Practical Applications of Acupuncture in Farm Animal Practice
Farming is a business, in which the objective is to make a reasonable livelihood for the farmer and his/her family. The market value of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and other farm animals reared for food or consumable products is low and fickle. Unless farm size is large, i.e. can carry large numbers of animals, farm net income can vary from subsistence level to poor. This is because animals reared for their milk, meat, hides or other consumer products leave but a modest net profit per head. For example, without the EU Farm Support Systems, EU suckler-cow and cattle dry-stock farmers would make a net loss each year.
Outbreaks of clinical and subclinical disease, such as herd mastitis, infertility, stillbirth, pneumonia, internal parasitism (gastrointestinal roundworms, lungworms and liver fluke) and mineral imbalances, seriously reduce farm output per year. Consequently, herd disease can seriously reduce net farm income. In an attempt to prevent the common diseases, or to treat affected animals should disease arise, most modern farmers use their vets and local agricultural advisory services routinely. However, because a vet’s call-out fee can cost the farmer more than the value of some animals (such as calves or lambs), farmers want as few visits as possible from their vets. Therefore vets in farm practice must use very efficient methods of therapy, including long-acting injections, slow-release mineral supplements, etc in an attempt to minimise the number of visits to any one case. Also, having diagnosed a clinical case and having given the first treatment, most farm vets supply the relevant drugs to the farmer, who administers them as prescribed by the vet.
Acupuncture works via homeostatic (self-adjusting, natural self-healing) mechanisms in the body. It is not a panacea and it can help only if these mechanisms are capable of responding to peripheral stimuli. Acupuncture has many clinical applications in human-, small-animal- and equine- practice (see references). Functional disorders, with no (or minimal) tissue pathology, are the best indications but several sessions of acupuncture may be needed to attain the best results in serious cases. However, economic constraints on farm expenditure, discussed above, seriously limit the applications of acupuncture as a primary treatment in farm practice. This reflects current Chinese practice, where farm animals rarely are treated with acupuncture alone. Indeed, veterinary treatment in China usually combines western drugs, herbal medicines (oral, topical or by injection) and acupuncture (where indicated) (Chinese Government; Beijing Agricultural University). For example in treating a case of mixed pneumonia (bacterial lung infection secondary to viral infection), Chinese vets might use antibiotic plus a herbal formula to Clear Heat, Resolve Toxin, Resolve Phlegm and Ease Cough. Part of the treatment could be to inject either a diluted extract of the western or of the herbal formula into the acupoints for the Lung (for example Feishu UB 13 and Zhongfu LU 01), diaphragm / respiratory system (Geshu UB 17) and immune system (for example, Quchi LI 11 or Zusanli ST 36, Dazhui DU 14).
Consequently, few vets in western countries use acupuncture as a primary or sole therapy in farm animals, except for very specific indications, such as emergencies (apnoea, shock), lameness or back-pain in valuable stud males (bulls, rams). That said, acupuncture is used in farm animals very successfully as a complementary therapy to support other therapies (western drugs, administration of mineral- or vitamin- supplements, homeopathy, herbal medicine, etc). In making that statement, because I have very little personal experience in treating farm animals with acupuncture, I am relying on feedback and advice from experienced colleagues in farm animal practice.
For examples of conditions treated in cattle and for diagrams of the acupoints used to treat those conditions, see the summary by Dr. Annerose Weiß at: http://homepage.eircom.net/~progers/Weiss/Cattle%20Acupuncture%20-%20Weiss.htm. From her experience, the most common applications in cattle practice are as a complementary therapy in: dystocia, cervix closed, heavy birth, uterus prolapse; cows exhausted, paretic (milk fever), or down around calving time; spinal problems, lameness, difficulty standing; udder oedema and cows withholding milk post-partum; mastitis~acute + fever (E. coli); dyspnoea of new born calf, emergencies; pneumonia~acute viral + fever. Less common uses include: pyometra, lochiometra; infertility (cysts, repeat breeders, and suboestrus/anoestrus); chronic infections (mastitis, pneumonia). Rare applications include: ketosis, liver diseases, ruminal atony, non-surgical colic, abomasal dislocation + tympany, enteritis, diarrhoea (with moxa if coldness is present) and inability of new-born calves to suckle.
Traditional veterinary acupuncture charts exist for cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. However, as discussed in the last two issues (Practical applications of AP in Small Animal Practice (http://www.chinesemedicinetimes.com/section.php?xSec=125) and in Equine Practice (http://www.chinesemedicinetimes.com/section.php?xSec=138), most western-trained vets use the Transposition System (transposing human acupoint locations and functions) to select and locate relevant points in farm animals.
(a) Emergencies: As in dogs and horses, acupuncture is very useful in traumatic and haemorrhagic shock, collapse and apnoea under general anaesthesia. Key points are Renzhong (GV26), Yongquan KI 01 and Neiguan (PC 6). These points also are useful to enable an apnoeic newborn to take the first breath. They also are useful, especially when combined with iv calcium borogluconate solution, in cows comatose with hypocalcaemic paresis (milk fever) at calving.
