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Training In Animal Acupuncture

by Phil Rogers


Public demand for freedom of choice to use holistic/integrative medical therapy (H-IMT) is increasing dramatically in free societies. Increasing public demand for holistic treatment of farm animals, sports horses and companion animals mirrors this trend.

Acupuncture is one of dozens of modalities used in H-IMT and demand for veterinary acupuncture is huge. At present, not enough veterinarians are trained to meet that demand fully; vets who can meet it have very busy practices. Therefore, people who love working with animals, but who are not licensed vets, often ask how and where they can train in animal acupuncture.

Before addressing this question, let me put acupuncture into perspective against its role in animal therapy, and the legal requirements that operate in western countries to preserve high standards of animal care.

Definition of H-IMT and the crucial difference between H-IMT and Alternative Medicine (AltMed)

H-IMT is not the same as AltMed. H-IMT uses one or more AltMed methods (such as acupuncture, herbalism, or other methods) in addition to (integrated with) basic medical/veterinary science. In contrast, proponents of AltMed suggest that therapy X can totally replace (is an alternative to) good conventional medicine. That claim is untrue and grossly misleading. A child in a coma due to a serious head trauma needs expert and high-tech care in an intensive care neurological unit. A woman with a packed cell volume of 10% on the point of circulatory collapse due to a massive haemorrhage (as can happen in childbirth) needs urgent blood-transfusion, hospital care and anti-shock therapy. An animal with a compound fracture of the femur needs to have the bone stabilised, reset, probably pinned internally or externally, and expertly stabilised for several weeks. In addition, it may need potent pain-killers for a few days. Attempting to treat those cases solely with acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, etc is doomed to failure.

Role of acupuncture in animal therapy

Acupuncture has many practical applications in primates, horses, dogs, cats, birds, farm animals and zoo animals. However, acupuncture is not a panacea. It works best in functional conditions, with minimal pathological change and can be very disappointing in conditions in which serious organic change has occurred. Best indications for acupuncture include musculoskeletal pain, functional hormonal upsets, back and functional spinal problems, and functional organic problems. For reviews, click here.

Acupuncture applications are limited and fall far short of total animal health care. For example, expert acupuncturists, who also are experienced vet practitioners, will meet many cases each week, that will need emergency and/or elective surgery, intensive care, blood transfusions, lab tests, X-rays or ultrasound/scintigraphy scans, hormonal treatments, expert animal nutrition, western or herbal drug medication (vaccines, antibiotics, pain-killers, steroids or NSAIDs, sedatives, parasiticide drugs, etc).

Animal Practice Legislation in most western countries restricts to licensed vets the right to diagnose and treat animal diseases for a fee. Admittedly, most National Vet Associations are very pleased with this. However, in my opinion, this “monopoly” is justified because trained vets are in the best position to help their clients and their governments expertly. The role of experienced vets in assisting governments in areas of meat inspection / food hygiene, diagnosis and eradication of notifiable animal diseases, drawing up animal health and biosecurity protocols for clients, etc is undeniable.

For the reasons discussed above, acupuncture cannot, and should not, be used as an alternative to expert vet diagnosis and therapy. It is best used in an integrated way with expert veterinary medicine. De facto, this requires full training in vet medicine in addition to expert training in acupuncture.

Vet training in animal acupuncture

The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) cooperates with National Veterinary Acupuncture Societies to run an excellent basic training course that includes the more important aspects of TCM theory. The course is restricted to licensed vets. It takes circa 120 hours of teaching over a period of 12-15 months. Between teaching sessions, students must study the IVAS Notes, plus IVAS-recommended modern acupuncture textbooks. The IVAS Course is much shorter, and less detailed, than many university courses in human acupuncture, which involve 2000-3000 hours of full-time study over 3-4 years. Therefore, the IVAS Course is not to Master status, but is a solid basis for further education in veterinary acupuncture.

Non-vet training in animal acupuncture

If IVAS and the National Vet Acupuncture Societies restrict their training courses to vets, where does this leave non-vet animal lovers, some of whom may be university graduates in life sciences, who want to study animal acupuncture to Master or Doctorate level? Such people have some options:

(1a) Human acupuncture courses to degree level

Most countries have universities and specialist acupuncture schools that offer full-time, in-depth courses in human acupuncture. As vet acupuncture is based mainly on transposition of human acupuncture principles and points to animals, an in-depth training in human acupuncture is the basis from which to proceed to study aspects of acupuncture and animal management that are unique to animals.

(1b) Home-study of human acupuncture

If people have the commitment to study part-time for several hours daily for 2-3 years, there are stacks of data on WWW for home study. Click here

(2) Home-study of animal acupuncture

Having graduated in human acupuncture, or studied it in sufficient depth at home, animal lovers may follow up by home-study of animal acupuncture from books & WWW. Starting points for such study are in (1b), above.

Having reached certified competence, may non-vet acupuncturists practice legally in animals?

Under vet supervision or vet referral, most countries allow suitably qualified non-vets to practice as animal physiotherapists, nurses, nutritionists, animal behaviour specialists, animal scanners, etc. In such cases, the vet monitors the outcome of the non-vet interventions and has the final say in whether or not to persist with those interventions. It is likely that competent animal acupuncturists could practice in the same way – as vet assistants, or specialists, to whom a vet sympathetic to AP could refer suitable cases. Many people are unhappy with this but, under present legislation, that is the only legal option in many countries.

Author’s conclusions

Any dedicated and educated person can study the principles and practice of human acupuncture to the deepest level in many top class colleges, and supplement that by home-study of animal acupuncture and/or by attendance at animal acupuncture courses designed for non-vets. At present there are few of those courses.

The main unanswered question is: can well-trained animal acupuncturists who are not vets practice their preferred profession legally and independently? At present, the answer is no in most countries. However, with the support of sympathetic friends, clients and supporters in the media, they have the option of lobbying for legislative change. I also believe that, in correctly diagnosed cases that are suitable for AP, some non-vet animal acupuncturists could be far better therapists than many vets. I would support a change in the law to allow highly qualified non-vet animal acupuncturists to practise independently, provided that they notify the animal owner’s vet in each case.

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