Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture and Constipation 

“What kind of cases do you recommend we start with?”

I asked our instructor. Foremost, do no harm is something we try to adhere. If we were going to penetrate tiny needles into our patients, I want to make sure the benefits outweigh any potential risk. I guess on some level, I want to start with cases I know will respond, so I can feel encouraged to tackle more complicated cases.

According to NIH, acupuncture has been recognized for its effect in pain management of the musculoskeletal system. Although in TCVM theory, it has a wider range of actions. Our instructors recommended us to start with cases like arthritis and other joint problems. Pain relief will be pretty evident.

How do you go about finding that first case? Luckily, most vets have their pets at our disposal.

This is my geriatric cat. He is a diabetic in remission and lost one kidney to an episode of infection 6 years ago. While he doesn’t act like an old man, there are a few signs that are starting to creep up on him.

At 19 of age, I am pretty sure he would have arthritis. He doesn’t show it but there are a few spots along his back that are sensitive. Even though he walks okay and runs faster than I when food is involved, he has a bit of trouble jumping into bed. We have a step by the bed for him.  He would happily use it to jump onto your chest at his leisure. If the step is moved away from the bed, he’d scream at you until you follow him to the step, staring at you reproachfully until everything is back at its rightful place.

He also doesn’t do number 2 regularly. Mind you, he never struggle in the box but the last 6 months or so I noticed that he would only produce small and dry feces every 3- 4 days. Having just one kidney left, he is prone to internal dehydration. Many old pets also have trouble squatting to defecate, either because their muscle strength is decreased or experiencing lower back pain The gastrointestinal peristalsis also slows down as one ages, leading to decreased frequency of defecation.

Placing that first needle was the most scary part. He had been patient with me when I was just learning to locate the points, placing him on odd positions to poke around. Now I am sticking sharp objects into him. Thank goodness for his Earthy constitution!

He watched me with curiosity as I placed needle after needle into him. I wonder what he made of the novel sensation that came with my fingers. Was he able to make the connection? Sometimes he didn’t seem to feel it and sometimes he twitched and repositioned himself, though overall he stayed put.  One thing was for sure, he would not let me put any needles into his legs or paws. No matter. The magical thing about acupuncture is that since many points are connected with each other through meridians, if you can’t access one point there is always another point that can be used for similar effect. I tried to treat primarily the kidney and hip points on him.

To finish up the session, I did 1 c.c. of aquapuncture into his GV-1. This is the best point for any defecation problem. You could use it to treat constipation as well as diarrhoea. Honestly, I had some doubt. GV- 1 is located half way between the anus and the tail base. Who in their right minds would dare to inject something into this area? What self- respecting feline would allow you to lift up their tails without a fight?

Apparently, mine would. Using an insulin syringe and the tiny needle, I injected 1 c.c. of saline into this region. There was a bit of tail swishing but he again stayed put for the injection.

Of course being the paranoid mom, I checked and touched him all over for any bruises, bleeding, pain and swelling. Nothing. It was as if nothing had happen.

I started to put away the needles and that’s when I heard it- He jumped into litter box and immediately produced 3 little nuggets that must have been stuck there for the last 3 days. Over the next few hours he went into the box several times, continuing his spring cleaning.

How long did the effect last? Well, for about 6 weeks, he had normal bowel movement daily, which meant that I had to clean his box more frequently 😡. Then slowly his production got smaller again so we did another session and it became regular again.

Here is the thing- Our bodies are aging every day so I suppose we can’t expect the effect of medication or treatments such as acupuncture to last forever.

What about his arthritis? Did it help? I must say for this I had not witnessed anything dramatic. Since his symptoms were very subtle, it was difficult to see if there was any difference. Behaviour- wise, I saw him roaming and exploring more places in the house (although that could just be in search of food). As this was my first attempt at acupucnture, I might just need more practice.

Having success with my own pet made me bolder. When a cat showed up with similar problems and his mom seemed to be at wit’s end, I shared my experience with her. After a few weeks of contemplation we decided to give it a go.

A little background- He is about 17 years old and we’ve recently diagnosed him with early kidney disease. He was doing well for awhile but one day he couldn’t defecate. He pushed so hard he cried in the box. Then he started puking. Xray confirmed that he had large amount of stool backed up in his system, and on top of that he had terrible arthritis in his spine.

What followed were pretty standard treatments. We gave him enema, stool softner and lubricant for the gastrointestinal tract. We taught mom how to do subcutaneous fluids at home to keep him hydrated. We talked about diet and changing to a lower litter box which would make it easier for him to go in and out.  We were really hoping that this constipation was an one-off episode, but every few days he was in trouble and we had to clean him out.

With each week, it was becoming stressful for him. The problem was not just constipation alone, but how it made him feel. He did not want to eat. If he was not trying to go then he was hiding under the chair. Getting enema in the clinic once a week was not fun. His problems weren’t terminal but he sure would head that way if he wouldn’t eat. We decided to try acupuncture as the alst resort.

In our lectures, the instructors told us we must “respect the cat”. They are a specie of their own and they dictate how much you could do to them, not the other way around. Sometimes you may be able to put in 20 needles, sometimes you may only be able to put in 5. Not knowing what to expect, I proceeded with caution with mom lightly holding him on the table.

Amazingly, this cat allowed me to put in all the points I wanted to hit. He even let me go into his legs and paws. We let the needles sit in him for 20 minutes, and he started to fall asleep. Mom told me she’d never seen him this calm at a vet clinic before.

We did a couple more sessions with him. His response to acupucnture was much more dramatic compared to my own cat. I suppose this is becuase his conditions were more severe. The first thing we noticed was how soft his fur became. This was not an intended effect. Prior to the treatment, his fur was dull and greasy from lack of self- grooming and nutrients intake. When I saw him one week after the first session, the fur was glossy and smooth.

According to mom, he regained the feline curiosity. There was more life in his eyes and he started to pay attention to the birds outside the window. He jumped onto the windowsill, something he has not done for a few years. He started playing with his toys again. “It’s like he is a whole new cat!” she exclaimed.

What of his defecation? I asked her. He still doesn’t go every day, but he maintains a regular output every other day and there was no trouble pushing it out. The appearance of feces appear more moist and softer.

As he started to get better, we found it more difficult to sneak needles into him. I realized that during the first session he was probably too tired to fight us. Now that his senses are sharpened, he is not gonna allow us to do much. Funny thing is, he would protest during the needle placement, but once the needles were in he would start to relax and doze off.

It’s amazing that something as simple as sticking a few needles into the right places could produce such changes. No wonder so many of the practitioners went on to practice solely traditional chinese medicine. It felt good to be able to offer another option when conventional treatment could do no more.




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