Enterprise Story: From People to Pets, Acupuncture Reaches Out to All Animals.

By: Brittany Parvi

When Marlene Montooth’s 16-year-old experienced sudden symptoms of vomiting, not eating and rapid weight loss she knew something wasn’t right. Ashton developed a kidney disease. When she took him in for tests, an ultra sound showed the disease hadn’t advanced, and his kidneys looked normal. Her colleague suggested Ashton try acupuncture with Dr. Jeffrey Judkins at the Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic in Portland, Oregon, because acupuncture had helped her mastiff when he had cancer. Montooth decided to give it a try. Ashton, her 16-year-old all-gray American shorthaired cat, was going to try acupuncture. 

Acupuncture is an alternative method of treatment, originating in China, that has been around for thousands of years. Practitioners claim that the method encourages the body to promote natural healing. According to holistic veterinarian and certified animal acupuncturist Dr. Darcy Hoyt, acupuncture is a technique to help treat various medical conditions such as arthritis, skin problems, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal upset, allergies, reproductive problems, cardiovascular disease and surgical analgesia.

Dr. Darcy Hoyt stays by the side of her patient until the treatment is complete. Photo courtesy of Darcy Hoyt.

Acupuncture is the art of inserting needles into the skin and applying heat/electrical stimulation at precise acupuncture points. Acupoints are “particular bodily locations that allow practitioners to balance client’s qi to affect therapeutic changes with acupuncture or acupressure,” according to Mosby’s Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

There are organizations not only in U.S. but also in other countries that deal with veterinary acupuncture. There is the International Veterinarian Acupuncture Society (IVAS) in Fort Collins, Colorado; American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) in Abingdon, Maryland; The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA) in Glastonbury, Connecticut; Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre (AVM) in the United Kingdom, Australian Veterinary Acupuncture Group (AVAG) in Australia and Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine in Reddick, Florida. Most of the organizations have links to local holistic vets who are certified to perform acupuncture on animals.

Currently, there are only two institutes in the U.S. where a veterinarian can become a certified veterinary acupuncturist. The two institutes are the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine in Reddick, Florida and the International Veterinarian Acupuncture Society, known as IVAS, located in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Traditionally, acupuncture is performed on humans but within the last decade there has been a greater need for holistic vets. “Clients are asking for it every day,” said Kevin Haussler in November in a National Geographic article, http://bit.ly/auTZJa. “[They] are the number one reason why any of us are doing alternative therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic, because they want something more than just drugs or surgery,” Haussler says. Once acupuncture increased in popularity in humans, the therapy to animals rapidly followed.

Scout patiently sitting waiting while he receives acupuncture. Photo courtesy of Darcy Hoyt.

Fortunately, the Chinese transposed the acupuncture points from humans to animals thousands of years ago,” Hoyt says. She provides at home veterinary acupuncture in Portland, Oregon. There are many concerns that acupuncture isn’t safe for animals because they run the risk of infection once they place the needles. “[Acupuncture] is very safe,” she says, “We all use sterile needles.” The other safety issue is if the patient tries to pull out the needles with their teeth and then proceeds to swallow the needles. Hoyt says it’s uncommon, but that’s why she and the owner of the pet stay right by the patient during the treatment.

The placement of the needles is a tricky task because it varies case by case. Dr. Isabel Wyss, owner of Acuvet PDX, a veterinary acupuncture house call business in Portland, Oregon, has a specific way of treating the animals she sees. She searches for warm spots on the body, which indicates inflammation and other spots that are painful. She then feels the pulse of the animal, in one of the back legs and looks at the animal’s tongue. “The tongue can tell me if the animal is experiencing an yin or yang [pronounced “yong”] deficiency or excess, a heat or cold deficiency or excess, dampness, dryness, heat, etc,” Wyss says.

 Wyss says she generally has a good idea about where she’s going to put the needles beforehand, because she talks to the owner and evaluates the patient’s medical records. “It’s always important to make adjustments depending upon how the patient’s body looks and responds on [the] physical exam,” Wyss says. Treatments vary in length; normally it depends on what the patient is being treated for. Typically, it takes Wyss 10 minutes to place the needles, and then from there she leaves them in the animal anywhere from 10-20 minutes.

The acupuncture doesn't seem to hurt Scout as he waits there calmly. Photo courtesy of Darcy Hoyt.

The cases that Hoyt has the most success treating are for pain relief for arthritis, chronic kidney disease and neurological conditions. Hoyt says acupuncture doesn’t completely terminate the problem, but it helps improve the quality of the animal’s life.

Hoyt performs standard acupuncture on animals, but she also she uses “aqua-puncture.” She says, “I occasionally use injectable vitamin B 12 at the acupuncture point. The bolus of vitamin B 12 acts to stimulate the point and then dissipates.” She uses aqua-puncture when patients don’t want to stay still for treatment, or if the animal could benefit from the B 12 therapy. “In some patients I use an electronic current between the needles to stimulate the nerves and muscles. This is typically done in neurological cases or in patients with back pain,” Hoyt says. 

