RANCHO BERNARDO – The CT
scan of the horse's brain revealed a lesion filled with pus. Antibiotics alone
couldn't cure the infection, and after extensive attempts to find a solution,
doctors delivered the bad news to the owner: The horse's prognosis was bleak.
Or was it?
Enter Dr. Liz Wilbur, equine acupuncturist.
Wilbur, a licensed veterinarian who lives in Rancho Bernardo, specializes in
acupuncture, an ancient Chinese medical practice that calls for inserting
needles into specific points on the body. The stimulation can cause
physiological changes within the body, such as increased blood circulation or
relief from muscle spasms.
The procedure, widely used to treat humans, also has been used for centuries
in China to heal animals, including horses.
Wilbur considered how she could help the horse with the brain abscess. This
problem was difficult, like almost all of her cases. In her nine years of
practice, she's been called on to help put cancer into remission, suppress
colic, quell chronic skin diseases, subdue nagging coughs and treat pregnancy
Her patients have ranged from horses used for pleasure riding to
internationally competitive show horses.
"I get the call when people have exhausted (traditional) treatments without
success, or they want to use acupuncture as adjunct therapy to accelerate
recovery," Wilbur said.
She began the first session with the infected horse by asking the owner
several questions: What's the horse's medical history? What treatments have been
tried? How is his appetite? His energy level? Any
Anxiety, laziness or
After noting that the horse's gait was weak and uncoordinated, Wilbur felt
the horse to sense swelling and heat. The horse was very sensitive to her touch.
She then placed a variety of needles into specific acupuncture points. Needle
sizes ranged from a hair-like width to a 25-gauge hypodermic. Most horses, such
as this one, have an immediate relaxation response to the stimuli, Wilbur said.
"It's a deeper feeling of massage," she said. "You're tapping into the body's
own healing mechanism."
After discussing her assessment with the owner, Wilbur suggested combining
antibiotics with a Chinese herbal formula and acupuncture treatments.
Five months and six treatments later, the horse fully recovered. His gait
returned to normal, and the owner plans to show him in competition again.
Acupuncture is part of a holistic treatment, Wilbur said.
"It delves deeper into the root of the problem rather than just treat the
symptom," she added.
Wilbur became interested in acupuncture after a friend in medical school said
it could be used to treat animals.
Wilbur was skeptical. She had come from a family of physicians and had been
trained to practice traditional veterinary medicine. She received an
undergraduate degree from University of California San Diego and a veterinary
degree from Michigan State University.
She needed proof that acupuncture had a biomedical basis.
"Coming from a science background, I needed to know how it was working and
why it was working on a cellular level," Wilbur said. "When I understood the
neurophysiology behind it, that made it credible for me."
The treatment is becoming more well-known throughout the equine world, a
multimillion-dollar competitive industry. Wilbur has been called to use
acupuncture in conjunction with Western medicine to maximize performance and
maintain a horse's overall health.