Acupuncture itself has been traced to the Neolithic period in China, and bone needles have been unearthed in inner Mongolia. It has an 8000 year history and has evolved over the last 3000 years.
TCVM, or Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, has been practiced for 3000 years in China. Veterinary acupuncture began with a group of practitioners who include Zhao Fu and Bo Le. Zhao Fu used hemoacupuncture to treat diseases in horses during a period of China called the Zhou-mu-gong period (947-928 BC).
Bo Le wrote texts dating from about 300 BC which described methods in traditional equine medicine including acupuncture and moxibustion and it was included in a chapter called “Ma Ti Lun”(Dissertation of Equine Hooves).
The first veterinary acupuncture text written during the Tang Dynasty had a diagram of a horse describing 77 equine acupuncture points. In 1608 AD, there was a TCVM book written, and they described detailed TCVM principals, herbal therapy, acupuncture points and stimulation techniques. In this text, there were159 described points in the horse and 33 in bovine species. There were a few other texts that were written around this ancient period, and they focused on the horse. It was originally developed for therapeutic use on agricultural animals such as horses, cattle, and pigs.
Horses were the first non human species to be treated, and many acupoints are specific and classical for the equines. Many companion animals that are practiced on today have acupuncture points that are extrapolated from human points. However, the therapies are very effective. So, though this therapeutic technique may be relatively new to the west, and new from an integrated veterinary medicine perspective, it has a long history of effectiveness and use.
Acupuncture was introduced into France in 1582-1600AD, into Britain in 1676 and into North America in 1800. Veterinary Acupuncture was introduced into the West the IVAS (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society) in 1974, Colorado State University (USA) began a course in 1998, and Dr. Huisheng Xie began the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in Reddick, FL USA in 1998.
TCVM is not just acupuncture. It is an entire system designed to balance the energetics of the physical system, that in effect cure and prevent imbalances which result in disease. Branches of TCVM are acupuncture, herbal therapy, Tui-na, and food therapy. These can all be used in conjunction and also integrated into western veterinary therapy.
TCVM is very effective for chronic and progressive conditions, that respond either poorly to Western veterinary medicine, the western therapeutics cause unwanted side effects, or for further support for chronic western therapy. In acute, or emergency situations, such as infectious disease or broken bones to name a couple of examples, Western therapy is the ideal system for stabilization, but the animal can be further supported by TCVM by treating any imbalances that may have predisposed the body to the acute condition.
TCVM diagnosis differs from a Western perspective diagnosis. A TCVM exam includes feeling the pulses to feel imbalances within the pulses, looking at the tongue color, coating and characteristics, looking at different eye characteristics, feeling body temperature, going over meridians and diagnostic acupoints for sensitivities, and getting a thorough history related to the animal’s preferences (a very long list some of which include the animal’s appetite, whether they seek hot or cold, like hard or soft surfaces). All this information is taken into account along with the animal’s constitution.
The constitution has specific components based on the elements of the world. The five elements are Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Metal. All these elements make up a body system, though one or two usually predominate, and the balance of the elements is key to health. After all this information is ascertained through a thorough examination and history with the owner/trainer, then a pattern diagnosis is made.
The different systems in the body control different aspects of function. They are extensive and beyond the scope of this article, but to give a brief example of conditions commonly affected in the equine athlete, I will go over a pattern differentiation of one system.
Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a common affliction in equine athletes. In Western veterinary medicine, a gait analysis is done, nerve and /or joint blocks may be performed, and based on those assessments, further diagnostics such as radiographs, ultrasounds, or bone scans may be done to figure out what exactly is going on. Then therapies are aimed at treating the symptoms-joint pain in the case.
Therapy may include systemic administration of glucosamines, intraarticular injections of hyaluronic acid and corticosteroid anti-inflammatories, and/or systemic administration of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. There are many other therapies to address the symptoms, which I won’t go into any further.
From a TCVM standpoint, a gait analysis may also be done, but the diagnostic acupoint sensitivities would also give information about what areas and joints may be affected. Many times with a TCVM examination, many compensatory issues high up in the upper hindlimb and back will also be picked up on examination. These can also be effectively addressed with a TCVM therapy.
So once the TCVM exam is complete, it may be determined for example that the horse has hock pain with back pain. This would be a problem with the kidney system. The Kidney system controls the bones, joints, back and hindlimbs. But, the diagnosis is further broken down into a pattern. Some horses may be worse in the cold and damp. Some may be worse in the heat. Some may have no changes on radiographs, meaning it is an early problem. Some may be very chronic and have extensive damage seen on radiographs.
Based on the pulses and thorough history, a pattern and TCVM diagnosis is determined. DJD can have several different patterns: They are under a condition called Bi Syndrome in TCVM and patterns include Kidney Qi/Yang Deficiency Bi Syndrome, Kidney Yin and Qi/Yang Deficiency Bi Syndrome, Fixed (Damp) Bi, and Painful (Cold) Bi Syndrome. Each pattern is treated in a different way from an acupuncture and herbal standpoint.
