Today, veterinary acupuncturists of all types are literally every where. As human acupuncture practice has become more popular in the last 20 years, the consumer seems to have increasingly sought similar treatment for their pets. It is now common place to observe some type of alternative medicine, of which acupuncture seems quite common, being offered even in non-alternative oriented practices.
There is also seemingly no end to the maladies and conditions in animals that acupuncture can treat or support. These claims embark many different animal species and include such diverse disease as equine colic (abdominal pain) and canine arthritis, to reproduction and metabolic disorders.
One problem however, is the huge vacuum of any substantiated evidence (damned pesky word again) that might back these claims in animals (humans too).There are recent acupuncture studies that claim positive results regarding, for example points associated with metabolic mechanisms. However, care should be taken in interpreting these results until quality evaluations on them can be done. Interestingly, there appears to be country based bias problems to overcome in addition to quality assessment when evaluating many of these studies. Overall, there is precious little in the way of well constructed studies in veterinary medicine or even in human medicine that take a good look at acupuncture effects, or for that matter, veterinary acupuncture technique. There are systematic reviews that conclude many studies that do exist involving domestic animals are of low quality and have equivocal results. It seems higher quality studies tend to have more negative results with regard to the efficacy of acupuncture.
The point is….where?
One of the more salient details in animal acupuncture though is the problem of acupuncture meridians and points. How were animal meridian charts developed? Veterinary acupuncture seems to be a much more recent phenomenon than assumed by many of its practitioners.This opens up a hopeless quagmire of contradictions between present day acupuncture and historical acupuncture record. Chinese historians of human acupunture describe ancient acupuncture as manipulating qi (vapors) running through mai (conduits) by puncturing the skin with needles. The first theories regarding what developed into human acupuncture are described in the Huang Di nejing (Inner Classic of Huang Di) between the 5th and 8th centuries.This work introduced the idea that the human body contains "depots" connected by a series of conduits that allowed for qi to flow. There is no mention of similar theories concerning animals.
The oldest veterinary therapeutic description of anything close to needling can be found in Song times during or well after 1000 AD. Sources such as the Famma zuan yanfang (Compendium of Efficacious Recipes from the Nomadic Tradition) described needling in regards to cauterization and blood letting similar to what was practiced in Western historical medicine. Later in the 17th century the Yuan Heng Liaoma ji (Collection for Treating the Horse; circa 1608), an important veterinary text, described needle points in relation to bleeding, cautery, surgery, or divination and not acupuncture. Additionally, it indicates, whatever the type of needling used, that human and animal treatment points were not the same. In any case, these ancient texts bear little resemblance to the type of veterinary acupuncture practiced today. “Modern” veterinary acupuncture history utilizing meridian and point concepts can actually be traced, in large part, to 19th century Europe.
The association of the historical vital vapor qi as being a form of energy was not made until 1939 which was when the term meridian was created (in human acupuncture as well). Interestingly, animal acupuncture meridians dates only to the 1970’s and were invented for Western practitioners. At this point, it was Western authors, for the most part, that formulated the various meridian charts for a variety of domestic animals by transposing human meridian charts to each animal species.
That the whole idea of acupuncture and "vitalism" oriented meridians can be transposed from humans to any species is one of many modern “intuition” oriented discoveries that gave form to today’s veterinary acupuncture. The actual historical record contradicts the common "appeals to ancient knowledge" often associated with acupuncture. It seems that modern veterinary acupuncture utilizes recently formulated meridian charts that were basically made up. In essence there is no real point… to put the point.
Historical reference: Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Considered, Ramey D, Rollin.B