Veterinary Acupuncture Joins Western Medicine

Acupuncture's origins go back some 5,000 years, but its use in Western veterinary medicine is just starting.

| May/June 1989

Dog Receiving Acupuncture

Gretchen, a miniature Dachsund, received acupuncture treatment for pain and paralysis. Now she can walk and is pain-free. 


Paralyzed from the waist down with disk syndrome, Gretchen lay moaning and weak. A veterinarian, having diagnosed the long-haired miniature dachshund's condition, offered her owners a grim choice: He could operate to remove the lower-back calcium deposits—a risky procedure, with no guarantee of success—or euthanize her.

Fortunately for Gretchen, another veterinarian, Dr. Stan Gorlitsky of Cleveland, Ohio, offered a different alternative: veterinary acupuncture. Dr. Gorlitsky deftly inserted two thin needles into carefully selected points just beneath Gretchen's skin and connected the needles to an electrostimulator (a device that generates low-voltage current). Then he switched on the machine. Gretchen felt no pain from the needles and only a slight tingling sensation from the current.

Ten minutes later, the dog's eyes brightened and she slowly stood up on the examining table. A year (and three $25 follow-up treatments) later, Gretchen remains free from pain—and from the painkilling drugs that once kept her in a stupor.

Besides disk syndrome, other disorders veterinary acupuncture can be used to treat include hip dysplasia, arthritis, allergies, lockjaw, colic, asthma, epilepsy, fevers, chronic infections and bone fractures. It's not that acupuncture miraculously heals ailments; rather, the procedure "stimulates certain meridian points in the body, so the body can heal itself," explains Dr. Gorlitsky.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Despite a considerable body of scientific research on the subject, acupuncture's effectiveness remains largely a mystery. Dr. Howard Mitchell, a veterinarian from Bristow, Oklahoma, offers one explanation. Comparing the body's inner workings to a river, he explains, "When there's an ailment in the body, the flow of energy is partially blocked. Like debris blocking a river's flow, metabolic waste and energy back up at a site of injury." So, in damaged or inflamed tissue, the body's normal flow of oxygen, blood and energy is interfered with. Acupuncture corrects the energy imbalance, he says.

The Chinese refer to negative energy as yin and positive energy as yang. Acupuncture supposedly balances these opposite charges, "changing the polarity in tissue to stimulate natural healing processes," according to Dr. H. Grady Young of Atlanta, Georgia, who, in 1943, became the first U.S. vet to integrate animal acupuncture with Western medicine.

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