometimes owners decide that they want to use TCVM instead of western medicine, and this is fine also as long as they accept that it may decrease our chances of success.
Q: What can I expect from my first appointment?
A: Before your appointment, I will get in touch with your regular veterinarian to get your pet’s history and then I will talk to you on the phone briefly to discuss your pet’s case and make sure he or she is a good candidate for TCVM. I will travel to your home or other location of your choice, and the first appointment usually lasts 1-2 hours. Taking a history and doing a physical exam can sometimes take a lot longer for Chinese medicine than it does in western medicine. The acupuncture itself can also last anywhere from 15-60 minutes. A recheck appointment with acupuncture usually takes 30-60 minutes.
Q: What can I do to prepare for my appointment?
A: There are a few things you can do to get your pet and house ready to make the appointment go as smoothly as possible. A well-lit fairly open space in a part of the house that your pet is most comfortable is very helpful. For cats and small dogs, it’s best to avoid rooms that have furniture which they can go under. I will need to do a full exam of your pet including feeling their pulses and checking their tongue color. Whatever will keep your pet calm and happy is what we want to do to facilitate this. Also, as much as I would like to meet all your pets and family members, it is usually best to keep other pets confined to a different area of the house and limit the people involved to the 1 or 2 adults who best know the pet’s history and can contribute to a calm environment.
Q: How often does my pet need an acupuncture treatment?
A: It depends on the condition that we are treating and how severe the symptoms are. As a general rule, we treat things more frequently initially (once every 1-3 weeks) and then less frequently as maintenance (once every 1-3 months). Each case is different so we tailor the treatments to the pet’s needs, the owner’s financial situation and everybody’s schedule.