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Acupuncture on a Tiger: Cool New Procedure or Endangerment?

Acupuncture on a Tiger: Cool New Procedure or Endangerment?
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An Israeli zoo is making headlines for using acupuncture to try to ease the pain of one of its mature tigers, but is this really in the tiger’s best interests?

Pedang, a 14-year-old male Sumatran tiger who is housed at the open-air Ramat Gan Safari zoo near Tel Aviv, has suffered from a chronic ear infection for more than a year now and antibiotics have so far failed to clear up the problem. Frustrated by this, his keepers have now decided a different approach is warranted.

On Sunday, after Pedang was put under general anesthetic, a team cleaned his ears, took various blood and skin samples, and then the keepers allowed Mor Mosinzon, described as an “alternative medicine specialist” who works at the park, to administer the therapy.

The video below shows the process:

Mor Mosinzon is quoted as saying she believes the acupuncture will aid Pedang in “[dealing] with his own medical issues by himself, to strengthen his immune system,” and claims that the acupuncture will open the ear canal to make the antibiotics treatment more efficient.

She is also quoted by the Telegraph as saying there will now be a significant break in Pedang’s medical treatment to allow staff to “really see that the acupuncture works.”

So, will Pedang benefit from this treatment? Let’s take a look at what acupuncture involves and whether the claims of practitioners stand up to scrutiny.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of the most recognizable forms of Chinese medicine.

It involves penetrating the skin at certain pressure or “meridian” points with specialized needles that are then manipulated either by hand or by electrical stimulation in the hopes of correcting a supposed imbalance in the flow of “qi” or “life force” of the patient.

Modern practitioners may or may not adhere to the idea of qi or the meridian points. Science has never found a basis for belief in their existence.

Regardless, many recipients of acupuncture swear by it, and it is particularly praised for its ability to work where so-called conventional medicine has been less successful, such as in the treatment of chronic back pain or migraines.

More recently, a minority of veterinarians has begun recommending acupuncture for pets such as cats and dogs, while U.S. race horses have also been subjected to acupuncture all in the hopes of clearing up physical ailments, including pain localized in the limbs, as well as chronic conditions.

Does Science Support Acupuncture?

It is true that practitioners of this so-called ancient Chinese art claim to be able to treat a variety of medical ailments, from repeated sinus infection to even helping in cancer recovery.

It is also true that, for instance, the UK’s National Health Service offers acupuncture in some limited circumstances as a supplementary treatment for back pain.

Also, some studies, with the caveat of there being limited data, have shown some apparent benefits of acupuncture, that it can prevent nausea and vomiting post-surgery for instance, and that it may be effective in treating headaches and chronic pain.

However, such studies have failed to prove that acupuncture confers any significant benefit. So why do people feel better after the treatment? The much documented but still not widely understood placebo effect is in play.

How do we know this? Well, beyond being able to see little to no physiological healing response which in itself should be proof enough, a number of meta analyses of highly randomized control studies show that the same increased wellbeing and reported pain decrease can be elicited simply by tricking the patient into believing they have had an acupuncture treatment.

For instance, studies have shown that a reported improvement in health can come from a patient who is given the treatment by an unqualified person who simply applies the needles wherever they feel like without adherence to the principles of Chinese medicine, and also someone who does not in fact use needles to penetrate the skin at all but simply simulates the act with a toothpick.

To put it in blunt terms, it appears to be belief in the ritual’s power that matters more than the so-called treatment or any manipulation of unseen and unproved energy flows.

It may also alarm you to read that systematic meta-analyses have not only shown that the benefits of acupuncture have yet to be demonstrated but that serious ailments, a few of them even leading to fatalities, have resulted from acupuncture sessions as a result of bad practice and insufficiently sterilized needles.

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Image taken from YouTube video, no infringement intended.

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6:28PM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

This post is awesome, would it be okay if I ask question? Acupuncture Thank you so much and so glad I found your site..

8:23AM PDT on Jul 22, 2013

thanks for sharing

2:05AM PDT on Jun 26, 2013

Sonal, you've obviously never tried to do anything with an adult tiger if you think this could be done without sedation.

2:03AM PDT on Jun 26, 2013

Funny how the "scientists" never want to believe that anything other than drugs works... is this because they're all in the pocket of Big Pharma?? time to ditch the skepticism and the prejucide against any natural remedy that, in general, seems to come when people have letters after their name and think they know it all.

1:47AM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

Sorry, Steve, I have to add my voice to those defending acupuncture, a sophisticated and complex system of medicine, proven effective over thousands of years with millions of case studies. It has been scientifically proven with double-blind, randomised, controlled tests in China but, in the Western scientific community, a prejudice still remains - could it be racist?

I have witnessed many cures bordering on the miraclous with Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is a natural, healing method and works brilliantly on animals - less toxic than drugs!

Incidentally, orthodox Western medicineis responsible for thousands of deaths each year - a far worse track record than TCM.

12:02PM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

Yes, I wish it well for the tiger's sake! Time will tell.

7:33AM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

Hope this works for this magnificent creature. I know several cases where acupuncture has helped pets.

12:00AM PDT on Jun 21, 2013

Seems they would be damned if they did or damned if they didn't. A years conventional treatment and no effect so why not try the acupuncture? I assume the author is advocating euthanasia for the tiger as the "normal" treatments have failed?

12:37PM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

Hope he makes a speedy recovery & shows acupuncture to work even on tigers Grrr.

9:25AM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

Poor tiger. I'm glad that they are caring for him and trying to treat him. Instead of criticizing these people, we should be thankful that this elderly tiger has value in their eyes and that they are trying to relieve his pain and extend his life. Save criticisms for those who poach them and raise them for their body parts. China comes to mind...(ironic that acupuncture is Chinese medicine).

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