Acupuncture Case Study

Dillon is a 26 year old Quarter Horse gelding with a history of stubborn “sweet itch.”

Sweet itch, or insect bite hypersensitivity, is a common issue during the summer months. Tiny Culicoides midges are often to blame, and some horses (like Dillon) are more sensitive to the bugs’ saliva than others.

Dillon’s summer allergies were managed for several years with oral antihistamines, though he often had flare-ups requiring the more potent anti-inflammatory action of corticosteroids to control. Frustrated with Dillon’s troublesome itch, his owner requested an acupuncture appointment.

 Dillon - 26 year old QH Gelding

Dillon - 26 year old QH Gelding

At Dillon’s first acupuncture visit, a thorough traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) history and physical exam were conducted. As with any veterinary visit, we started with the usual questions – When did the problem start? Any change in bedding/topical sprays/pasture/etc? Has anything helped? As a TCVM practitioner, I have additional questions – Is there a certain season or time of day when the problem is worse? Does your horse prefer to be in the sun or shade? What exactly is your horse eating? In addition to examining Dillon’s skin from a conventional (“Western medicine”) standpoint, I also performed a TCVM physical exam; looking at his tongue for color and moisture, feeling his pulses, and scanning acupuncture points for sensitivity.

In addition to the TCVM history and physical exam, I also need to determine my patient’s constitution. Patients can be either Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, or Wood. In Chinese medicine, a patient’s constitution can provide helpful information on how a patient might respond to acupuncture and what health or behavioral problems they may be predisposed to developing. To find your own horse’s constitution, check out this article.

Dillon’s first acupuncture appointment took place in March. His allergies had not yet begun to flare up for the season, but at his spring visit with his regular veterinarian, his gums were noted to be inflamed. Dillon’s acupuncture treatments took place every 3-4 weeks throughout the summer, and he was placed on a Chinese herbal medication selected specifically for his TCVM diagnosis. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before giving your horse any herbal supplements – they will want to confirm the source and ingredients of these medications to ensure your horse’s safety, and prevent any negative interactions with your horse’s current prescriptions and supplements.

Before we knew it, October had arrived and we happily realized that Dillon had experienced almost no summer pruritus (itching). He was not prescribed any antihistamines or corticosteroids over the summer. He and his owner are looking forward to a crisp, itch-free Wisconsin fall.

Interested in learning more about Acupuncture? Head over to our Acupuncture for Equines page.

Dr. Lauren Alderman, DVM