GAINESVILLE, Fla.---When conventional drug therapy couldn't help her arthritic collie, Pat Green tried one last option: the pins and needles of veterinary acupuncture.
The results were astounding. Twelve-year-old Brandy, who had been unable to rise to her feet, soon was rushing to the door to greet her healer, veterinary acupuncturist Dr. Huisheng Xie.
Xie is far from the only acupuncturist to treat animals. But in what could be a sign of the expanding role and growing legitimacy of alternative health treatment -- even for animals -- the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has hired him for its clinical faculty.
"We are responding to current trends and demands within the veterinary profession and specifically to multiple requests from various groups and individuals," said Dr. Eleanor Green, chair of the department of largeanimal clinical sciences. "UF is assuming a leadership role in the emerging discipline of alternative and complementary medicine by hiring a competent, well-trained veterinarian and scholar."
Dr. Yann Hwang, a professor of neuroscience at Tuskegee University in Alabama and former president of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, said a few other veterinary colleges provide acupuncture services, but only Xie has the designation of full-time faculty member exclusively focused on alternative treatment methods.
"To me, this is big news," Hwang said. "I'm very pleased."
A recent survey by the American Association of Equine Practitioners revealed that 22 percent use physical therapy, 17 percent, acupuncture; 8 percent, chiropractic; 7 percent, massage; 6 percent, homeopathy; and 6 percent employ herbs in treatment.
The veterinarians surveyed also indicated they were increasingly recommending alternative practices for the treatment of horses.
In his practice, Xie blends the strengths of traditional Western and Eastern medicine.
Xie received his doctor of veterinary medicine degree in China in 1983 and a master's degree in veterinary acupuncture from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Beijing Agricultural University.
He was awarded a diploma in acupuncture from the Beijing College of Traditional Medicine and holds another diploma from the Advanced Acupuncture Continuing Education Program, received at the National Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing.
Xie received his doctor of philosophy degree at UF earlier this year, studying acupuncture for pain control in horses. He has been involved in research projects evaluating the effect of acupuncture in horses with back pain and in horses with colic.
A third-generation traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Xie said he's not opposed to using conventional medical techniques when appropriate.
"If I suspect there's a fracture, for example, I might rule this out by using conventional diagnostic tools," Xie said. "Modern medicine doesn't always help the animal, and that's where acupuncture can be helpful in certain areas."
Xie said acupuncture works well for older dogs with arthritis and for horses with soft tissue injuries in the back or leg. A treatment session lasts 20 to 40 minutes and costs $95 for horses, $65 for small animals. The evaluation fee is $30.
"How exactly acupuncture works is difficult to say," Xie said. One popular theory: Acupuncture induces the release of endorphins, a natural substance that is thought to raise the pain threshold and produce a sense of euphoria.
"That would be why animals or people feel very relaxed after acupuncture," Xie said.
Xie, who also offers traditional Chinese herbal remedies, accepts outpatients and inpatients admitted to UF's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. He also makes farm calls.
Pat Green, the owner of the arthritic collie, is convinced Xie's acupuncture therapy made a difference.
"I truly believe these treatments gave us another year with Brandy, a year in which she was functioning well and happy," she said.
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