By Narda Robinson, DO, DVM
Most animal lovers, at some point in their lives, have thought about becoming a veterinarian. Only a small fraction of these folks ever realize their dream. Still, though, who wouldn’t want to work with animals and the dedicated, compassionate clients we find ourselves so fortunate to serve?
In the not so distant past, however, one needed to complete a rigorous program in veterinary medicine and attain a veterinary license before setting out a shingle advertising animal practice.
Nowadays, other ways have surfaced.
From anesthesia-free dentistry to chiropractic to massage therapy, physical therapy and now acupuncture, human practitioners are discovering ways to access animals, with or without license. In fact, if they are challenged, they may seek legal representation to defend their rights to work on animals against the “elitist veterinary cartels.”[i]
As an overview of state laws, the American Veterinary Medical Association publishes a list of key provisions within state veterinary practice acts related to complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM).[ii]
As the AVMA indicates, “A handful of states do not have provisions specifically addressing CAVM … About 20 states follow the AVMA Model Veterinary Practice Act by including CAVM in the definition of veterinary medicine, while another 20 states or so have enacted specific or general exemptions for regulated therapies, generally requiring some type of veterinary input such as supervision or referral.”
Word appears to have spread that state regulations concerning what does and does not constitute veterinary medicine contain large enough loopholes. Some non-veterinarians are realizing that they can jump through these avenues with little recourse.
In other cases, the laws have changed in favor of non-veterinarians. In Maryland, for example, by simply dropping the term “human” before “body” in the human acupuncture practice acts, a whole new world of animal care opened up, requiring only a small amount of additional training.[iii]
According to the Maryland attorney general, the Maryland Acupuncture Board “has the authority to adopt a regulation that would identify animal acupuncture as within the scope of practice of its licensees. Acting in accordance with such a regulation, an acupuncturist licensed by the Acupuncture Board may perform acupuncture on an animal without a license from the Vet Board.”[iv]
This view reportedly contradicted the opinions of both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, which maintained that only veterinarians should perform animal acupuncture.
To make matters worse, the Maryland acupuncture practice act specifically defined acupuncture as: “The use of oriental medical therapies for the purpose of normalizing energetic physiologic functions including pain control, and for the promotion, maintenance, and restoration of health” and “includes i) stimulation of points of the body by the insertion of acupuncture needles; ii) the application of moxibustion; and iii) manual, mechanical, thermal or electrical therapies only when performed in accordance with the principles of oriental acupuncture medical theories.” [v]
These irrational ideas (i.e., “energetic physiologic functions”) frequently contradict modern views of medicine. The act places animals in the hands of acupuncturists who are more likely to miss serious illness, zoonotic disease and emergent issues because they are likely relying on folkloric, unreliable methods of diagnosis and metaphorical, arcane descriptions of illness.
Non-veterinarian animal acupuncturists in Maryland must complete at least “90 hours in diagnosis of energy dynamics and treatment of animals; 15 hours in comparative functional anatomy and physiology of animals; 15 hours in animal handling, restraints, and emergencies, and 20 hours in introduction to animal diseases and zoonotics that require the immediate attention of a veterinary practitioner.”
This equates to about a week’s worth of classes during which animal acupuncturists learn about topics that veterinary students spend full semesters studying. They also invest the bulk of their time learning notions about physiology that arose out of a pre-scientific era.
Increasing the Availability
The increased availability of animal acupuncture courses to human practitioners is cause for concern. A six-weekend course reportedly approved by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine claims that “Licensed Acupuncturists will be fully trained in the treatment of small and large animal with acupuncture and Chinese medicine” and that completion “will qualify you to sit for certification by the American Board of Animal Acupuncture.”[vi]
With no long hours spent in the veterinary anatomy lab, no final exams in pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics or renal physiology, who wouldn’t be tempted?
Ideally, those making legislative determinations on scope of practice would be grounded in science, informed by evidence and familiar with what practicing medicine on animals entails, but they often are not. Whether elected or appointed, state officials typically lack a background in veterinary medicine.
The more that veterinary acupuncturists rely on scientifically based methods informed by modern science, the more clearly we can distinguish ourselves from our non-veterinarian counterparts, not only to consumers but also to state officials and professional licensing boards.
This isn’t turf protection; this is about protecting animal, human and public health.
[i] Osborne M. Scope-of-practice laws draw attacks – Oct. 15, 2008. Laypersons challenge veterinary state boards in court. October 1, 2008. JAVMA News. Accessed at https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/081015a.aspx?PF=1 on 12-15-14.
[ii] AVMA. Scope of practice: Complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM) and other practice act exemptions. October 2014. Accessed at https://www.avma.org/Advocacy/StateAndLocal/Pages/sr-cavm-exemptions.aspx on 12-15-14.
[iii] Riley LR. Health Occupations – Acupuncturists – Veterinary Medicine – Administrative Law – Rulemaking – Practice of Acupuncture on Animals. Sept. 26, 1995. Accessed at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Opinions/1995/80OAG180.pdf on 12-15-14. See page 184.
[iv] Riley LR. Health Occupations – Acupuncturists – Veterinary Medicine – Administrative Law – Rulemaking – Practice of Acupuncture on Animals. Sept. 26, 1995. Accessed at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Opinions/1995/80OAG180.pdf on 12-15-14.
[v] Gansler DF and McDonald RN. Opinion on dry needling by physical therapists, written to Tyme Gigliotti at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Aug. 17, 2010. Accessed at http://dhmh.maryland.gov/bphte/Documents/agopinion.pdf on 12-15-14.