Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine

It began with a cat I couldn’t help. She clearly wasn’t doing well, but despite numerous tests, my colleagues and I couldn’t pinpoint the problem and could only get partial improvements in response to treatment. Even with all of modern veterinary medicine at my fingertips, there was only so much Western medicine could do. And so I, like many other veterinarians, began to explore more ancient wisdom for “something else.” And I, like so many others, found the answer in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).

The oldest stone acupuncture needles, found in Inner Mongolia, are about 8000 years old. The first evidence of veterinary acupuncture is about 3000 years old, beginning with the writings of Bo Le (Bo’-lo), an ancient Chinese equine specialist. But TCVM didn’t stop with the ancient philosophers. It continues to evolve, incorporating modern devices such as electrical stimulation (electroacupuncture) and many carefully controlled scientific studies.

Many people are familiar with one aspect of TCVM − acupuncture. But did you know that acupuncture is only a fraction of the methods TCVM practitioners may use? There are actually four aspects of TCVM philosophy: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, tui-na (a type of Chinese massage therapy), and food therapy. 

Acupuncture involves the placement of very thin needles in precise locations on the body to help regulate the flow of Qi (chee), or energy, throughout the body. Some points have special properties that help with a particular condition. Acupuncture may also involve warming the points with burning herbs, called moxa, injection of a small amount of fluid under the skin at a particular point (aquapuncture), or electroacupuncture using a low level of electricity to stimulate the Qi flow between certain points.

Prescribing Chinese herbs forms the biggest fraction of TCVM. Various herbs, mainly derived from the roots, stems, bark, leaves, flowers, or fruits of various plants, have specific properties that aid in healing and balancing the body systems. Herbal formulas are easy for owners to give at home. Many come in powders or tinctures that can be given with a meal; capsules, biscuits, or tiny round pills called teapills are also available for many formulas.

Tui-na (twee-nah’) is the manual therapy aspect of TCVM. It includes pushing, pulling, and touching or massaging along the meridians or channels of the body or at specific points or areas. This can include “homework” that the TCVM veterinarian may give to owners so that they can continue the beneficial balancing at home.

Much like herbs, foods have particular characteristics too. Some foods are warming, some cooling. For example, is there nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a juicy, cool slice of melon? The TCVM practitioner may advise certain foods or methods of preparation to help balance the body systems and help the animal heal and remain healthy. This is the basis of food therapy.

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine really is a complete system of medical treatment for animals. It can be used along with Western medicine and is a great choice for those hard-to-treat cases.


Dr. Cynthia Glover, of LunarPoodle Veterinary Services, practices TCVM in-home and in weekly clinics at SplashDog in Edmonds.

Published in the September/October 2014 Pet Connection Magazine, North Sound edition.