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SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) — Local veterinarian Candice Carden spent the first two weeks of December at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, treating Kr Montana Shake Em and Rusty, two of her clients' horses. She did X-rays to find the reason for the animals' limping and prescribed pain meds to ease the discomfort. But in addition to the typical remedies, Carden brought acupuncture needles.
Acupuncture — a traditional Chinese practice — consists of sticking fine needles into the skin in various strategic places around the body to release pain or provide other treatment. Humans have done acupuncture on animals for thousands of years, according to the Chi Institute of Traditional Veterinary Medicine, a specialist school in Florida.
But Carden, owner of Powder River Veterinary Clinic, said what's changing now is how people who haven't heard of the idea respond.
"It's becoming more widely accepted," she said in a phone interview on a Wednesday in mid-December while working to remove a horse's fractured tooth. Her clients decided it was worth it to fly her to Nevada so she could help keep the animals healthy during the 10-day competition.
"There's a lot of money up for grabs there," Carden said.
Carden grew up in Afton and attended veterinary school at Colorado State University. While most of her practice focuses on general care for horses, the acupuncture she does is split about evenly between horses and dogs. She's also done bucking bulls and cows.
Most often, Carden uses acupuncture to ease pain, but she also tries it when an animal has nerve damage and cannot use a muscle properly. The needles she inserts stimulate "the tiny, tiny, tiny, electric currents" in the muscle to help the animal regain control.
"I've done a few things for people who were pretty skeptical, and to be honest I was pretty skeptical when I started it," she added.
But unlike with medical treatment of humans, Carden said, there is no placebo effect.
"You can't argue with results, I guess, is the bottom line," she said.
Caroline Arrott, associate veterinarian at Big Goose Veterinary Clinic and Wellness Center, agrees. Arrott, who has been practicing veterinary medicine for 19 years, said that while the theory behind acupuncture is the same for humans and animals, the practice is, as one would expect, quite different.
"Because you can't say, 'Lay down on this table, take a deep breath, lay still, shut your eyes, think calm thoughts, you know, enjoy your acupuncture session,'" she said.
Arrott said that beyond easing pain, animal acupuncture can boost nervous system, endocrine system, liver, kidney and reproductive health, among other benefits.
Arrott treats horses, too, and the few temperamental ones she has worked with force her to be light on her feet. With them she uses the "throwing needle technique" — literally aiming and throwing the needle into the horse from a few inches away, almost the way a person throws a dart.
Some animals Arrott treats are easy-pleasers and relax under her care, seeming to remember how they feel better after the visit.
But others, like Chance, get nervous.
Chance is a 12-year-old miniature Dachshund. He had always had back problems, according to his owner, Valerie Schuman, perhaps in part due to the stress his breed's abnormally long back creates. But one day in June, Schuman said Chance could not move when she checked on him. Schuman thinks her other, larger dog might have knocked him over.
So Schuman brought Chance to the vets at Big Goose and over the course of a couple of weeks, he received two acupuncture sessions and one chiropractic session, another service Big Goose offers. Not just that — Chance took herbal supplements, and still does, to help strengthen the discs in his back.
Within a month Chance was back on his feet, walking.
"I didn't even know if he would recover," Schuman said, calling it a "miracle" that he had.
When Chance's session was over, Arrott pulled the needles out and Schuman fit a black hoodie around him, pinching the Velcro shut. A model patient, Chance will be back again in another 30 days for more acupuncture.
Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, http://www.thesheridanpress.com/
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