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Acupuncture at the Zoo!

Updated: Jul 12, 2018

As many of my patients know, I was originally introduced to acupuncture by seeing how it worked on animals.  I’m a natural born skeptic, so I’ve always considered myself lucky to have witnessed its effects this way.  While the existence of a placebo effect in animals is debated, it’s unlikely that animals believe being stuck with needles will help their infection heal faster or lessen their arthritic pain.  Therefore, at least to me, successful veterinary acupuncture helps prove that it is a viable form of medicine.  It is so effective, in fact, that various zoos all over the world have begun incorporating acupuncture into their regular care routines.  Here are some recent examples:

Philadelphia Zoo Experimenting with Acupuncture

Donna Ialeggio, a staff veterinarian at the Philadelphia Zoo, has been trying to cure a black-necked swan’s bumblefoot for 31/2 years.

She’s finally found something that seems to be working: acupuncture.

“The speed with which this is healing is just phenomenal,” she said Wednesday as she watched Christina Fuoco, a vet in private practice with training in acupuncture and canine rehabilitation, prepare to treat Jackson, a nine-year-old swan.

The back of his pale pink foot – what would be a heel in humans – had a hard, swollen lump that was once badly infected and three or four times larger. He’s had surgery three times and is on anti-inflammatory medicine, but he’s made his best progress since January, when Fuoco started doing weekly acupuncture and laser treatments.

“This is the first time we have been able to watch healing happen week by week,” Ialeggio said.

Camel Pins Down Pain Relief

(Chicago Brookfield Zoo)

Jewel has been having trouble with her arthritis for some time. It limits the mobility of her front legs and seems to cause a lot of pain in her joints. Her doctor has tried a variety of drugs and therapies with varying success. But the pain she was enduring pushed Jewel’s doctor to try something a bit unconventional—acupuncture. 

Now, every two or three weeks, a trained acupuncturist makes a house call to painlessly insert needles into specific parts of Jewel’s body. And it seems to be working! She seems to be more active, and she is moving better after her treatments. This would not be particularly unusual, except that Jewel is a Bactrian camel and her doctor is zoo veterinarian Dr. Tom Meehan.

Singapore Zoo Heals Animals with Herbs, Acupuncture

Acupuncture for a limping elephant?

Herbal tea for a constipated orangutan?

The Singapore Zoo has tried it all, and it works.

 Around 200 animals, including giraffes, elephants, horses, pythons and sea lions, have successfully been treated with acupuncture and traditional herb-based Chinese medicine in the past decade, although Western medicine remains the first line of treatment in the zoo.

 “The Western medicine did not always work, so we had to find other solutions,” Oh Soon Hock, a senior veterinarian at the zoo told Reuters on Friday.

 Earlier this week the zoo received a S$30,000 ($19,700) grant for further research into traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for animals from a Singapore-based firm that produces TCM.

Clearly, animal acupuncture is growing in popularity right along with acupuncture for humans. It is so exciting to see this therapy work for all sorts of species! Hopefully the positive effects of acupuncture on animals will help pave the way for more scientific understanding of its vast healing potential.


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