Equine acupuncture has been used for years in the performance horse industry, where owners and trainers recognize the significant benefits it bring to horses. Acupuncture can help pleasure, breeding and performance horses, both for treatment of illness and to generally maintain health and optimum performance. Dr. Wedemeyer offers acupuncture and other TCVM services for horses in New York's Hudson Valley and surrounding areas.
How is acupuncture done on horses?
For horses, an acupuncture treatment begins with a "body scan" examination. This quick, non-painful examination involves the veterinarian running their fingers or a blunt object such as a pen cap over the horse's body, passing over specific acupuncture points to check for sensitivity at these points. This scan can tell the TCVM veterinarian a lot of information about the horse's health and any problem areas. It can often help diagnose problems that are difficult to detect or localize with conventional medical techniques.
For example, sometimes equine lamenesses can be hard to localize and diagnose. The horse is obviously lame, yet it is vague and there are no significant findings on Western examination. The TCVM veterinarian can often pinpoint the cause of lameness through the acupuncture "scan" examination because specific acupuncture points (for example certain points in the neck) are associated with particular joints and areas of the limbs. This can guide acupuncture treatment or provide a starting point for further Western diagnostics.
The acupuncture "scan" is also useful for healthy horses, because it can detect underlying soreness and problems that are not yet showing obvious symptoms. For example, many horses suffer from back pain, which can be detected and effectively treated (providing inciting causes such as incorrect saddle fit are resolved) by acupuncture. Another common problem in performance horses is gastric ulceration. This often manifests as general poor performance and is difficult to diagnose without endoscopy to directly visualize the stomach. Certain acupuncture points are associated with the stomach and so reactivity at these points, together with assessment of the horse's behavior, can be highly suggestive of ulceration. Again, acupuncture and herbal medicine are generally very successful in treating gastric ulceration, improving both the horse's performance and quality of life.
After the TCVM examination, acupuncture is performed through insertion of tiny, sterile needles into the body at specifically selected acupuncture points. These needles are many, many times thinner than a regular hypodermic injection needle and insertion is not generally painful. Once the needles are in place they cannot be felt, and it is common for horses to begin to yawn, chew and drop their heads in relaxation. Horses often even fall asleep during their treatment, which typically lasts 20-30 minutes.
How do we know that acupuncture for horses is effective?
There is now a growing body of research that proves that acupuncture has genuine, beneficial effects in horses. Although most acupuncture research is done on humans, there are many studies that show that acupuncture can specifically benefit horses, for conditions including back pain, navicular disease, laminitis and non-surgical colic.
Is equine acupuncture safe for my horse?
When performed by a highly trained, experienced practitioner such as Dr. Wedemeyer, acupuncture is very safe. The needles used are sterile, for single use only, and designed specifically for acupuncture in horses. Acupuncture has few if any side effects; the only side effect commonly seen is that the horse may appear drowsy after the treatment and may sleep deeply the following night. For this reason, acupuncture is not done the day before competition; it is important to let Dr. Wedemeyer know your horse's training and competition schedule so that acupuncture can be scheduled appropriately.
How many treatments are necessary?
Fortunately, horses are some of the most responsive animals to acupuncture and many show a response after only one treatment. However, it is important to remember that acupuncture's effects are cumulative, so most cases require more than one treatment. Musculoskeletal problems such as back pain typically require 2-4 treatments, while more severe, chronic problems such as internal medical problems and long-standing conditions such as navicular disease or chronic laminitis may require 4-8 treatments. After the initial course, maintenance treatments or "tune-ups" can be performed at 1-3 month intervals, depending on how the horse responds.