Food therapy is also useful as many times animals are fed energetically inappropriate foods that actually contribute further to the imbalance.
The TCVM exam and pattern diagnosis can further be supported by information which can be gathered with Western diagnostic techniques. For the above example of arthritis, nerve/joint blocks can also demonstrate and further confirm the TCVM diagnosis. Also further diagnostics such as radiographs, ultrasounds, or bone scans can also provide useful information. This would be an example of integrating the two systems for a more thorough understanding of the disease and therapeutic process.
All disease conditions can be broken down into patterns. Many times a western veterinary disease has several different patterns from a TCVM perspective that actually need to be approached differently. This can be very useful when integrating both therapies. So,just as diagnostic methods can be integrated, therapy can also be integrated.
The beauty of integral therapy is each approach, Western and TCVM, can be used to compensate for the weaknesses of the other system. For example, Western therapy is very aggressive symptomatic therapy. It is useful to get the symptoms under control, but is not always the most supportive as there is usually a cost for the therapy in that many medicines have side effects, and the root cause of the problem is not addressed, only the manifestation or symptom is addressed. TCVM can be used in conjunction for support in these cases, by addressing the root imbalance and to prevent other systems from being affected detrimentally by the Western therapy.
In acute, emergency situations, TCVM often times does not provide adequate symptomatic and stabilization therapy. For example, if I were in a car accident, I would want to be stabilized and initially treated by a team of Western doctors, not acupunturists. But I would want to be followed up by complementary therapy. It’s the same in veterinary medicine.
However, there are many chronic internal medicine conditions that are hard to manage with Western veterinary medicine. Some examples include Cushings disease, chronic weight loss, chronic diarrhea, infertility, arthritis. These can all be effectively treated with TCVM, which seems to be more effective than Western veterinary medicine in that respect. So, effectively, integration of both aspects is more ideal than one or the other exclusively. It just has be done in a mindful manner.
Equine veterinary medicine can benefit greatly from this modality being added to the western approach. Many conditions respond nicely and may be more affordable than the Western alternative. For example, respiratory problems respond well. For example upper airway issues such as laryngeal hemiplegia respond nicely to acupuncture. It results from a general Qi deficiency, and if the horse is young enough (ideally prior to 2 years of age), three-six treatments may totally clear the problem. If the horse is over 3 years of age, the problem can be cleared with therapy, but it will most likely return, meaning more treatments are needed to continue to manage it. But I mention it as I have treated horses that owners/trainers did not want to pursue surgery with and the therapy has been successful.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is commonly treated with inhalers, responds well to herbal therapy, and is often tied into the constitution of the horse. Other examples, are infertility in mares and stallions. The patterns that come up with infertility are beyond the scope of this article, but again respond well to therapy. Early embryonic death can also be prevented, as well as abortions in mares from TCVM support.
Musculoskeletal issues such as arthritis, back pain, upper hindlimb pain, can respond well and were discussed in the article as Bi Syndromes. Stomach ulcers can be prevented in equine athletes with TCVM management, as this problem is usually from the Liver over taking the Splenic system creating heat. If stomach ulcers are already present, it is best to initially treat with Western veterinary medicines (such as omeprazole) to heal those ulcers (it is a faster therapy than the herbal therapy available), then back it up with prevention through herbs and food therapy.
Retained testicles can also be descended with acupuncture in young colts. It is ideal to treat before they are 18 months old, but if they are retained in the inguinal canal, they will descend once the deficiency is addressed.
Skin problems, which often respond poorly to western therapy, can be managed successfully with TCVM. These are but a few of the conditions that can be addressed with TCVM. It is important to have a thorough western veterinary care as well, but this is a wonderful and very effective addition to the art of veterinary medicine.
About Lillian Bonner DVM CVA RMT
Lillian studied veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia in the USA and graduated in 2004. She then completed a Large Animal Veterinary Internship including surgery and medicine at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital from 2004-2005.
Lillian then moved to Christchurch and practiced at Murfitt and Associates until 2009, where she developed an interest in equine sports medicine. During that time, she began to look for holistic therapies to incorporate into her practice, and learned and practiced Reiki and homeopathy.
After a bit of a break from practice to start her young family and work as an export certification veterinarian looking at horses and other large animals for export and health certificate issue at the SOE Asurequality, she realized she missed practice and wanted to further specialize in integrated veterinary medicine. She went to the Chi Institute of Veterinary Acupuncture in Reddick, FL USA in 2011 and studied acupuncture and became introduced to herbal and food therapy at that time.
She now has her own practice of integrated veterinary medicine (Balanced Beings Integrated Veterinary Medicine) and practices TCVM on horses and companion animals in Christchurch, New Zealand.