Western Veterinary Acupuncture – What is it?

Western Veterinary Acupuncture is the term used to distinguish the WVAG approach from traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture.

In TCM, there are highly complex, overlapping and, sometimes, originally unconnected, approaches to diagnosis, based on the beliefs and patterns that were held and observed during its development.

TCM therapy, which involves herbal medicine, diet, exercise, as well as acupuncture, is based on this diagnosis. Because of the complexity of the different aspects of TCM and, because it is not obviously related to our knowledge of pathophysiology, it takes several years to learn and to become adept at applying it to patients.

The language and approach has made it hard to “sell” acupuncture to the “ western, scientific” approach to medicine, although this is in no way to denigrate the hard work and dedication of TCM practitioners. We are all primarily interested in the welfare of our patients.

Following the example of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), WVAG’s aim was to gain a greater acceptance of acupuncture within the veterinary profession by presenting the science, which is plentiful, of the practice.

This we have achieved.

Of all the complementary (integrated) practices that were once seen as “ alternative “, acupuncture is now, arguably, the best accepted in the profession.

The Approach

The reason that the Foundation Course can prepare vets and vet nurses to perform acupuncture after four days of teaching is that the approach starts with a western diagnosis.

The treatment is guided by;

  • The diagnosis
  • The principles of point selection, based on neurophysiological principles
  • The examination of the patient
  • The patient’s individual reaction and response to treatment

The Science

It is known that acupuncture, amongst many other effects.

  • Works through the nervous system (primarily by stimulating afferent nerves)
  • Works via endorphins
  • Can modulate pain via effects locally, segmentally, heterosegmentally and in the brain (hypothalamus, limbic system for example)
  • Can have an effect on the autonomic nervous system
  • Affects the vagus nerve and, via the adrenals, has an effect on inflammatory conditions/sepsis

The Evidence

There is a great deal of science behind this approach, referenced during the course,and many experimental studies on the use of acupuncture in animals. What we are still short of are high-quality, robust clinical studies, demonstrating that acupuncture does – or doesn’t – help in a given condition.

Why is this?

The lack of clinical evidence can be explained, in part, by the usual challenges in clinical veterinary research: those of funding, ethics and numbers.

But it is also explained by researchers not always understanding acupuncture: that it is a physical therapy and not a drug with a specified and accepted dose; that physical therapies have an effect partly because of the interaction with the patient. This complicates the planning and methodology of clinical trials – but it doesn’t make them impossible.