That didn't happen. "I started acupuncture on that dog, and after just two treatments, the fecal incontinence resolved," Alvarez said.
Experts point out that animals have been treated with acupuncture therapy from the very beginning. In fact, Chinese records that go back thousands of years describe the use of healing needles on horses and other livestock.
One common myth: Many people believe that patients must "believe" in acupuncture for it to work, ruling out its use in animals.
"But actually, it doesn't require any higher brain processes to function," Alvarez said. "It simply works because of what it stimulates physiologically in the body when you insert a needle into these points that have been studied for thousands of years."
The points, referred to as loci, represent important locations for nerves and blood vessels that, when manipulated, somehow aid healing, experts say. Acupuncture works in humans, horses, dogs, cats and other mammals "because all our bodies share similar features," explained Dr. Mark Crisman, a professor at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in treating larger animals, such as horses.
Over time, he said, veterinary acupuncturists have created "transpositional maps" that shifted the well-known acupuncture points of the human body to animals. This wasn't always easy. "Obviously, horses don't have five fingers like people do," Crisman said. "So, the experts took the points that were equivalent to points on our hands and transposed them around the hooves."
Today, Crisman teaches a certifying course at the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, which lists more than 2,000 members worldwide, with hundreds practicing in the United States. Two other centers -- one at the Chi Institute in Florida and another at Colorado State University -- offer degrees in the practice.
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