Colorado State’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital Among the First to Offer Equine Acupuncture, Chiropractic Services

The James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University is now among the first veterinary teaching hospitals in the country to offer acupuncture and chiropractic services to equine clients.

Dr. Gayle Trotter, an equine surgeon in practice for almost 30 years, 20 of them at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, has expanded his practice to include these alternative procedures. From personal experience using acupuncture to help with his own lower back pain and seeing firsthand how manipulative therapies worked on equine patients, Trotter "went back to school" to learn more about alternative therapies.

"As an equine veterinarian, I became increasingly frustrated in being unable to help cases involving deteriorating performance or unspecified lameness," Trotter said. "Qualified riders would tell me that their horse’s performance had changed but, through conventional veterinary approaches, I was often unable to locate and diagnose a specific problem."

"I believe the integrated approach to equine veterinary medicine is the answer – using both alternative and conventional methods to help equine clients," Trotter said. "Veterinary chiropractic is a science that views the equine as an integrated animal, treating the musculoskeletal, neurological and vascular systems as being interrelated."

In conventional veterinary medicine, for example, suggested treatment for horses with sore backs would include resting them for a few months, which may or may not solve the problem, Trotter said. In many instances, it could have little or no effect because some conditions shouldn’t be rested. Certain joint and tendon problems should be rested, but other conditions often benefit from controlled exercise. Many human patients with back problems, Trotter points out, would be referred to a physical therapist for evaluation and a regimen of exercise.

Acupuncture and chiropractic are not new therapies. Chiropractors have been treating human patients for over a hundred years and acupuncture has been practiced for centuries. Only recently have these therapies been the subject of scientific research and application in the area of veterinary medicine.

"These therapies have been around for a long time," Trotter said. "Some riders who complain of these hard-to-pinpoint problems such as back pain, stiffness or resistance to picking up commands have found that this therapy can help return the animal to a full range of motion. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting unevenly stressed muscles to relax."

Trotter explains that many normal functions can cause loss of motion in horses, including illness, poor shoeing, an active lifestyle, an ill-fitting saddle, accidents in the pasture or barn, poor training, poor conformation, long confinements or cold starts.

Traditional examinations are done to gather information, including past health history, current clinical conditions, environment, living quarters, workload, nutrition and the level of the rider’s skill.

Only a handful of veterinary schools have been involved in research into alternative medicines and have offered professional veterinary services in this area for small animals. The Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State, for example, includes acupuncture and massage as adjunct therapies to surgery and chemotherapy. Now, veterinary schools such as Cornell University, Texas A&M and Colorado State are offering these therapies for equines as well as small animals as part of an integrated medicine program.

"It is important that veterinary students be exposed to these complementary treatment modalities," said Dr. Tony Knight, head of the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "Dr. Trotter’s ability to utilize complementary techniques in treating certain equine disease conditions provides breadth to the students’ learning process."

Trotter agrees that the teaching component is an important aspect of instituting this service at a veterinary teaching hospital.

"It’s vital to introduce veterinary students to a variety of approaches to a medical problem," Trotter said. "In veterinary medicine, an open mind is a very valuable tool."

Horse owners who want to make an appointment may call the Large Animal Desk at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at (970) 491-4471.