Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), although relatively new to the Western world, is a medical system that has been used in China to treat animals for thousands of years. It is an adaptation and extension of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used to treat humans. Speaking broadly, Chinese Medicine is a complete body of thought and practice grounded in Chinese Daoist philosophy. Though it can be traced back over two millennia in recorded history, it, like any medical system, continues to evolve today, and current research on acupuncture and herbal medicine is beginning to shed light on its mechanism of action.
The Four Branches of TCVM
Once a particular type of disharmony or disease pattern is identified, treatment often proceeds through a combination of treatment modalities.
Though the terms Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are often used interchangeably in the West, acupuncture is actually only one modality or “branch” of TCM and TCVM. There are actually four branches of TCVM – Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy and Tui-na (Qi-gong, a form of Chinese meditative exercise, is a fifth branch of TCM that is excluded from TCVM because it cannot be performed by animals).
✓ Acupuncture is a treatment that involves the stimulation of points, typically achieved through the insertion of specialized needles into the body. Acupuncture points typically lie along the body’s Meridian Channels along which Qi flows. Most veterinary acupuncture points and Meridian lines are transposed to animals from humans, though knowledge of some “classical points” defined on particular species have been retained and are used to this day.
✓ Herbal Medicine utilizes herbal ingredients listed within the Chinese Herbal Materia Medica in particular combinations or formulas to treat particular disease patterns. Herbal formulas are administered orally and are typically given in powder form to horses and other large animals and in tea pill or capsule form to cats and dogs.
✓ Food Therapy is the use of diet to treat and prevent imbalance within the body. It utilizes knowledge of the energetics of food ingredients to tailor diets for individual animals.
✓ Tui-na is a form of Chinese manual therapy in which different manipulations are applied to acupoints and Meridians to promote the circulation of Qi and correct imbalances within the organ systems. From a conventional medicine perspective, Tui-na can be thought of as corresponding to a combination of acupressure, conventional massage and chiropractic techniques. Tui-na is most commonly used to treat acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions and is also useful as a preventative medicine therapy, because it promotes balance in the body. It can also be used in conjunction with and to enhance acupuncture and herbal treatments.
Although veterinarians must receive specialized training in the techniques and applications of Tui-na, once mastered, several Tui-na techniques can be taught to caretakers for home treatments.
TCVM and traditional western veterinary practic TCVM is often viewed as a form of complementary therapy, and is best when used in conjunction with Western Veterinary Medicine (WVM). Both TCVM and WVM have their own strengths and weaknesses. TCVM is a holistic approach that is suited to assessing the well-being of the whole patient, and treatments are generally non-invasive with few side effects. However, TCVM lacks the tools necessary to pinpoint illness to specific disease-causing agents like pathogenic bacteria or viruses, and treatments are better suited for chronic conditions than acute ones. On the other hand, WVM utilizes the tools of modern science to diagnose disease with great precision, and Western drugs and procedures are powerful and fast acting.
However, its insistence on detailed diagnosis may come at the expense of getting the larger picture. Furthermore, while modern medicine can perform miracles for trauma and acute injuries, it has little to offer chronic conditions like liver failure and atopy which can be treated effectively with acupuncture and herbal medicine. In many ways, TCVM and WVM each has what the other lacks. Thus, the best medical system involves the integration of the two systems, so that the strengths of one can compensate for the weaknesses of the other.