Audrey Shannon, DVM



What does health or healing mean to most of us? Is it just the absence of disease, or dealing with problems? Or, can we expand health to mean a sense of well-being and vitality, as seen in an active, robust animal who is engaged with its environment and with human companions?


Many people who turn to acupuncture, herbs and supplements for their animal companions are seeking to not only improve a certain condition or state of disease; they are also concerned with their animal’s quality of life.


In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the practitioner looks at the whole body system and considers any external symptoms as manifestations of that system being out of balance. Acupuncture is a tool by which that system can be rebalanced. Much of the time, animals who have been treated with acupuncture have increased vitality and energy.


Western medicine doesn’t tend to acknowledge things like the vitality and energy of a patient. These things are difficult, if not impossible, to measure objectively. Given the variables of different observers’ impressions or understanding of how much better a dog is feeling without being able to ask the dog, subjective observation can’t be quantified very well.


After more than 12 years of using acupuncture to treat animals, I can say that my subjective observations have been that animals benefit in many ways. In addition to increased vitality and energy, benefits often include some degree of resolution of the symptoms or disease process.


The reason for these improvements is the way the body responds to this form of treatment. Acupuncture improves circulation to target areas, as when treating arthritis, as well as to internal organs such as the kidneys or the liver. Increased circulation is accompanied by increased energy flow, lymphatic circulation and a more balanced hormonal and endorphin release, and allows localized areas and the organ systems to function better. Improved tissue and organ function results in the increase in vitality and energy we see. It usually results in comments from the human companions about how their dog or cat seems to feel better and is happier.


There are some instances when improved health can be measured by Western medicine testing. This may be shown in improved kidney or liver values on a chemistry panel. More often, however, the results are measured subjectively by an improvement in the symptoms of arthritis or a decreased reccurrence of infections, or an improved appetite. People notice how much more the animals are engaged and interested in their environment and with their human companions. Their animals are playing with toys, wanting to go on walks, or go on longer walks, have more stamina, and they don’t just sleep all day. The conclusion is generally that the animals are feeling better and that they are happier, healthier and enjoying their life. These are all qualities that humans value and find it difficult to measure in their own lives.



Acupuncture can be a truly amazing and useful modality for improving conditions and quality of life for an animal. However, probably of equal importance is nutrition. Food is the cornerstone of health. Chinese medicine has determined that food quality and source, and the nature of the food, is very important to each patient. In the Western world we are becoming more accustomed to the importance and source of the food we eat and feed to our animals. We look for fresh and natural or organic foods. But this awareness, along with consideration of the type of food the patient would most benefit from is really a much newer concept that is common in Eastern medical systems. A younger animal may benefit from a raw food diet, but an older or chronically ill patient may benefit more from cooked foods.


Other considerations in Chinese medicine are the nature and healing properties of foods that will most benefit a specific condition or organ system. For example, pears are used to improve lung function, and are fed to patients with breathing problems and asthma. Seaweed is used to improve the kidney and urinary tract system, and is included in the diet to prevent urinary tract infections and stones forming. Supplements and herbs are also given to improve symptoms of disease and increase the state of the patient’s health.


Using acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in animals can have many beneficial and rewarding results. It can be used for health maintenance and preventative medicine, or in conjunction with Western medicine to treat chronic or acute conditions, usually resulting in quicker resolution of a problem. Most animal patients, with long-term acupuncture treatment and maintenance, have an increased quality of life, vitality and longevity. Although the sense of improved well-being and general state of health and happiness of an animal is purely subjective, their human companions notice it, and that is what matters most.



Dr. Audrey Shannon is a Santa Fe veterinarian who practices acupuncture and Chinese medicine on dogs and cats. Dr. Shannon makes house calls.





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