Acupuncture in Horses

Among all our domestic species, it is possibly true that horses and ponies respond to acupuncture in the most dramatic way. They are extremely sensitive and reactive. In general, horses and ponies appear to enjoy their needles and, if not actually enjoying them, they still usually tolerate their acupuncture treatment very well. The acupuncture points is horses are extremely sensitive to internal changes in the horse. For this reason we use acupunture points in the horse for diagnosis as well as treatment.

Acupuncture as a diagnostic tool.

The acupuncture exam in the horse starts with an exam of the tongue for colour, size and moisture. We also examine the pulse for strength and character as well as rate. This tells us information about the horse’s circulation and the functioning of the internal organs. Next we palpate certain acupuncture points, referred to as alarm points for sensitivity. A horse may show only a mild response such as an ear twitch or if very sensitive may strike out. We can use this sensitivity to test the effectiveness of our treatment by rechecking these points after the treatment. Because all of the animal's peripheral nerves travel up the spinal cord and synapse before traveling out to the body again, areas of sensitivity are often far removed from the actual injured area. We use the combination of affected points to map out the painful area.

As an illustration of this point notice the areas of leaf death in this mid season maple tree. Although only one tree root has been severed the areas of death are scattered around the tree.

A trained acupuncturist can trace back the areas of leaf death to predict which root has been damaged. In the attached video clip you can see the horse responding as I place pressure on diagnostic acupuncture points over the right hip.

Acupuncture Diagnostic Points on Vimeo.

Acupuncture Therapy in the Equine

Acupuncture therapy is very effective therapy for pain relief for various orthopedic, obstetric and surgical procedures. It can be used to treat chronic pain, compulsive disorders such as cribbing or respiratory conditions such as heaves. The benefit of acupuncture is that it not only treats the symptoms we see such as pain or fluid in the lungs but it also changes blood flow to stimulate healing and repair of tissue. Acupuncture therapy is always tailored to the individual patient. The acupuncturist will ask questions about the horse’s response to his environment and other horses. Establishing facts about the horses basic constitution allows us to treat the patient not his disease. In the general treatment of ailments, it may take four to eight sessions to know if acupuncture therapy will be effective, although a response could be seen even after the first treatment, and improvements often are noticed after the third. Treatments may last from 10 seconds to 30 minutes and may be recommended once or twice weekly. There are several types of acupuncture therapy that may be used. In a horse with acute or chronic musculoskeletal problems I may use Electro Acupuncture which involves connecting selected acupuncture points to a stimulator to run a low level electrical current between them. For certain conditions, such as tying up, we apply heat to the needles to warm the acupuncture point. The long-term goal is always to fix the number of treatments to the minimum required for effectiveness. This may be every six months for arthritis or could be as often as every two months for other conditions. Both frequency and duration of treatment depend on the animal and the ailment.