Penn offers acupuncture for pets

Corrina Snook Parsons

Corrina Snook Parsons says acupuncture is proven to ease pain—in both humans and animals.

As Corrina Snook Parsons appeared before leaders at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine to pitch the idea of starting an acupuncture program for animals, she says she expected skepticism.

To her pleasant surprise, she got support.

“Actually the response was quite favorable,” says Parsons, V’99. “I was very excited about that. & But the way we pitched it was, “Look, we’re not practicing voodoo here.” 

Far from it. In fact, Parson says there’s mounting evidence—hard, scientific evidence—that acupuncture can have significant health benefits for animals, especially for those suffering from joint pain and body aches. And since first offering acupuncture treatments via the Veterinary Acupuncture Clinic at the Matthew Jr. Ryan Veterinary Hospital last October, Parsons’ results have backed up the evidence.

“The owners of the pets we’ve helped are saying their dogs have more energy, and that we’ve helped them have an improved quality of life,” she says. “The dogs are more willing to go up stairs, and want to play, and do things. And the owners say these are all changes that have occurred since their treatment.” 

Acupuncture is a 3,000-year-old practice that has been used to treat any number of ailments. By inserting small needles into the skin directly over blood vessels and nerves, practitioners of the technique can help relieve everything from aches and pains to respiratory problems. And Parsons says the technique—which releases endorphins, a kind of natural painkiller found in the body—can have the same benefits for animals.

She got the idea for the program last year, after taking a class in veterinary acupuncture at Colorado State University. It was in Colorado that she saw first-hand how beneficial the treatments can be.

“There was a horse that really responded quite dramatically to the treatment,  says Parsons, who went on to earn her acupuncture certification from the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture at CSU. “He had an undiagnosed limb lameness, but he was much more comfortable after the treatment. Some horses will get a very profound endorphin release during the treatment—well, he almost fell asleep. He really seemed to enjoy it. That piqued my interest. 

Returning to Penn, she brought up the idea with Sandra Perkowski, an assistant professor of anesthesiology in the school, and found Perkowksi supportive. Parsons then pitched her idea to the board. She won approval, and began treatments in October.

She admits patients were slow to arrive at first. But as word of mouth has spread, she’s gained somewhat of a following. She’s even treated the pets of her colleagues in the school, with positive results.

“Those clinicians have been happy, too, and now they’re starting to think with their own cases, ‘Hey, maybe this is a candidate for [acupuncture],’”  Parsons says.

For more information on the Veterinary Acupuncture Clinic, call 215-898-4680.

Originally published on April 28, 2005