Pins for your pet

Colleen Prather

Photo By Serena Cervantes

Colleen Prather works as a veterinarian at the Chico Hospital for Cats on East Avenue. But she offers something a little different from most vets in town—acupuncture. She became curious as to what else was out there when she realized that Western drugs were causing too many side effects for her geriatric dogs and cats. At the same time, Prather was placed on medication that had undesirable side effects and did not help her. She says the mentality of prescribing a pill for everything is unnecessary when sometimes changes in diet or the environment can make more of a difference. So, in 2004, she underwent training in acupuncture for animals and has been studying Chinese herbal medicine since 2005. Prather liked the fact that practitioners of Chinese acupuncture pay attention to the climate, seasons and other external forces. So she treats cats at the hospital with 30- to 45-minute acupuncture treatments—about once a week for three to six weeks. It’s an uncommon remedy for your pet, but one she’s passionate about.

What is cat acupuncture?

That’s a hard question because it’s actually traditional Chinese medicine. And that’s what we practice when we treat with acupuncture. So you look at the animal patient differently—not just like Western medicine looks at specific organs. Chinese medicine looks at the animal’s environment—what stresses are there? Does it like heat or cold? Does it sleep a lot? Is it active? Acupuncture focuses on opening channels and it’s very complicated when you get into Chinese medicine, very different from Western.

Can you briefly describe the process?

When I have a patient I look at them, check the tongue color, feel the pulses, talk to the owners a lot about the environments and what kind of animal it is (as far as the constitution of the animal). And then what the problems are they’re seeing. We palpate the acupuncture points, the main points, and find out if there are any that are really sensitive or if there’s a lot of heat somewhere, and from there I decide what points to treat and whether the patient has what they call stagnation or excessive condition.

Can you explain that?

In Chinese medicine, wherever you have pain you have stagnation in the acupuncture channels there, and so you’ll treat those regions for pain control. Excessive condition is where an animal has too much chi, or energy. Chi is the vital life force that all creatures have so the Chinese believe that that flows constantly through you and when there’s a problem or environmental issue that slows that down, you start to get pain, you start to get diseases, tumors, things like that.

How does acupuncture benefit the cat?

One, you’re not doing a lot of medications that would have a lot of side effects, so you can treat pain without having harmful medications in their system. A lot of cats that come in, they get very relaxed during the treatments, so they feel better. Their natural endorphins are released so they’ll get relaxed and friendlier oftentimes.