Cats and acupuncture can coexist

By Dr. Connie Clemons-Chevis

When I first started practicing TCVM (traditional Chinese veterinary medicine) in 2006, I pictured me trying to put acupuncture needles in a cat.

The mental scene was one of a cat lashing out at me as I tried to palpate, find the point and stick a needle in the cat or having to sedate the cat. I love working with cats and over the years found that the more you restrain a cat, the harder it fights and the worse the prognosis of being able to accomplish anything positive.

Pre-TCVM cat treatment, especially involving sticking a needle in the cat, consisted of a competent technician holding the cat, me pinching the skin and injecting, so you can imagine trying to put six to 10 needles in a cat with no restraint or sedation (TCVM works better without sedation).

I remember my first cat TCVM treatment: a cat with a chronic sinus infection, which meant the local points were on the face -- close to the teeth! Well, a deep breath, relaxing myself, tiny Korean hand needles, and in no time the cat had four needles in his face and I had no injuries. Yes, to my surprise the cat tolerated the needles well, and one of my favorite pictures is the kitty calmly sitting on my lap with needles in his face.

Over the years I have learned that most cats really enjoy acupuncture. I have treated many completely by myself while the cat sits on the table then falls asleep or relaxes with his eyes closed.

What I have also found is that many cats have pain in the hip or lumbosacral area and the owners are not really aware of this until they see the cat's skin react when pressure is applied to acupuncture points in the area. The clinical diagnosis has been further substantiated by a study in 2002 of radiographs of older cats, which revealed that more than 90 percent of cats showed arthritic radiographic changes in the spine, mostly in the lumbosacral area.

The changes in the cat's behavior can be very subtle: not getting on the bed and sleeping with the owners, not doing speed run exercising around the house, not being as playful, etc. There have been many cases where owners have relayed to me how much better the cat felt after a TCVM treatment, with it running around the house and playing when it had not been doing this for years, yet the cat was brought in for a problem not related to arthritis.

I must be completely honest. There are always exceptions to generalities, and occasionally a cat or dog that is difficult will come in, but fortunately a way has been found (usually with fewer needles and/or laser acupuncture) to be able to still treat the pet without sedation and get positive results.

If you have an older cat which seems to just be slowing down or not playing as much as before, don't just blame "old age." This could be arthritic changes and subtle pain which would benefit from TCVM.

Dr. Connie Clemons-Chevis, has received certification in acupuncture, Tui-na and Chinese herbology through Chi Institute in Reddick, Fla., and China National Society of TCVM. Alternative Medicine for Pets offers TCVM services in Bay St. Louis. Write to