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Methods of Stimulating Acupoints in Animals

by Phil Rogers


The Chinese term zhen-jiu literally means needling (zhen or ) & cautery (jiu), or acupuncture & moxibustion in English. Though needling & moxibustion are the main methods used today, many other methods, invasive and non-invasive are used also. This article discusses methods of stimulating acupoints in animals. For more detail, see Parts 1, 2, and 3 of "Techniques of Stimulation of the Acupuncture Points", starting at tinyurl.com/noblf).

In-depth training in the principles and practice of human acupuncture (AP) is the best basis for professional AP application in animals. See: Training In Animal Acupuncture (tinyurl.com/npnpu) and Information Sources on Veterinary Acupuncture (tinyurl.com/rjz6o).

Vets well trained in AP [see: IVAS Vet Directory (www.ivas.org/member_search.cfm) and IVAD Vet Directory (www.komvet.at/ivadkom/vapsocs.htm)] are best equipped to use AP in animals. However, the legislation in some countries allows non-vet professionals to use AP in animals, and most countries allow animal owners to treat their own animals under professional guidance. The main ways to activate acupoints are listed below.

Invasive methods of acupoint stimulation: People not professionally trained in animal acupuncture should avoid these methods, or use them with caution and under professional guidance. Invasive methods include:

(a) Acupoint dry-needling - the standard way. Human AP needles (30-34gauge, 10-75mm long, depending on the depth of tissue at the acupoint) are used in small animals. Hypodermic needles 23-25 gauge, 10-25mm long, also can be used in small animals. Hypodermic needles (19-21gauge, 20-70mm long) are faster to insert and easier to use in large animals, such as horses. Theoretically, one should clip the hair and swab the skin over the point before needling there. In practice, site preparation is rarely used unless the area is visibly dirty. However, to prevent cross-infection, one should use sterile, single-use needles that are not reused after that.

(b) Electro-acupuncture (EAP): Special stimulators, such as Model AWQ-104E, or SDZ-II, (www.mayfairmed.com/english/prodlist.asp?choice=108) are used to apply electrical stimuli via needles inserted in acupoints. EAP is used mainly to treat nerve paralysis (peripheral or spinal) and to induce hypoalgesia for veterinary surgery (http://med-vetacupuncture.org/english/vet/analge1.htm). For monopolar instruments (one lead + and the other -), polarity in each circuit should be reversed every few minutes to prevent electrolytic lesions around the needles. Practitioner opinion differs on the frequency and pulse-waveforms needed to induce optimal results.

(c) Direct moxibustion, needle-moxibustion & Fire Needling: Direct moxibustion means the burning of moxa punk (mainly composed of dried, shredded leaves of Artemisia vulgaris) directly on acupoints (tinyurl.com/j2hrt). This can cause third-degree burns; though used in humans occasionally, its use on animals is very rare.

Needle-moxibustion uses a piece of moxa pushed onto the handle of the needle. The moxa is ignited and allowed to burn out before the needle is removed (tinyurl.com/pxhaa); this method is used occasionally in animals, especially in chronic or "Cold" diseases.

Fire Needling uses special thick needles, heated in a flame to red heat and plunged quickly into the tissue of the acupoint. It is rarely if ever used in the west. The method is akin to pin-firing or bar-firing, as was used in western veterinary medicine to treat chronic tendonitis in horses. Most western countries have banned this practice.

(d) Acupoint injection +/- use of Dermojet /Dermojet +/- blood injection: Acupoint injection can be used in animals that tolerate it. Isotonic sterile saline (0.9%) solution is the basic vehicle. Variants can include the addition of 0.25-0.50% Impletol, local anaesthetic, vitamin B12, homeopathic solutions for injection (Traumeel, Nux vom, Carbo veg, etc), or herbal solutions for injection. The volume injected is 0.25-2ml/point in dogs/cats and 5-10ml/point in large animals (horses, cattle). Point injection is used at Back-Shu points and points over muscle. Advantages are that: (1) The injection requires some time before the body can disperse it, and thus confers longer stimulation of the acupoint than a quick needling does; (2) Compounds (for example homeopathics) in the injection can confer additional therapeutic effect. Disadvantages are: (1) Not all animals tolerate multi-injection well; (2) Infection/inflammation at the injection sites can occur more frequently than after dry-needling. Dermajet or Dermojet (tinyurl.com/la7g8, tinyurl.com/n7jol) is a high-pressure spray injector that does not need needles. It is used in mesotherapy and for rapid multi-injection of acupoints in humans or animals that do not tolerate standard injections well. It is ideal for use in superficial acupoints, like those on the ears or distal extremities of animals. Blood injection uses the animal's own blood, drawn from the jugular or other accessible vein into a sterile syringe and injected immediately into selected acupoint(s) via a fine sterile needle. The volume of blood injected is as in acupoint injection, above. The method is used especially in immunomediated diseases, such as allergies and viral infections.

(e) Acupoint implantation is a special technique, used for long-term acupoint stimulation in chronic diseases, such as hip dysplasia or epilepsy in dogs. Implantable non-resorbable materials include 24-carat gold beads or jeweller's wire, orthopaedic stainless steel suture wire, or sterile nylon suture. Resorbable catgut suture may be used for short-term implantation. Implantation is done under full surgical preparation, usually under short-term general anaesthesia. Local anaesthesia may be used in placid animals.

(f) Acupoint stimulation by cupping/vacuum/suction: Cups of bamboo, ceramic, iron and brass were used traditionally. Today, cups or jars of glass or bamboo are more common. The inside of the cup is warmed by a burning alcohol swab and the mouth of the cup applied to the skin, creating suction as the warm air inside cools. The skin may be oiled beforehand to facilitate sliding of the cup to nearby areas (tinyurl.com/pwpok, tinyurl.com/rye5f, tinyurl.com/oyveo). Vacuum pumps or syringes are used to evacuate special cups also (a href="http://www.tinyurl.com/zvvc2" target="_blank">tinyurl.com/zvvc2, tinyurl.com/l286p, tinyurl.com/hordd). Leaving cups on too long can cause marked local congestion (tinyurl.com/zk36f). Cups sometimes are applied over an inserted needle, or after removal of a needle. In that case, some blood may be sucked from the acupoint. Cupping is used widely in humans to Resolve Blood Stasis, Clear Toxin and Ease Muscle Spasm & Pain but cupping is rarely if ever used in animals because the hair-coat interferes with the application, sliding and retention of the cups.

(g) Blood-letting +/- cupping at acupoints is used sometimes in humans. Special lances or triangular needles are used to nick the skin at the acupoint or at engorged capillaries. Bloodletting by phlebotomy is rare in humans today, but bleeding of the engorged digital veins is still used to treat acute laminitis in horses.

(h) Ultrasonic acupoint stimulation (sonopuncture) is used in humans but rarely in animals. Its use can pose dangers in untrained hands. Ultrasound requires a coupling gel or solution and care must be taken not to overheat bone.

(i) Guasha is a form of friction applied to human acupoints and selected skin zones. To apply friction, Guasha practitioners use tools made of polished stone, marble, jade, hardwood, animal bone, animal horn, ivory (banned), porcelain or plastic. Guasha elicits erythema (tinyurl.com/qu6ww, tinyurl.com/qplz4), which has reflex effects on the related organs and body parts. If done too heavily, cutaneous bruising or abrasions can occur (tinyurl.com/qa5xl, tinyurl.com/ruy7t). In first-aid, one may use a glazed Chinese soup-spoon (tinyurl.com/mhw4j) or a coin with a smooth (un-nicked) edge. The area can be oiled with vegetable oil or non-irritant massage oil before rubbing it gently and rhythmically with the Guasha tool. Because of the presence of hair coats, Guasha use in animals is rare, though friction rollers could be used.

(f) Acupoint incision +/- direct nerve massage has been used in China in chronic paralysis, such as human polio. It is rarely if ever used in western countries.

Non-invasive methods of acupoint stimulation can be used safely by anyone who knows which acupoints need to be treated, for example as suggested for use between AP sessions administered by their veterinary AP practitioner. Non-invasive methods include:

(a) Acupoint massage/vibration, Acupressure, Tuina, Shiatsu, etc: Various forms of massage / acupoint pressure are used widely in DIY treatment of humans and animals, especially between professional acupuncture sessions. Human vibrators/massagers (tinyurl.com/lnkwe) are useful in small animals. Heavy-duty massagers are very useful for muscle pain and spasm in horses (tinyurl.com/nfhnx).

(b) Indirect moxibustion: A stick or ball of moxa is ignited and held near the acupoint (tinyurl.com/mq266, tinyurl.com/nechs, www.jingming.be/images/moxa.jpg, tinyurl.com/q3c5w). To avoid burning animal hair/skin, the area near the acupoint is wetted with water or vinegar, a thin slice of fresh ginger applied and the moxa is ignited on the ginger (tinyurl.com/j2hrt). One must avoid ignited moxa or hot ash falling into flammable bedding.

(c) Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is used by professionals and animal minders (tinyurl.com/sxyu3). Most therapeutic lasers use visible red (for example 603nM) or invisible infrared (for example 904nM) wavelengths. Some combine both. Unfortunately, high-specification lasers can cost 1000-7000 Euros, or more. LLLT is used at relevant acupoints, trigger points, pain areas, strained tendons, around wounds, ulcers, cuts & bruises, haematomas, and over "hot bone" (periostitis, hot splints, bucked shins etc). Time of laser application depends on mean output power (MOP). For example, a laser with a MOP of 450mW needs 10-times less exposure time than one with a MOP of 45mW; one with a MOP of 45mW needs 10-times less exposure time than one with a MOP of 4.5 mW. Bioscan (tinyurl.com/l83ux) is a new diagnostic and phototherapy instrument for use in animals, especially in horses

(d) Transcutaneous electrostimulation (TENS, Faradism, etc) are used widely in DIY treatment of humans and animals, especially between professional acupuncture sessions. TENS requires an electrode jelly under each electrode. Human instruments (like the TENS Model E2, www.mayfairmed.com/english/prodlist.asp?choice=201) may be used in animals.

(e) Acupoint stimulation by application of magnetic-, static-, electromagnetic- or electrostatic- fields is a non-invasive way to complement professionally administered acupuncture. Many stimulators, rugs or blankets are available for use in animals but they are expensive. The cheapest and easiest way is to apply powerful magnets, like Accuband 9000 gauss magnets (www.globalherbalsupplies.com/shop/category423_1.htm), to the correct acupoints. They can be taped on under plasters in humans, or super glued to the clipped skin over the points in animals. This method is especially useful in chronic diseases, like peripheral nerve paralysis or osteoarthritis in dogs and horses.

(f) Cold application: Ice massage of relevant acupoints is a DIY method in humans but rarely used in animals.

(g) Qigong, Qi transfer by visualisation, Reiki-acupuncture, etc: These are less well known ways to stimulate acupoints and bodily functions in humans and animals. Masters in these methods claim good clinical results but readers are advised to seek expert professional help before attempting to use these methods in their animals.

Irrespective of the methods used, Yi is important to improve clinical results in animal and human therapy. Yi is the focused intention of the therapist to heal or help the patient and the conscious or subconscious projection of that confidence and empathy to the patient. See: Medicine as Signification: Moving Towards Healing Power in the Chinese Medical Tradition by Volker Scheid and Dan Bensky [www.ejom.co.uk/backissues/vol2no6/feature4.html].

Patients (animal as well as human) sense the therapist's Yi and most respond positively to it. But Yi alone, no matter how sincere and focused, is not enough. For best clinical success, one needs 5 therapeutic essentials: Love, Intention/Intuition, Knowledge, Empathy & Mysticism. These are summarised in the acronym "LIKEM". Many good people have four of those five essentials, but lack the K - knowledge and skill at expert level. That takes years of study, hard work and dogged persistence to update one's knowledge base as new findings emerge.

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