It’s not voodoo. It’s more than simply sticking needles.

Veterinary acupuncture, based on scientific research and measurable results, has proven to be a beneficial and profitable addition to veterinary practices across the country.

Bovine practitioners are also witnessing its effects in cattle herds, as well.

Acupuncture, simply put, is the stimulation of specific points on the body, which can alter various biochemical and physiologic conditions. It is a means of helping the body heal itself.

Tim Holt, DVM, clinical sciences department faculty at Colorado State University (CSU); and Kristol K. Stenstrom, DVM, a private practitioner in Shawnee, KS, have practiced veterinary acupuncture for several years. Their clients couldn’t be happier.

Dr. Holt graduated from veterinary school in 1988, after which he went into private practice in Gunnison, CO. After about a decade of practicing in this rural mountain town, he felt as if he was missing something in the way of therapy.

“I was recommending rest and anti-inflammatories, in some cases, but it ended there,” he says. “I felt like I was missing something. About 15 years ago, with speculation, I took a two week acupuncture course to see what it was. After that course, I began using the practice on animals and realized the success was quite drastic. I got addicted.”

He continued acupuncture training while in private practice. After 18 years, Dr. Holt moved from Gunnison to begin a career with CSU. Today, he teaches acupuncture courses and conducts acupuncture on cattle, horses and other ruminants.


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Dr. Stenstrom has practiced veterinary medicine for nearly 20 years in Shawnee. A graduate of Kansas State University, she received her initial training in veterinary acupuncture from CSU in 2003. Today, she instructs other veterinarians in acupuncture, in addition to running her practice.

Because of her close proximity to Kansas City, Dr. Stenstrom says the majority of her acupuncture patients are small animal, with about five percent being comprised of equine and exotic patients. She does, however, treat her own cattle herd with the practice when needed.

She says many misconceptions exist regarding acupuncture and its scientific backing. By understanding the facts, veterinarians and producers can see the benefits.

More Than Needles

Often, people think of traditional Chinese medicine when they think of acupuncture, Dr. Stenstrom says. That is one version—although it’s not the only one.

According to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA), original traditional Chinese medicine formed the basis of acupuncture. By needling certain spots on the body, the flow of “Chi,” or energy, is regulated. The result is nourishment of tissues and organs.

vet does acupuncture on dogThrough this theory, horses and cattle have been treated with acupuncture in China and Korea since ancient times.

However, Dr. Stenstrom says, she and many others practice medical acupuncture.

“This form of acupuncture is backed up by research and understanding,” she says. “You can often get the same end result with either form, but we gravitate toward medical acupuncture because we want to understand why it’s working.

“Our Western minds like concrete understanding,” she continues. “If we begin discussing Chinese medicine with agricultural producers, they’ll quite likely tune us out. It is imperative that we speak scientifically, so that they can be confident that it’s beneficial and a scientific practice.”

Dr. Stenstrom says Western acupuncture activates medically identifiable channels of the nervous system, which happen to also be located in the same areas of the Chinese Chi pathways.

“We are stimulating the body to produce neurochemicals,” she explains. “When the needle is placed into the tissue in a specific spot, a number of biochemical changes occur. Signals travel up the spinal cord to the brain, back down again, and changes occur from the brain level.”

Dr. Holt says when the needle is stuck into the anatomically identifiable location, this small area of microtrauma stimulates a healing cascade through a number of vessels and nerves.

“This activates cells that travel through the spinal cord, releasing healing factors and activate pain-blocking mechanisms,” Dr. Holt says. “This also releases endorphins and hormonal chemicals—somewhat of a ‘runner’s high.’”

It might surprise you to know this form of treatment can be used in a variety of ways for cattle, and other animals as well.