Pinpointing veterinary acupuncture


Adopting acupuncture appeals to more clients and gives practices another tool in the toolbox.

In a profession crowded with competition, veterinary acupuncture has given some practitioners an opportunity to tap into a new market.

Last-resort treatment

John Thouvenelle, DVM, owner of Russell Veterinary? Service & Reproduction Lab in Russell, Kansas, says he has offered acupuncture for 35 years. Dr. Thouvenelle was introduced to it in veterinary school at Kansas State University when a speaker visited.

“The thing about acupuncture is, we get to use it in a limited situation,” Dr. Thouvenelle says. “People usually try every other form of medicine outside of faith healing and voodoo, then they'll say, ‘Well, what about acupuncture?'”

Photo courtesy of Dr. Ann KramerWord-of-mouth about his success attracts clients with patients suffering from paralysis or other musculoskeletal issues, he says. Dr. Thouvenelle says acupuncture is 10 percent of his business. Practicing in a rural setting didn't stop him from offering it.

“My thoughts were when I got out of vet school that just because you lived in a rural area didn't mean you had to sacrifice any kind of medicine you [could] provide people,” he says.

Pursuing acupuncture with busy clients can be a challenge because it can take as many as six separate visits to see results, Dr. Thouvenelle says.

Alternative treatment

Deanna Miller, DVM, owner of Rising Sun Animal Care in Denver, Colorado, says she has offered acupuncture for 15 years since taking the course through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS). Her personal success with acupuncture in her own healthcare inspired her to use it in practice. 

Acupuncture accounts for 25 percent of Dr. Miller's pain management cases. She has used acupuncture as a first course of action and as an alternative treatment. It can help keep clients when traditional approaches fail, she says.

Clients who are inclined to nontraditional medicine gravitate toward acupuncture, she says.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Linda Boggie and the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS)“They tend to love it because it's something they can do that isn't medication for their pets, who [may not be] tolerating the effects of many of the pain meds,” Dr. Miller says.

Dr. Miller does communicate differently about acupuncture.

“I know both sets of language, so I'll use the language that the client is more interested in,” she says. “I don't have a canned speech. I treat the animals and owners as individuals.”

Surprising treatment

Mike Petty, DVM, a certified veterinary medical acupuncturist and veterinary pain practitioner, is the past-president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM). He says acupuncture has worked to some degree in 90 percent of the more than 1,000 cases he's treated.

“Using acupuncture has been a complete game-changer for my treatment of these types of issues,” Dr. Petty says. NSAIDs-the traditional standard for treating degenerative joint disease-aren't as effective, he says.

Despite the potential, acupuncture is not common. “Every time a client moves to a different area of the country, I try to help them find an acupuncturist, and often there is no one within 50 miles,” he says.

It took six months for Dr. Petty to recover the cost of becoming certified in acupuncture, he says. The process is easier now than when he did it because Colorado State University (CSU) offers the didactic portion online and only requires students to spend one week on site for the hands-on part, he says.

Dr. Petty asserts that every practice should offer acupuncture. However, he says that someone considering learning about the treatment needs to consider how to approach it.

“Eastern-based acupuncture has a lot of fun metaphors and is partly based on nonexistent anatomical entities that helped practitioners formulate diagnoses and treatment plans when very little was known about anatomy and nothing was known about neurophysiology,” Dr. Petty says. “Hundreds of years ago this was fine, but it really should be time for all acupuncturists to move into this era of modern medicine.”

His acupuncture classes at CSU were entirely science-based. “You don't have to learn about nonexistent organs like the triple-heater, or energy concepts such as Chi,” Dr. Petty says. 

Although clients' doubt is one problem with acupuncture, there are opportunities with the treatment, Dr. Petty says.  

“People feel disillusioned with western medicine, and for good reason. We offer up too many promises of treatments that involve medications that don't always do the job and come with potential side effects,” Dr. Petty says. “When acupuncture is available, your toolbox is much bigger when you need to find the right tool to fix a problem.”

Acupuncture's effectiveness can shock clients, Dr. Petty says. 

“I remember one outdoorsy client with a hunting dog that had injured itself and hadn't hunted to his ability in quite some time. This dog had even gotten to the point where he could not jump up into the owner's Jeep. After a lot of eye-rolling, [the client] agreed,” Dr. Petty says. “About 60 seconds after he left the clinic, he came back in … and said, ‘My dog just jumped up into my Jeep for the first time in months. Two hundred years ago they would have burned you at the stake!'”

Clients should be told that most pain treatments are multi-modal, he says.

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