MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Acupuncture for animals has a long history in China. In the West, it was introduced in the 1970s when acupuncture became popular for humans. A recent article sums up our current knowledge on the subject. Here is an excerpt:

Acupuncture is used mainly for functional problems such as those involving noninfectious inflammation, paralysis, or pain. For small animals, acupuncture has been used for treating arthritis, hip dysplasia, lick granuloma, feline asthma, diarrhea, and certain reproductive problems. For larger animals, acupuncture has been used for treating downer cow syndrome, facial nerve paralysis, allergic dermatitis, respiratory problems, nonsurgical colic, and certain reproductive disorders.Acupuncture has also been used on competitive animals. There are veterinarians who use acupuncture along with herbs to treat muscle injuries in dogs and cats. Veterinarians charge around $85 for each acupuncture session.[8]Veterinary acupuncture has also recently been used on more exotic animals, such as chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)[9] and an alligator with scoliosis,[10] though this is still quite rare.

In 2001, a review found insufficient evidence to support equine acupuncture. The review found uniformly negative results in the highest quality studies.[11] In 2006, a systematic review of veterinary acupuncture found “no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals”, citing trials with, on average, low methodological quality or trials that are in need of independent replication.[1] In 2009, a review on canine arthritis found “weak or no evidence in support of” various treatments, including acupuncture.[12]

To put it in a nutshell: acupuncture for animals is not evidence-based.

How can I be so sure?

Because ref 1 in the text above refers to our paper. Here is its abstract:

Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.

This evidence is in sharp contrast to the misinformation published by the ‘IVAS’ (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society). Under the heading “For Which Conditions is Acupuncture Indicated?“, they propagate the following myth:

Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain. For small animals, the following are some of the general conditions which may be treated with acupuncture:

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury
  • Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea
  • Selected reproductive problems

For large animals, acupuncture is again commonly used for functional problems. Some of the general conditions where it might be applied are the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems such as sore backs or downer cow syndrome
  • Neurological problems such as facial paralysis
  • Skin problems such as allergic dermatitis
  • Respiratory problems such as heaves and “bleeders”
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nonsurgical colic
  • Selected reproductive problems

In addition, regular acupuncture treatment can treat minor sports injuries as they occur and help to keep muscles and tendons resistant to injury. World-class professional and amateur athletes often use acupuncture as a routine part of their training. If your animals are involved in any athletic endeavor, such as racing, jumping, or showing, acupuncture can help them keep in top physical condition.

And what is the conclusion?

Perhaps this?

Never trust the promotional rubbish produced by SCAM organizations.

6 Responses to Veterinary acupuncture is not evidence-based

  • For Which Conditions is Acupuncture Indicated?

    I can think of only one condition: hyperpecuniosis in the leathery structure called ‘the wallet’.

  • As my friend, veterinarian, once answered my question about acupuncture in animals: “It only works if the owner believes it does”

  • This is a nice summary of veterinary acupuncture from a respected blogging veterinarian in the United States that includes a few more references.

    The Skeptvet even went so far as to attend the illustrious Chi Institue (https://chiu.edu/) , which combined with its TCVM retail outlet Jing Tang herbals (https://www.tcvmherbal.com/) are probably the biggest marketers and sellers of instruction in veterinary acupuncture , and retailer of TCVM remedies on the east coast of the US if not the entire country.

    https://skeptvet.com/Blog/category/acupuncture/

    I have tried to contact Dr. Xie and Jing Tang several times to inquire about some of their products including Yunnan Baiyao which is very perplexing in that the product itself is a secret formulation (no guaranteed analysis or ingredient list) and the YB company has recently made the news when some companies divested from the company because of its continued use of exotic/endangered animal parts , specifically Pangolin scales…. All t attempts at getting information from Dr. Xie , the Chi Institute or Jing Tang herbal have been completely stonewalled. Any advice how to move forward here?

    https://www.reuters.com/markets/asia/norways-pangolin-stance-spotlights-chinese-pharma-2021-12-23/

    https://news.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=210&catId=614&Id=10893275

  • It’s highly questionable whether animal acupuncture has a long history in China. There are a lot of dubious claims to this effect by vet acupuncturists but they don’t stand much scrutiny being based mostly on implausible anecdote, and a misinterpretation of historical texts and drawings. For instance one ancient drawing claimed to represent acupuncture points in the horse actually represents the various sites of faecal impaction in horses suffering colic. In fact horse acupuncture points and meridians were simply invented by modern acupuncturists in the 1970’s.

    • It’s highly questionable whether animal acupuncture has a long history in China.

      The practice of acupuncture before ca. 1930 involved stabbing patients with almost skewer-sized ‘needles’, often causing severe injury or death in the process. An account from Scottish physician Dugald Christie says it all, really (see book page 33):

      “The only mode of treatment in vogue which might be called surgical is acu-puncture, practised for all kinds of ailments. The needles are of nine forms, and are frequently used red-hot, and occasionally left in the body for days. Having no practical knowledge of anatomy, the practitioners often pass needles into large blood-vessels and important organs, and immediate death has some- times resulted. A little child was carried to the dispensary presenting a pitiable spectacle. The doctor had told the parents that there was an excess of fire in its body, to let out which he must use cold needles, so he had pierced the abdomen deeply in several places. The poor little sufferer died shortly afterwards. For cholera the needling is in the arms. For some children’s diseases, especially convulsions, the needles are inserted under the nails. For eye diseases they are often driven into the back between the shoulders to a depth of several inches. Patients have come to us with large surfaces on their backs sloughing by reason of excessive treatment of this kind with instruments none too clean.”

      This puts appeal to tradition rather in a different light …

      In fact horse acupuncture points and meridians were simply invented by modern acupuncturists in the 1970’s.

      One of the more amusing things here is that one of the major meridians in horses is supposedly the gallbladder meridian. Horses do not possess a gallbladder. Then again, I guess that anatomical knowledge and medical competence are not required if you believe that every ailment under the sun can be ‘treated’ by poking needles in patients, regardless of their species.

      • one of my veterinary acupuncture texts writes a history where some horses that had various maladies where better deemed better after being pierced by enemy arrows and …. that was the origin of equine acupuncture

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