A Brief Historical Background of Animal Acupuncture
Acupuncture for treating large animals began nearly 3000 years ago in the Zhou dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Mu [976 - 922 BC]. Records indicate that acupuncture continued to be used on horses until the 10th century, A.D. The focus of its use was on horses because they were so essential to the military. After the 10th century acupuncture is not mentioned in any of the major surviving texts. While investigation into animal medicine and husbandry continued, it was involved primarily with herbal medicines, animal handling, bleeding techniques, and cauterizing, but nothing related to acupuncture. During the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 A.D.) a number of books were written on equine medicine. One famous example is Yu Ben Yuan’s Liao Ma Ji [Therapeutic Treatise of Horses]. Like so many texts on horses that were written after the 10th century, it only dealt with herbal remedies and not acupuncture. Certain ancient Chinese publications make mention of a few “other” ancient texts that apparently contained detailed information on equine acupuncture. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any of these texts survived. It is also important to note that there never were any charts, texts, or references regarding the treatment of dogs or cats with acupuncture.
If we fast-forward over 2,500 years from the time of Emperor Mu to the end of the 16th century in Europe, we discover the very first (in the Western world) comprehensive book on the anatomy of a non- human species entitled Anatomia del Cavallo (Anatomy of the Horse), written by the Italian doctor, Carlo Ruini. It was published in 1598, two years after Ruini’s death. 160 years later, in 1762, the first veterinary college of the Occidental world was founded in Lyon, France. We see then, that the origins of animal acupuncture in China were nearly 3000 years ago, but the beginnings of western veterinary medicine were just over 400 years ago. There are sixteenth century accounts from Jesuit missionaries of acupuncture being done in the East; and while many French clinicians embraced acupuncture at that time, there are no documents indicating that animal acupuncture was ever practiced in Europe.
This brings us to a very interesting point in the history of animal acupuncture. We know that animal medicine, including acupuncture, was explored in large animals, focusing on horses, in ancient China, over a fairly extensive period of time. However, we do not know how fully it was explored, since all the early texts have been lost for centuries. We know that most of this work in China ended around the 10th Century A.D., and that animal acupuncture was not explored again in China until 1976, 4 years after the re- introduction of animal acupuncture that took place in the United States. It’s important for me to restate this --- the re-emergence of animal acupuncture did not occur in Asia but in the United States, and it was acupuncturists, not veterinarians, who introduced animal acupuncture into the U.S., thereby re- introducing it to the world.
One early source of 20th century acupuncture on animals in Europe was the work done by Dr. Oswald Kothbauer from Austria. He did early work on applying acupuncture to cows and he successfully used acupuncture for anesthesia on cows. He published his study in 1973. He never worked with horses or small animals. And as I mentioned before, there is no documentation that small animals were ever treated with acupuncture or herbal medicine in Asia. It wasn’t until 1982 that the Journal of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine was founded in Lanzhou, China, over 10 years after John Ottaviano and Gene Bruno introduced animal acupuncture in the United States.
The National Acupuncture Association (NAA), located in Westwood, California, was the first formal professional organization for acupuncturists in the United States, and was organized as a non-profit educational and research corporation. In 1971 the NAA created its Animal Acupuncture Research Division in an effort to understand whether acupuncture had a practical use for treating diseases and functional disorders in large and small animals. They had been treating their own dogs and cats and friends’ animals with good results. Dr. William Prensky, President of the NAA, put John Ottaviano in charge of the Animal Acupuncture Division. Initially, William Prensky assigned Sang Shin as the titular director of the team, but he left after 3 months, leaving Ottaviano and Bruno to continue the work. John Ottaviano and Gene Bruno ending up being the co-directors of the NAA Animal Acupuncture Research Division and the principal acupuncturists treating large and small animals.
Ottaviano was a very experienced herbalist, specializing in herbal remedies of North and South America. He had traveled extensively in the South Western United States and throughout Central Mexico in search of local herbs and remedies. He financed his travels and studies through an herbal shampoo he had developed which was (and still is) called Nature’s Gate Shampoo. Bruno was a graduate of UCLA, where he met William Prensky, and was a part of Dr. Ju’s second class. It was their Tai Qi instructor, Master Marshall Ho, who had introduced them, along with several others, to Dr. Gim Shek Ju, their first acupuncture teacher.
Ottaviano, Bruno and Prensky sought the assistance of Dr. Gim Shek Ju, to help with trying to locate and translate a few surviving animal charts. These were almost entirely charts for horses. There were also a few charts on other farm animals. There were none for dogs or cats. Working with Dr. Ju on these charts helped them to understand some of the points used on large animals in ancient China. The problem was that the few charts that Dr. Ju discovered were brief and incomplete, often only showing 10 or 12 points, with no indications for their uses. There were no modern charts for horses and no charts at all for small animals.
In 1972, a small animal veterinarian named Richard Glassberg, DVM, contacted the NAA about his interest in using acupuncture to treat small animals. He agreed to work with the NAA Veterinary acupuncture research team. Shin, Ottaviano and Bruno began working with Dr. Glassberg treating small animals, and later with another veterinarian, Dr. Alice DeGroot. After Shin left, Ottaviano and Bruno worked with Joel Rossen, DVM, Robert Friedman DVM, James Craig, DVM, and other veterinarians. There was a strong interest in animal acupuncture at the time by a number of veterinarians. This led to Ottaviano and Bruno treating dogs and cats at five small animal clinics and several locations for horses, including the major racetracks in California [Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar], with legal authorization by the California Veterinary Medical Board and the California Horse Racing Board. At the time, they were the only “non-veterinarians” in California sanctioned by the state Veterinary Board to treat animals with acupuncture.
The successful treatment of horses and small animals for conditions that veterinary medicine could either not treat, or had poor results treating, led to the introduction of Animal Acupuncture in the United States, and later to the rest of the world. From 1972 until 1976, Ottaviano and Bruno treated hundreds of horses and thousands of small animals. In 1973, they created the first modern acupuncture chart of an animal, the horse, where they used a numbering system to identify points. One of their goals at the time was to teach a core group of veterinarians the principals of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. At the time, there was no licensing for acupuncturists anywhere in the U.S. There were several veterinarians who were serious, and after working with us for a few years, began to treat animals with acupuncture on their own. In the summer of 1973, they created the National Association of Veterinary Acupuncture (NAVA). The goal of NAVA was to have, within a few years, veterinary teaching staff to train other interested veterinarians. In 1974/75, with the help from NAA’s Veterinary Acupuncture Research Team and work by other veterinarians who were exploring acupuncture for animals, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) was formed. These veterinarians referred to the system of points and treatment protocols that John Ottaviano and Gene Bruno developed as Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). Today, IVAS has training seminars for veterinarians in North America, Europe and Australia. The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA) was later formed from IVAS members.
The first complete course in animal acupuncture for licensed acupuncturists was developed and taught by acupuncturist Noreen Javornik, LAc, and her associates at Tai Sophia Institute in the late 1990’s. In 2001, Noreen was joined by Randi Sobel, LAc, a graduate of Javornik’s program who worked with her for 15 years. As a pioneer in this field, Noreen was also responsible for the first substantial law on Animal Acupuncture, which passed in Maryland. The International Academy of Animal Acupuncture (IAAA) offered one course for licensed acupuncturists in 2014-15. Currently, the only complete program is taught at the Phoenix Institute of Herbal Medicine & Acupuncture in Arizona. In 1973, Gene Bruno, OMD, LAc, and Joel Rossen, DVM, established the American Board of Animal Acupuncture (ABAA). It is the only certification body for licensed acupuncturists practicing animal acupuncture.