Therapeutic Options in Veterinary Research

Veterinarians desire to be the gatekeepers for horse health and welfare, so they need to be educated in therapeutic options to meet expectations of clients. Surveys performed by the AAEP in 1998 and 2002 indicated an increased use of and referral for therapeutic options by AAEP members.

Acupuncture developed in a virtually technology-free culture and depended on naked-sense observations to gather data about problems. Essentially acupuncture stimulates sensory receptors, which stimulate sensory afferent (carrying inward) nerves that transmit signals through the central nervous system to the hypothalamic/pituitary system. Neurotransmitters and neurohormones are released and affect the body.

Most of what we know about equine manual therapy is from human chiropractic techniques, theories, and research and adapted to our patients. Equine manual therapy addresses mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems and provides a conservative way to treat horses with spinal problems.

The mechanisms underlying the benefits of spinal manipulation are not well understood. It has been suggested that the effect of a chiropractic treatment is not due to correction of a subluxation (abnormal movement of one of the bones in a joint); rather it stimulates mechanoreceptors and causes reflex relaxation.

Currently, many of the equine therapeutic options are based on limited evidence--small-scale research, case studies, and clinical experience. To encourage the spread of potentially valuable ideas, practitioners should share their clinical ex-perience.

High-quality research is essential to the long-term development of "evidence-based practice," but it is now crucial that we do not become too concerned with perfect research methodology at the expense of good ideas. If we accept only information that has demonstrated statistical significance, we risk the dismissal of qualitative research and other information that might be extremely valuable, but that has not yet been fully investigated. Decisions on what should be submitted and accepted for clinical practice should be based on potential clinical relevance as well as statistical analysis.

Current research on therapeutic options includes:

  • University of Florida (UF) researchers are studying acupuncture treatment of equine anhidrosis, improvement of quality of life in cancer patients, pain management, equine recurrent airway obstruction, and persistent equine endometritis.
  • Kevin Haussler, DVM, PhD, DC, at Colorado State University (CSU), is studying the effects of spinal mobilization and manipulation on thoracolumbar kinematics in standing horses with back stiffness. He is using pressure algometry to assess treatment options for back pain--he's comparing chiropractic, massage therapy, phenylbutazone, stall rest, and a control group.
  • P.R. van Weeren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECVS, associate professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, is looking at asymptomatic horses before and after chiropractic treatments. Data appears to demonstrate significant differences in both groups.

Teaching Veterinarians

An International Veterinary Acupuncture Society e-mail questionnaire showed that 24 veterinary schools are integrating some of these modalities into their equine health care program:

  • UF's Veterinary Medical Center treats 30 to 50 patients per week, covering everything from cancer cases to behavioral issues.
  • Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg offers acupuncture for pain management and treating post-operative ileus combined with traditional treatments.
  • At CSU, Narda Robinson DVM, DO, MS, Dipl. ABMA, focuses on acupuncture education, virtual reality interactive programs, and the comparative bases of acupuncture neuroanatomy.

Many veterinary groups are offering therapeutic options seminars. Information is available on these topics in a variety of veterinary publications. The Professional Veterinary Acupuncture Mailing List and CAM-VET keep practitioners updated on developments in the field and provide a forum for discussion.

By James D. Kenney, DVM; and Huisheng Xie, DVM, PhD

James D. Kenney, DVM, is the founder and senior partner of a five-veterinarian equine referral practice in Colts Neck, N.J. His caseload is made up of primarily competition horses. He is I.V.A.S.-certified in Veterinary Acupuncture and Veterinary Manual Therapy.

Huisheng Xie, DVM, PhD, is Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Acupuncture Program, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida.

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