story and photos by michael prochaska
Main Street Vet’s Dr. James Williams uses the art of Chinese acupuncture for the benefit of his patients
The needles slide in with ease, protruding a little more than an inch beyond a close-cut coat of salt and pepper fur. His paws slightly shake with fret, but you can detect a familiar buoyancy in Fritz’s dark eyes. He doesn’t bark or whimper but nestles quietly in the arms of veterinarian assistant Michele Marett.
Fritz, a Miniature Schnauzer approaching his 11th birthday, was diagnosed last year with degenerative disc disease, a chronic condition that causes pain along the spine and lower back. His owners, Patricia and Jimmy Stokes had gone to Dr. James Williams last fall with concern that Fritz might soon be unable to get around the house.
Today is not Fritz’s first encounter with needles; that’s clearly seen by his composure and soundlessness. It is, however, the first time his acupuncture session draws a small audience, but by no means does an observer compromise Fritz’s bravery.
Dr. Williams of Main Street Veterinary Hospital begins to explain the specificity of location for each needle. They penetrate the skin on points of a meridian, a linear pathway transporting "qì," or the flow of energy, throughout the body. Meridians are divided up into "Yin" and "Yang" groups, which are categories of opposites that continually merge into each other.
“Everything in Chinese medicine is defined by Yin and Yang,” explains Williams. “It’s a continual thing and always in flux.”
For those unschooled in Chinese culture, Yin and Yang are contrary forces interconnected in the natural world. Williams describes the meaning of the famous black and white Taoist symbol. “Even in the brightest day, there’s a little bit of shade. And even in the darkest night, there’s a moon,” he says.
So what does ancient philosophy have to do with chronic back pain? The history of acupuncture dates back thousands of years; the first use on animals traces back to the China’s Jin dynasty. It originated as a medical practice to restore the balance of Yin and Yang within the body, thus eradicating pain.
Western culture defends the scientific veracity of acupuncture with evidence that most of the body’s 365 meridian points are located at clusters of nerves and blood vessels.
The penetration of these points can increase blood flow, lower one’s heart rate and improve the overall functioning of the nervous system, according to studies. It’s also been tested to measure the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
The Chinese used acupuncture as a remedy for colic in horses. In the past two years that Main Street Vet has offered veterinarian acupuncture, Williams sees mostly cats and dogs, making a few house calls to farmers whose horses or cows require a session.
That’s not to say acupuncture is less effective for smaller, domesticated animals. Human points can be easily transposed, and though there are subtle differences, main pathways, such as two meridians running parallel from the eyes, over the head and down the spine are practically the same.
The twelve regular meridians are divided up into the names of organs. Today, Williams is working on the bladder meridian, which runs parallel with the spine and treats muscular problems, arthritis and degenerative disc conditions.
Williams stimulates these points with two out of three acupuncture methods, first with short, thin needles and then with a larger, red hypodermic needle that injects saline and vitamin B12. The latter is a process called aquapuncture.
Electroacupuncture, the third method that Williams will sometimes utilize, applies an electrical stimulation to a meridian point. It vibrates in rhythmic pulses at various frequencies. Higher frequencies release higher levels serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to happiness. In humans, it’s demonstrated to help in treating moderate post-chemotherapy vomiting.
In animals, Williams assures, all three forms of acupuncture are harmless and without discomfort. Though sense of pain is difficult to quantify in animals, studies have shown that acupuncture provides a pleasant, tingling sensation in humans and animals alike, Williams says.
Though Fritz takes the procedure like a champ, some animals are more squeamish, particularly cats. In one instance, Williams had to sedate a cat suffering from a melting ulcer in its eyes. With one eye already removed and oral and ointment medication proven unsuccessful, Williams treated the cat with electro- and aquapuncture around the other eye aggressively for weeks. When all treatments were done, the cat had a slight haze over that eye, but acupuncture saved the pet from losing both eyes.
“You’re going to have your skeptics and your naysayers, and in those situations, I hope I can prove them wrong with the results,” Williams says. “I’ve certainly had a few ‘light bulb’ moments. There was a dog whose owners were literally thinking about euthanizing. They were there. If we can keep a dog – a faithful friend – around a little bit longer, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
Williams says he lets the results speak for themselves. Soon after that dog received its last treatment, the owners called, ecstatic that their canine friend walked up the stairs for the first time in six months.
“After the first session, Fritz went through a period of rejuvenated energy and dexterity,” says Patricia Stokes, who also supplements the acupuncture with herbal treatment. Stokes says the acupuncture had made all the difference in the world in improving Fritz’s health.
Williams, who spent some of his young adult life in Singapore, says he believes whole-heartedly in treating conditions through natural remedies when appropriate. But Williams is still a self-practicing, licensed vet, and acupuncture only takes up a small portion of his schedule. The day-to-day practices of Main Street Vet are like any other veterinarian office. After Fritz’s acupuncture, Williams helped clip another dog’s nails. The room resonated with the high-pitched yaps of that small, fluffy pooch petrified at the sight of clippers. Not all veterinarian instruments are as painless as needles.
Printed in the June 21, 2012 edition