(b) Musculoskeletal pain, spinal disorders & joint disorders: Stud bulls with pain in the loin, rump or hind limbs refuse to mount cows, or mount less often than they would if they were free of pain. Acupuncture can be very helpful to restore these bulls to active service. Similarly, valuable pedigree cows refuse to be mounted if they have pain especially caudal to the ribs. As detection of mounting is critical to accurate oestrus detection in a herd, owners of pedigree cows may choose acupuncture as part of a programme to minimise lameness in breeding cows.
(c) Urogenital / reproductive disorders: Animal Baihui (lumbosacral space - DU 20) and Guanyuanshu (UB 26) are key Cervix Points. By relaxing the cervix and aiding coordinated uterine contractions, acupuncture is useful to help heifers and cows to calve and to expel a retained placenta. Shenshu (UB 23), Guanyuanshu (UB 26), Baihui (lumbosacral space - DU 20), Pangguangshu (UB 28), Baihuanshu (UB 30), Changqiang (DU 1), Yaoshu (DU 2) and Huiyin (RN 1) are important acupoints to treat problems of the urogenital tract in all species. Though much used (and very useful) in humans and small animals, Sanyinjiao (SP 6) and Fuliu (KI 7) (above the hock on the medial side of the hind limbs), are dangerous points to use in many cows – dangerous to the vet, who may be kicked hard when attempting to needle those points. Acupuncture also helps when repositioning a prolapsed uterus. Some hormonal / functional cases of infertility in cows and sows (anoestrus, repeat breeders, etc) respond to acupuncture at points for the ovary, uterus and cervix (Lin et al., 1984; Cerovsky, et al.; Qi, et al., 1999). Moxibustion at those points also can help parturient and post-parturient problems in cows (Hosaka). Moxibustion can be used as an alternative to PGF2-alpha and antibiotics to treat delayed uterine involution in cows (Korematsu et al. 1993). Some colleagues report that acupuncture can help to raise sperm counts in stud bulls with oligospermia. Injection of 10 ml Pulsatilla nigricans extract at Changqiang (DU 1) improved pregnancy rate in cows (Lopes & Rumpf 1999).
(d) Gastrointestinal disorders: Acupuncture can help or cure some cases of anorexia, ruminal indigestion, acidosis, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, non-surgical colic and ketosis, especially when combined with other therapies. However, a veterinary diagnosis of the cause and pathology is important as some cases may need western treatment, fluid replacement, intensive care and/or surgery. Paralytic ileus (with faecal retention) arises occasionally after surgery. Acupuncture can resolve it quickly in many cases. Injection of a micro-dose of Somatotropin injected at acupoint Huiyin (RN 1) increased Milk Production in cows as much as injection of the conventional dose at a neutral site (Lopez and Luna 1999).
(e) Acupuncture analgesia for surgery in farm animals: Decades ago, Oswald Kothbauer (Austria) pioneered the use of electro-acupuncture in Europe to induce hypoalgesia for surgery in cattle. He did hundreds of caesarean sections, and other surgeries (teat surgery, rumenotomy, reposition of uterus prolapse, etc) under electro- acupuncture. Several studies, including a recent one (Kim et al. 2004), confirm Kothbauer’s claims. Though electro- acupuncture can elevate pain threshold sufficiently to enable surgery in farm animals the method is unreliable and not used much in busy farm animal practice. It may have a role in natural disasters or warfare, when anaesthetic drugs may be in short supply, or in high-risk cases, where drug anaesthesia may compromise the life of the animal or the unborn foetus.
Acupuncture can help other conditions in farm animals, such as correction abomasal displacement in cows (Jang et al. 2003), but those mentioned above are those most often treated by acupuncture.
Summary: Acupuncture is not a panacea. Its possible applications in farm animals are similar to those in humans, companion animals and horses. It works by “nudging” the body’s auto-healing mechanisms into overdrive. However, it fails to help if these mechanisms are impaired seriously. Therefore, acupuncture is very helpful in some conditions, but is of little help in conditions with serious organic pathology. However, chronic problems may need multiple acupuncture sessions to resolve them.
Because the commercial value of farm animals cannot justify the expense of multiple visits, clinical applications of acupuncture in farm animals are more limited than in humans, and acupuncture tends to be used to complement other therapies, rather than as a primary or sole treatment.
Professional assessment and treatment by a competent veterinarian, trained in both western and oriental medicine, is the best option for animal farmers. Veterinarians interested to learn AP may contact International Vet Acupuncture Society (http://www.ivas.org], or their National Veterinary Acupuncture Society (http://www.komvet.at/ivadkom/vapsocs.htm).
Acknowledgements: Several colleagues in large animal practice shared their experiences with me in recent weeks. I thank especially Annerose Weiß (Germany) and Cindy Lankenau (NY, USA), both farm-animal vets, for their help in preparing this article.
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Lopes, C & Rumpf, R. (1999). Injection of Pulsatilla nigricans in acupoint GV01 to reduce the puerperal period in cattle. [online]. Available from: http://med-vetacupuncture.org/english/articles/brazvet.html [Accessed 06th October 2006].
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Earlier columns in this series were:
(1) Training In Animal Acupuncture: http://www.chinesemedicinetimes.com/section.php?xSec=55
(2) Information Sources on Veterinary Acupuncture:
(3) Methods of Stimulating Acupoints in Animals:
(4) Practical Applications of Acupuncture in Small Animal Practice:
(5) Practical Applications of Acupuncture in Equine Practice: