Pet Acupunture – Grrrrr! Ruff!

Last Saturday’s Stribe (Star Tribune) included an article called “On Paws and Needles“, which described the growing practice of pet acupuncture in the Twin Cities.  I have very little faith in acupuncture for humans and about the same amount of faith in anecdotal evidence, but that’s what author Kristin Tillotson asks us to accept when she writes

“Whether or not you’re ready to embrace the concept of chi flowing through your body, it’s tough to argue with pet owners who have seen their beloveds go from listless and limping to perky and playful.”

Tillotson does let us know that there is some controversy surrounding pet acupuncture with her section entitled “Not enough proof?” (here, I fixed it for you: “Not enough proof?.), but the quote from Dr. Craig Smith is brief, and I get the impression that the author included it so she could argue that she has presented a fair and balanced look at the issue.  She quotes Dr. Smith:

Most studies that have shown benefits have been for muscular-skeletal pain.  But for seizures and asthma, we do not have the evidence at this time that it’s as beneficial as drugs can be.

However, she follows this logical assertion with a description of  ONE CASE that begs to differ.  And she also lists an extensive group of local veterinary practices where one can find pet acupuncture.

Dr. Smith reasons that there probably isn’t a push by Big (Vet?) Pharma to incorporate acupuncture sessions into mainstream veterinary practice, as needles are inexpensive.  However, at $75 a session and an ability to prescribe as many sessions as an owner will let you get away with, I can see where there might be other financial incentives that could help select for an increase in the occurence of pet acupuncture. 

One statement in the article that interests me is a quote by Dr. Keum Hwa Choi, a practitioner of veterinary CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) who started a Vet CAM service at the University of Minnesota eight years ago:

“Dogs don’t experience any placebo effect like humans can.  Their brains don’t tell them, ‘Gee, I got these needles stuck in me so I must be better.’  They either feel better or they don’t.”

Hmmm…placebo effects in animals…???  Interesting thought exercise.  Although, if not placebo effect, perhaps another variable?  I imagine that an acupuncture session is fairly relaxing for the pet – the article indicates that the animal is the center of attention during these exercises – they are petted, nuzzled, spoken to in calming adult-cooing baby language, placed on warm blankets with candle light and soft music, perhaps?  One woman reported that her cat’s bp dropped from 220 to 169 by the end of a 10-minute HEAT LASER treatment (apparently, cranky 17 year-old Annie isn’t having any of that sharp sh*t poked in her head, so the vet uses heat lasers rather than “dry needles” to complete the treatment.  But don’t worry, I have a very strong suspicion that the two treatments do exactly the same thing…that is…nothing).  Apparently, giving your pet attention – petting it, being nice to it, keeping it warm – encourages a calm and happy demeanor.  Do needles or frickin’ lasers really add anything to that experience? 

And just for fun, here’s a picture of a puppy with pins in his head.  Poor little PinHead.


Pet Acupunture – Grrrrr! Ruff!

Battlefield Acupuncture


First, let me say that I am not a huge believer in the healing power of acupuncture.  I believe there is a significant placebo effect associated with acupuncture, and I know that some people who believe in the power of acupuncture report relief from some disease symptoms after receiving acupuncture.  But, not having read the medical literature myself I can’t gripe too loudly about the practice’s shortcomings.  I’ll leave that to others at SBM, Whats the Harm, JREF, Quackwatch, Lay Scientist, etc.

But you know what’s fun?  If you start to write a google search “Acupuncture is…”, you’ll get “scam” and “bullshit” before “effective” and “safe”.

In a recent study, acupuncture did not fair any better than the placebo treatments(1).  Therefore (according to this study), acupuncture does not work…at least in the sense that acupuncture proponents are trying to explain it.  But fine…I like to pay exorbitant amounts of money to have people touch me all over my body (I refer to the ancient art of massage, of course.  Not the ancient art of…nevermind), and if you want to pay someone to poke you with needles because you think it makes you feel better, who am I to judge?

But I get offended when a sleaze ball practitioner claims that acupuncture can do more for you than makes sense.  And when those sleaze balls influence really sick people to choose acupuncture as an alternative to traditional, proven medication or medical supervision, really bad things can happen.  AIDS can not be cured by acupuncture.  However, Hepatitis B infection can be spread by poorly administered acupuncture.

And now Battlefield Acupuncture.  I heard about battlefield acupuncture being used to treat wound pain on Mark Crislip’s Quackcast, episode 41.  Why acupuncture, when one has a perfectly legitimate excuse to get morphine…?  If you’ve just lost your legs, do you really need to worry about keeping a clear head?  When I was browsing around the interwebs in a completely random, uncontrolled, google-ish way for more information I found a fictional scenario of battlefield acupuncture being administered in the field, written by Dr. David Gorski in 2008 for science-based medicine.  He follows that up with a nice review of the information available at the time.  Take it away, Dr. Gorski!

But acupuncture isn’t just for the battlefield!  With Wounded Warrior Acupuncture (WWA), our  honored veterans can take advantage of acupuncture to treat conditions not limited to back pain, neck pain, joint pain, neuropathies, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), insomnia, anxiety, depression, brain injuries, phantom limb pain, etc.  Of course in the next paragraph, WWA is quick to point out that “our treatment is in no way intended as a replacement for medical care. WWA can be used as a complementary therapy or used as a stand-alone treatment for certain mild to moderate conditions.”  Yes folks, mild-to-moderate conditions such as PTSD and associated illnesses.  As long as your problem isn’t too problematic, we can take a stab at it (ha!).  No gain, no foul, right?

(1) “A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture, and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain” Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(9):858-866  See Respectful Insolence for a very good write up of this study and the hype surrounding it.

Battlefield Acupuncture