It is strange to see a Western doctor perform acupuncture, a traditional Chinese therapy. It is even stranger to see the doctor perform acupuncture on a pet.
According to Andrew Frishman, a veterinarian in New York City, veterinary acupuncture has been practised in China for more than 2,000 years and is growing fast in the United States and Europe.
Frishman, a 30-year-old native New Yorker, is certified in acupuncture and has practised it for two years.
He said up to 15 percent of his patients at Wa vet clinic near Central Park receive acupuncture treatment, and the percentage is growing.
One of his acupuncture therapy beneficiaries is Nellie, an 11-year-old Border collie diagnosed as having osteoarthritis.
Sylvia Spring, Nellie's owner, said: "We found she had difficulty standing up after a rest. I learned from some friends that a vet here could give acupuncture treatment, so I brought Nellie here."
After a dozen visits to the clinic, Spring said Nellie has improved, although she still walks stiffly. In the beginning, Nellie had to receive treatment twice a week. Now she visits the vet once a month.
Nellie appears to have got used to the treatment. She remains calm and quiet when Frishman penetrates the needles into the acupuncture points along her spine. She only kicks a little when the doctor puts some needles in her hind feet.
Frishman said: "That's understandable because those points are rather sensitive."
The vet then applies low-voltage electricity to vibrate some of the needles and enhance the stimulation.
Frishman said that, unlike conventional veterinary medicine, acupuncture has no side effects.
He admitted that it costs more than conventional medical treatment but said Western treatment would require more doctor visits and a higher risk of infection, which could lead to even higher costs.
Frishman keeps some papers at his clinic explaining veterinary acupuncture.
"Acupuncture and Your Animals" contends that "the treatment of acupuncture points by needles or other means is simply an attempt to re-establish the balance and/or flow of the qi - life-sustaining vital energy force - throughout the body."
From a Western viewpoint, the paper says: "Specific acupuncture point stimulation has been shown to increase oxygenation, increase blood supply to treated areas, aid production of anti-inflammatory secretions, release internally produced painkillers and increase immunity by increasing white blood cell and antibody production."
Frishman - who studied veterinary medicine at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical School - said he became interested in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine after hearing the praise of several animal owners.
He said that, in his last year in vet school, a "very smart and outspoken" veterinarian named Bruce Ferguson talked about cases in which every treatment but acupuncture had failed on animals with chronic ailments.
Ferguson studied animal behaviour at the University of Florida and graduated from an acupuncture training programme in 1998. He then assisted the acupuncture training programme at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville, Florida.
The institute was co-founded by a group of Chinese and American vets. It offers programmes on traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, including veterinary acupuncture and herbal medicine for the continuing education of licensed veterinarians.
Frishman spent a year studying at the Chi Institute and was certified through both the Chi Institute and the China Society of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in Beijing.
The toughest part of learning acupuncture, he said, "is not learning the points but rather making a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis using tongue/pulses and history. This method of diagnosis is completely different from Western training."
The doctor said he does not know how many veterinarians practise acupuncture in the United States. But, in New York City, he knows of at least a dozen vets offering such therapy.
(China Daily June 20, 2002)