What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very fine, sterile needles into pressure points on the body for pain relief, to improve recovery rates or to help the body deal with other diseases.
Acupuncture treatment should always follow an accurate diagnosis of the problem and a full appraisal of all treatment options. In many cases acupuncture is best used in conjunction with conventional medicine and adding it to your horses treatment plan can help to reduce the requirements for medication.
Why use Acupuncture on horses?
Pain is one of the most common indications for acupuncture. Very often this is chronic (long term) pain due to arthritis but muscular strains and back problems can also respond well. Often, equine cases will appear as behaviour problems such as crib-biting or box walking but have an underlying and undiagnosed pain element.
Horses are often highly trained athletes used for strenuous and demanding disciplines which can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. The use of acupuncture alone or in combination with other therapies can improve the speed and quality of recovery and avoid the need for medications banned under competition rules.
Acupuncture can also be of great benefit to medical conditions, such as recurrent colic, diarrhoea and COPD/RAO.
Is Acupuncture safe for my horse?
Acupuncture is extremely safe when practised correctly and is well accepted by the majority of animals. It can only be performed on animals in the UK by a qualified veterinary surgeon who is a practising member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
How does it work?
Every horse will have a treatment plan tailored to their individual needs. Each treatment will take between 5 and 30 minutes. The frequency of treatments does vary but is usually once a week for 4 to 6 weeks with gradually increasing intervals until the desired effect is achieved. Often top-ups are required to maintain the effect long term.
Most horses will accept acupuncture treatment without any distress or discomfort. A very needle phobic horse can be sedated to reduce stress. The needles used are very thin and the majority are inserted into points on the animal that are not painful. The needles are left in for between 5 and 30 minutes. During treatment, many patients will become more relaxed and even sleepy and this may continue for the rest of the day. Horses should avoid any strenuous exercise on the day of acupuncture.
After treatment, your horse may initially be a little stiffer or uncomfortable. This could indicate that they need less stimulation at the next treatment but does suggest that they are likely to respond well in the longer term. After a day or two this will improve, so just allow them to rest.
There may be no response to the initial treatment. This does not mean that your horse will never respond, but it may take a little longer. Many animals can take up to the fourth treatment to show a significant improvement. There is a small percentage of patients who will not respond at all.
You may see an improvement after the first treatment. This can occur at any time within a few days of the treatment. The improvement may not last until the next treatment but this is normal in the early stages. Later in the process, the effects should last for longer so there can gradually be longer between treatments.
As acupuncture is now recognised as a very successful treatment for many conditions, the majority of insurance companies will cover the costs involved. If you are in any doubt, check your policy or contact your individual company for more information.
Our vet Ciara has done specialised training in veterinary acupuncture and is a member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists. She would be happy to speak with you and discuss if acupuncture may be of benefit to your horse.