Health can be defined as a state of harmony of an animal with its internal and external environment. Health is complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease.

An acupuncturist who practises Traditional Chinese Medicine will look at the whole horse and not just the diseased part. Consideration will be given to why the disease developed in the first place. This is why it is important for the first examination to take place with the horse in calm surroundings.  It is important that a conventional Western medical diagnosis has been obtained prior to the commencement of acupuncture treatment. For example, it is natural for an animal with pain in its front legs and no discernible lameness to develop back pains. In this case, the back is the secondary problem. It is therefore first of all necessary to treat the pain in the front legs, but as well to include the compensational mechanism: the back. A conventional medical diagnosis is required to determine the cause of the lameness. A traditional Chinese diagnosis is performed supplementally. It is then possible to decide which form of treatment to use or whether to combine the two. 

Lameness whose cause and localisation cannot be determined by conventional medicine can be successfully treated by acupuncture and chiropractic. However a lameness should always be subject to an examination by the conventional veterinary surgeon and be treated accordingly. Acupuncture and chiropractic can be performed subsequently to restore physiological muscle and ligament functions and help in the rehabilitation after surgical treatment.

Chinese medicine postulates a system of energy paths known as meridians, which run through an animal’s body in a network. There are twelve regular and eight extraordinary meridians. According to the traditional Chinese concept, a form of energy known as Qi flows through the meridians.

Just as the water flow can change in a river bed, the flow of energy is also susceptible to change. Energy obstructions within the meridian system cause pains, which can manifest themselves as muscular tension, back pain, lameness, or – in particular with horses – insubordination towards the rider.

Scientific evidence 

The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) say that clinical research on Acupunture has been conducted showing positive results in the treatment of animals and that the use of acupuncture is increasing. It acknowledges that acupuncture will not cure every condition but it can work very well in many cases, especially if the animal is involved in any athletic endeavour, such as racing, jumping or showing it can help to keep them in top physical condition. 

In western medical terms, acupuncture can assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiological changes. For example, it can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasm and cause the release of hormones such as endorphins and cortisol.  

The IVAS postulates that the American Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery. 

Many biochemical and signalling pathways have been identified as playing a direct role in how acupuncture achieves its clinical effects, but perhaps the most central pathway that acupuncture uses, one that helps explain how it is effective in such a diverse array of clinical areas, is that acupuncture has been demonstrated to directly initiate a process called purinergic signalling, a primitive and ubiquitous system in the body using adenosine and ATP for signalling and regulation in all tissues and organ systems. 

(Verkhratsky A, Burnstock G. Biology of purinergic signalling: Its ancient evolutionary roots, its omnipresence and its multiple functional significance. Bioessays 2014;36:697–705. doi:10.1002/bies.201400024) 

(Burnstock G. Purinergic signaling in acupuncture. Science 2014.)