Surge in interest from vets in acupuncture in UK

Veterinarians in the UK are warming to the use of acupuncture as a mainstream treatment. The education director of the Association of British Veterinary Accupuncturists estimates that 1000 UK vets are using it. Membership of the association has increased from 40 in the 1990s to 360 today.

Cat acupuncture. Photo in the public domain.

Cat acupuncture. Photo in the public domain.

“It’s definitely becoming more accepted….Academics, teaching hospitals and veterinary colleges are all interested. Things are on then up.”

Almost any animal can be treated with acupuncture. Vets now see it as a viable option.

“The perception has changed as its scientific basis has changed.” Shelley Doxey of Holistic Veterinary Care.

In China, the place of origin of this form of alternative medicine, vets strap down dogs to special machines. UK vets don’t do this. Acupuncture for pets is used to relieve pain caused by conditions such as arthritis, spinal injuries, paralysis and muscular strains. The needles are super-fine and don’t irritate or hurt cats or dogs. They appear to accept it.

Critics call it a pseudoscience. The debate amongst some critics is whether it simply has a placebo effect. The placebo effect is actually very effective. This has been proved in trials. Although placebos can only apply to humans as it requires a psychological involvement. The difficulty with pets is assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture. If the objective is to ease pain how do you tell if the patient (a cat) feels less pain? You know what cats are like for hiding pain. I suppose if the cat is suffering from arthritis she’ll become more mobile if the pain eases.

There are some interesting comments on a science blog (scienceblogs.com) from cat owners who have put their cat through acupuncture.

One cat owner, Robert, told the story of his cat who had acute heart disease. A couple of vets gave a very poor prognosis and one vet suggested immediate euthanasia. A third vet combined conventional treatments with acupuncture. After the acupuncture….

“Clearly, it caused him no discomfort whatsoever to have the 3 or 4 tiny needles inserted next to his spine for a few minutes. But the effects seemed to be profound: immediately after each treatment, he had much more energy, playfulness and appetite for the next 5-10 days, which would gradually taper-off. After the next treatment, they would return in just the same way. I think we can safely rule out the placebo effect.

In the end, he still had to be euthanized for the heart disease, but that was ten months later; nine more than the two other vets told us he could live. During that time, he did not suffer and his quality of life was excellent…”

But MJD says:

“Since cat’s can’t speak to the efficacy of acupuncture and animal medical-science (i.e., veterinary medicine) has not proven it’s validity, cat-upuncture is just a mickey-mouse procedure.”

If UK vets are using it more often there’s a trend towards accepting it as a useful treatment. Or perhaps vets are just looking for another form of treatment, effective or not, to offer clients as clients control the market through their desires and wishes. Cat and dog owners may believe in acupuncture more than vets and vets have noticed this and offer the treatment where conventional treatments have failed in chronic illnesses.

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