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I don’t think it would be a surprise if I told you that alternative medicine such as chiropractic medicine or acupuncture was not taught when I went to vet school. Students who had an interest in these modalities mostly picked up tricks of the trade during externships. As such, I have very little knowledge of these vastly different alternatives to current Western veterinary medicine.

Most often, I don’t think of holistic practices much, since they don’t seem to fit in a clinic where we spend much of our time vaccinating animals, delivering babies, treating colics, castrating, and suturing wounds. But every once in a while, I’ll get a client (always a horse owner) who asks about chiropractors. And usually when this happens, I don’t really know what to say.

I’ll have to admit that the thought of me giving acupuncture to a bull or doing chiropractic adjustments on a sheep seems fairly humorous and I’m not too sure I wouldn’t get laughed out of the barn if I suggested something along those lines to many of my clients. Imagine my surprise, then, to see a recent article in Beef Magazine on vets in the Midwest offering acupuncture to cattle. So it can be done, I thought. With a little more digging, I soon came across acupuncture charts for cattle.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has excellent general guidelines on what veterinarians and horse owners should look for when considering chiropractic treatments for horses. The most important principle I take away from these guidelines and stress to any client looking into alternative medicine is this: if you choose to go that route, make sure the person practicing on your animal is either a licensed veterinarian or under the direct referral of a licensed veterinarian. Just as if you were looking into a chiropractor for yourself, you would (I hope) either go on the referral of your MD or at least do some preliminary research on the individual beforehand.

This naturally leads me to ponder another question: Would I ever consider undertaking some chiropractic or even acupuncture training for my large animal patients? Even the preliminary research I’ve done on the recent advances of these practices in large animals is enough to give me pause for consideration. Yes, I’ve had equine patients with chronic back pain that I felt I couldn’t help; would chiropractic adjustments be beneficial? What about that bucking rodeo bull who was uncomfortable in a way I was sure was musculoskeletal in origin but I just couldn’t find a cause?

Understanding that alternative medicine isn’t a panacea when I’m diagnostically or therapeutically out of options, I wouldn’t be totally truthful if I told you these other modalities were of no interest to me. I’m always curious to learn new techniques, so who knows? If we start getting enough beef clients asking about acupuncture for their show heifers, I just might be onto something.

Dr. Anna O'Brien

Image: Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

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