Acupuncture and its use in veterinary practice

Kate Rew BVSc(Hons)MRCVS CertVetAc(IVAS) CRP is a vet who has practised acupuncture since 1997, and also has run her own specialist referral Veterinary Rehabilitation Centre in South Devon, working alongside an orthopaedic surgeon and ACPAT(A) veterinary physiotherapists. Kate has a keen interest in poultry medicine and is an associate vet with The Chicken Vet. She now works part time in small animal practice in South Devon and runs a veterinary consultancy practice “Integrated Veterinary Services Ltd” where she offers acupuncture referral work and poultry consultancy advice.

Contact details: vetskate@gmail.com and www.silvertonvets.co.uk.


Hens with acupuncture needles in her back

Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of Chinese medicine, and has been used for over 4000 years. I have been using acupuncture to treat animals and birds for over 15 years, and it is a very useful treatment tool to have in my veterinary medicine box. Despite initial reservations and scepticism, the use of acupuncture has grown in popularity within both the medical and veterinary professions, and use and is now widely accepted as commonplace. This is because it is very effective in treating chronic pain and chronic diseases conditions, either where conventional medicine has failed, or as an adjunct to other treatments. It is very useful used alongside physiotherapy for example, in the treatment of musculoskeletal disease or where medical drugs may not be tolerated by the patient for example, to treat the chronic pain associated with arthritis, where anti-inflammatories cause digestive upsets.

Well I must admit I was a bit of a cynic about acupuncture until I saw it work in my own horse. I had a lovely young Thoroughbred, who unfortunately had managed to badly cast himself in his stable, and injured his back. It was heartbreaking to see him in so much pain and I could not even put a saddle on his back, let alone ride him. After a lot of diagnostic work, we discovered he had slipped 2 discs in his lower back. Conventional pain relief did not help, and I was not keen on surgery, as in a horse this was very risky, with no guarantee of success. So when my vet friend suggested we try acupuncture to help, I thought we had nothing to lose. Remus had two treatments a week apart, and the effect was amazing. He was in considerably less pain right after the first needling session and after some physiotherapy and approximately 6 acupuncture sessions, I was able to ride him again. With regular maintenance sessions, he remained pain free, happy and ride able until he died at 19 years old.

I was so inspired by the results of Remus’s acupuncture treatment that I decided I had to learn to do it! At that stage, there was no veterinary acupuncture course run in the UK, but there was a weekend course run by a doctor so I booked myself on it and learnt about very basic Western “cookbook acupuncture” in 1997. I was then able to try it out in my practice to treat common problems, like back and hip pain in dogs and cats. The results, even in my inexperienced hands, were great, and I wanted to learn more about the Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) approach to veterinary acupuncture.

In 1999 I started a 2 year modular post graduate training course held at the University of Bristol’s Langford Veterinary School, and I qualified with an IVAS (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society) certificate in 2001. The training in both Western and TCM veterinary acupuncture gave me the scope to treat a wider range of “organic” diseases, as well as chronic pain conditions.

The Western scientific approach is used predominantly to treat chronic musculoskeletal pain. There are local, segmental and extra-segmental effects when an acupuncture point is needled. These effects can be explained by neuro-physiological and hormonal means.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views disease as an imbalance within the animal, and its internal and external environment are all factors in disease patterns. This is a more holistic approach, and considers that health is restored by correcting any imbalances and restoring the body to equilibrium. Physical, emotional, spiritual and environmental factors are considered, and the practitioner works with the body’s homeostatic mechanisms to restore balance and health.

Conditions that respond to acupuncture include arthritis, back pain, muscle injuries, nerve damage, chronic bowel and respiratory disease and incontinence. Certain species, particularly birds, are very responsive to acupuncture, and generally only need 1-2 treatments to respond.

Acupuncture needles are very fine pre sterilized solid needles which are relatively painless to insert, and most animals relax or even fall asleep during treatment. Needles will remain in place for 5-20 minutes, depending on the condition being treated, and treatments will be weekly initially, then often monthly for maintenance.

There are now various courses run by the ABVA (Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists), and I have taught on these. The ABVA website www.abva.co.uk will help you to find a suitably qualified veterinary practitioner in your area, and the IVAS website www.ivas.org and the BAVRP (British Association of Veterinary Rehabilitative Practitioners) www.bavrp.co.uk also have some very useful information. These special interest groups help to promote the safe use of acupuncture within the veterinary profession.


For more information call the BHWT Advice Line on 01884 860084.

Whilst this information is based on our experience and research, we cannot accept any responsibility for the advice given. If you are in any doubt about the health of your hen(s) you should always seek veterinary advice and you can find a Hen Friendly Vet here.

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