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Home > Animal Acupuncture > Acupuncture for Horses < News

Vet Uses Acupuncture Help Horses Heal


April 22, 2005

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 disorders.

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 behavioral changes?

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.

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