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Chinese Herbal Medicine for Animals by Lindsey Wedemeyer

Despite modern medicine's many advances, numerous chronic or painful conditions do not completely respond to conventional treatment. More people every day are experiencing the benefits of acupuncture and herbal medicine in treating these conditions. Now, increasing numbers of veterinarians are using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to treat these same conditions in animals in order to lessen drug dependence and encourage more natural and complete healing.

Herbal medicine, acupuncture, food therapy, Tui-na (medical massage) and Tai chi together make up what is known as the five branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Combining acupuncture and herbal medicine, the two branches most commonly used in veterinary medicine, produces a synergistic effect so herbal medicine should not be overlooked when taking a holistic treatment approach.

What is Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese herbal medicine, as with acupuncture, is based on the theory of balancing the body's qi (energy) and yin and yang to promote health through balance. Illness and disease are seen as being caused by imbalance in the body, so specific herbs and formulas will be chosen for each patient based on their underlying imbalance from a Chinese perspective. The same disease can be caused by many different imbalances; therefore, patients with the same Western diagnosis may receive different Chinese herbal treatments. Herbal medicine treats the root of the problem and not just the symptoms, promoting more complete healing and also strengthening and rebalancing the body to prevent future disease.

When should Chinese Herbal Medicine be Used?

Herbal medicine is used to treat a wide range of internal medical conditions, including problems affecting the respiratory, neurological, cardiovascular, hormonal, gastrointestinal, urinary and reproductive systems. It can also be used for behavioral problems such as excessive fearfulness or bizarre behaviors. However, it is never a substitute for surgery in life-threatening problems, which is why it is essential to always have your pet examined by your regular veterinarian if he or she becomes sick.

If your regular veterinarian is not able to recommend a colleague with TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) training, a good place to start your search is the Chi Institute of TCVM's online directory at TCVM.com.

Specialist veterinary herbal companies have now modified traditional Chinese herbal formulas to be more effective for animal diseases and to make them easy to administer to animals. These companies stringently test their herbs for identity and purity; the quality control in the leading veterinary herbal companies is equivalent to that of pharmaceutical companies.

Is Chinese Herbal Medicine Effective?

There is a rapidly growing volume of evidence showing that Chinese herbal medicine is both effective and safe for animals. Numerous laboratory studies have shown that herbs contain compounds with beneficial effects on the body, and clinical studies have shown that herbal formulas can be genuinely beneficial in treating many different diseases. For example, many commonly used Chinese herbs contain compounds that have anti-oxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Chronic inflammation is now known to underlie development of many diseases and these herbs have been shown to slow the progression of kidney disease, protect against neurodegeneration, prevent cancer and help treat infections and inflammatory diseases, among other effects.

Find a Qualified Practitioner

Although herbs can be used alone, a more complete Chinese medical approach will also involve acupuncture and often massage and dietary modification. This is particularly important if the animal has a chronic or serious health problem. In most states, the practice of animal acupuncture is restricted to only licensed veterinarians. Veterinarians interested in herbal medicine can now become certified after taking a training course and passing exams. A veterinarian with certification in Chinese herbal medicine will understand an animal's health concern from both a conventional and Chinese medical perspective.

Chinese medicine should be used to complement, not replace conventional medicine. With that in mind, it’s important to understand all the treatment options available for your animal to make an informed choice.

Veterinarian Lindsey Wedemeyer MA VetMB CVA CVCH MRCVS is the owner of New York Veterinary Acupuncture Service and provides Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and other TCVM therapies during house calls in Orange and Rockland counties and the surrounding area. For more information visit NYVeterinaryAcupuncture.com or contact 461-6953.

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