Written by Dr Meredith Jones, DVM
Qi. Yin. Yang. Shen. Jing. Five Elements. Meridians. You might be thinking, “sounds like a completely different language” and you would actually be correct in your assumption. These are Chinese words used to describe different aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This form of medicine has been practiced for centuries on both human and animal patients. Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) is the ancient veterinary practice that uses a combination of acupuncture, herbal formulas, diet, and Tui-na (massage) to treat patients. Eastern medicine differentiates greatly from Western (modern) Medicine. Just like anything “new”, a lot of questions are often brought up in regards to its authenticity. This is a quick and very basic break down of TCVM.
Eastern medicine is based on an ideology that the body (human or animal) is a smaller replica of an intricate and larger surrounding universe in which Qi plays a very important role. Qi can be defined as an essential life energy or life force that makes up the body and is necessary for any action or reaction both positive and negative. Without enough Qi, one cannot survive. The ideology of yin-yang is another component of TCVM. This is the thought that there is an equal and opposite force for all things; for example, light to dark, hot to cold, white to black. All these opposing forces mold and transform each other in order to keep a balance.
TCVM divides life into five seasons: spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter. The five seasons parallel the Five Elements which consist of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. As the world passes through the seasons, all life forms also pass through the individual seasons of life. Each season of life can be attributed to one of the Five Elements. Similarly, each season and element is associated with specific parts of the body. Everything in TCVM is very intricately and delicately intertwined; very little change affects something whether good or bad. For example, the summer season is associated with the Wood personality/element, and both are associated with the heart and Shen (mind).
Western medicine uses more hypothetical deduction through the use of diagnostics (bloodwork, cytology, radiographs, etc) to make an appropriate diagnosis. Eastern medicine uses a more inductive method by looking at patterns and imbalances causing disease or discord in the body. Individual characteristics such as age, sex, energy levels, personality and environment are used in combination with the symptoms to help pinpoint a diagnosis. The animal as a whole is treated versus treating a symptom.
The word “holistic” sometimes has a negative stigma attached to it, but TCVM is a more natural way of treating disease. It looks at the animal as a whole and diagnoses the underlying cause of disease. Generally, chronic conditions can benefit more from the use of TCVM and it will usually help the animal more than it will do any harm. There are positives and negatives to both ways of practicing, however, WVM and TCVM compliment each other very successfully. TCVM is more natural and less invasive whereas WVM uses modern medicine and is more capable of isolating specific disease, bacteria or viruses and uses faster-acting, heavier hitting modern modalities.
There are four different modalities that can be used with TCVM which include acupuncture, herbal medication, diet and Tui-na (Chinese massage). Acupuncture is the most common modality used currently and is very safe when practiced by a CVA (certified veterinary acupuncturist). The way the acupuncture works in regards to the TCVM ideology is very complicated. However, the basic science behind it is in the acupuncture needle, which causes a micro-trauma where it is placed. When there is an inciting force, or micro-trauma that causes an inflammatory response in the body, it in turn causes a release of afferent alpha fibers, increases serotonin release and increases beta-endorphin release. In other words, this is a very efficient and natural response to pain which as a result provides relief. In combination with the other TCVM modalities, this can be a wonderful way to provide pain relief and treat chronic conditions.
An “integrative veterinary clinic” is one that combines the use of WVM and TCVM. Eastern medicine maybe centuries old but is still relatively new to the Western world. As it has continued to grow, more studies are being completed that are showing its effectiveness by itself and in combination with Western medicine. Of course, there are still naysayers and those that label Eastern medicine as “voo-doo” and “quackery.” At one point in time, there was probably the same thought about antibiotics! As Eastern medicine teaches, there is an equal and opposite force to everything. Western medicine and Eastern medicine ebb and flow together to complement and balance each other. This has only been a very tiny introduction to TCVM but hopefully it has provided a little more understanding about the practice. It is a very different way of practicing medicine, but when done right it can be extremely beneficial. If your four-legged animal of any kind has a condition you have been treating for a while with only some success, why not give Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine a try?
1) Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, Fundamental Principles, 2nd Edition, by Husheng Xie, Vanessa Preast.