Scout finishing up his treatment. Photo courtesy of Darcy Hoyt.

On IVAS’s website, the site states that acupuncture is “one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when it is administered by a properly trained veterinarian.” Wyss agrees that a trained vet should provide the proper treatment for animals. “I know of human acupuncturists who provide services for animals, and while this is not illegal, I consider it to be unethical since they are not doctors and have not studied veterinary medicine,” Wyss says. In her opinion, as an animal acupuncturist and as a doctor she feels very strongly about the matter. “Conversely, I’ve never heard of a veterinarian practicing acupuncture on a human, and I doubt that people would find this acceptable,” Wyss said.

Traditional veterinarians, such as Dr. Devon Trottier of Eugene, Oregon, refer pet owners to see holistic vets after she has diagnosed the pets. “My approach to veterinarian medicine is first do no harm, and after that do whatever helps,” Trottier says. If she feels acupuncture will benefit her patient she will give the pet owners all of the possible options to make an educated decision. When it comes to picking western medicine or alternative options Trottier says, “There is no right or wrong answer, just the answers that they can live with.”

Montooth chose acupuncture because she thought it would help Ashton. It did at first, “Ashton’s appetite perked up immediately. After about 3 treatments he was good for nearly a year,” Montooth says. “When he had a second crash, we tried a second course of treatment, and again he was good for several months.”  When Ashton crashed for the third time, it was clear the treatment wasn’t working for him anymore. For Montooth it was time to let him go. With the help of acupuncture, Montooth believes, Ashton lived for an extra 15 months. If Ashton hadn’t been such a mellow, easygoing cat then Montooth wouldn’t have put him through the acupuncture. Ashton seemed to like the acupuncture though and the women at the clinic. “Ashton, on the other hand, adored women and the one time when he was treated by Dr. Hamman, he was putty in her hands – utterly relaxed and calm the whole time.”

How to Find an Acupuncturist for Your Pet

Credibility is a big factor when it comes to the health care of your pet. Some people will take recommendations from their friends, co-workers or family. But how do you know if they’re going to work for your pet? There are organizations that deal with acupuncture specifically and they can help you find the right certified acupuncturist. Here are a few places to look:

  1. The International Veterinarian Acupuncture Societyis one of two institutes that certify veterinarians to perform acupuncture on animals.
    1.  If you go to the IVAS website, http://bit.ly/w8VBqR, there is an option to search for a veterinarian. From there, you’ll be able to search by name, procedures they perform, the type of animal, certification, country, and by state.
  2. Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine is the second institute that certifies veterinarians to perform acupuncture on animals.
    1. If you follow this link, http://www.tcvm.com/, on the left hand side of the page there is a search to find a traditional Chinese veterinary medicine practitioner. The results will show certified animal acupuncturists who have completed their training within the Chi Institute.
  3. American Academy of Veterinary Acupunctureis a non-profit organization and they are an affiliate of IVAS.
    1. This link will take you directly to the search page, http://bit.ly/zoxq9U, from there you can search by name, location, and the practice you need. The results, will list out their name, certification, address, and a phone number to call.

The hardest part is narrowing down which qualified acupuncturist you want to go to.

Q & A with Home Animal Acupuncturist Dr. Darcy Hoyt

            Dr. Darcy Hoyt provides house call veterinary acupuncture for animals in Portland, Oregon. She’s been a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine for eight years and a certified veterinary acupuncturist for seven and a half years.

Q. What made you go into this profession?

A: I was foremost interested in becoming a veterinarian. I decided to pursue learning about acupuncture and herbal medicine during my fourth year of veterinary school. I became interested in acupuncture for animals because my own family dog benefitted from it. During my fourth year of veterinary school, I spent 4 weeks of my rotation time with a veterinarian who practiced acupuncture on dogs and cats.

I loved how he got to spend lots of time with the owners and patients and really seemed to improve the quality of life of his patients. I knew that it was what I wanted do.

Q. What are the benefits of acupuncture vs. a traditional medication?

 A: Allopathic medicine tends to focus more on treating the symptoms that we see as a result of those underlying imbalances. So one benefit of using Chinese Medicine is actually treating the underlying problem such that it doesn’t manifest into multiple symptoms to be treated. An additional benefit acupuncture over using allopathic therapies is that there are no side effects to the treatment.

Q. What’s the best part of your job?

A: Meeting very interesting people and their pets. I love making people happier because I’ve helped their beloved pet have a better quality of life. So many people think that going into veterinary medicine is to help animals, but so much of the job is communicating with other people with a common interest of caring about animals. I am fortunate that I get to go into my clients’ homes, and learn so much about themselves and their lives.

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