Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

“Cat-upuncture”? What did those poor cats ever do to deserve this?

Acupuncture is quackery.

As with naturopathy (a medical pseudo-“specialty” that embraces acupuncture and other so-called traditional Chinese medicine), when I write about acupuncture I like to start out with a provocative statement, a statement of—dare I say it?—judgment in order to shock new readers and let them know exactly where I’m coming from. Why I consider acupuncture to be quackery now, after years of not being sure, is simple and well documented in many posts on this blog. (Just type “acupuncture” into the search box if you don’t believe me; here’s an example.) Basically, I started really reading the acupuncture literature. I mean really reading it in detail. When I did that, I realized that, when acupuncture is studied rigorously with real, valid sham acupuncture controls, there really isn’t any appreciable difference between acupuncture and placebo.

One aspect of acupuncture that irritates me to no end is its embrace by certain woo-friendly veterinarians. The local media here seem particularly enamored of doing stories about vets applying acupuncture to pets and reporting seemingly miraculous results, as I wrote about here and here. The reason why acupuncture applied to our pets annoys me so much is because a competent adult is free to choose to have himself stuck full of needles that won’t do him any good. On the other hand, animals, like children, have to rely on their adult human guardians to decide what’s best for them. When a dog owner chooses to have his fine furry friend stuck full of needles, my reaction is almost as intense as it is when a parent subjects her child to quackery.

So this time around, I was annoyed when somehow this article, entitled Cat-upuncture! Windsor Terrace vet does Chinese medicine on pooches and pussies, by Lauren Gill in—of all newspapers—Brooklyn Paper. I realize that this is probably just a local throwaway paper, but the way this article is written is one aspect of what’s wrong with how the media cover alternative medicine. Basically, it’s spun as a cutesy, uplifting story of vets willing to do something different to help our furry companions:

Don’t call her a quack — she only deals in meows and woofs.

A Windsor Terrace vet is using acupuncture and medicinal herbs to treat ailing borough pussies and pooches. The alternative cures are controversial in the animal-healing world, but the dog doctor claims she has seen enough proof in her own surgery to have faith that they work.

I get really excited about it because I know it works,” said Dr. Suzy Ryan, who operates out of the newly reopened Brooklyn Heights Veterinary Hospital on Cranberry Street and Alison Animal Hospital in Windsor Terrace.

“Don’t call her a quack”! Haha! So very funny.

Let’s take a look at Dr. Ryan’s page on the Alison Animal Hospital website:

Susan believes in a holistic approach when working with her patients and their families. Her deep commitment to them is evidenced not only by her medical expertise, but the time she takes to listen and the comprehensive care she gives them. She believes in the integration of Western and Eastern veterinary practices and given this proclivity, she is a graduate of the Chi Institute in Florida.

Ack! So it’s not just medicine; there is “integrative” veterinary medicine, too, which integrates quackery with real veterinary medicine. One wonders if this is already a specialty. No, one doesn’t. It is. (I really wish I hadn’t Googled that.) In fact, there’s even “integrative veterinary oncology.” (Now I really, really wish I hadn’t Googled that.) It’s not bad enough that there are oncologists “integrating” quackery with real oncology for humans, but what did the animals do to deserve the same from their vets?

For example, the Chi Institute, where Dr. Ryan studied, offers many courses in acupuncture, as well, including small animal acupuncture, equine acupuncture, advanced TCVM diagnostics, herbal medicine, and more. There’s even veterinary Tui-na, which is basically a system of manipulation, complete with a photo of a woman doing some sort of musculoskeletal manipulation on a horse.

So we learn from the article that Dr. Ryan has been “feeding pets herbs and sticking tiny needles in their scalps and for a year and a half” and that these are an “increasingly popular option for owners who have exhausted conventional drugs and surgeries.” It’s amazing how, animal or human, the same arguments for quackery prevail. In the article, a systematic review of animal acupuncture that found no compelling evidence that acupuncture should be used for any veterinary condition or disease, but it’s then pointed out that “but a growing number of vets believe they do, and Ryan’s clients say they are converts, too.” Heck, there is even now an American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture.

And what’s the evidence? Regular readers will know, of course. It’s anecdotes:

One human says she brought in her 13-year-old German Shepherd with a muscle injury last year, expecting she’d have to put her beloved pet down. Instead, Ryan suggested acupuncture — and she was flabbergasted when her canine got better.

“I just can’t shut up about it,” said Kensington resident Maria Sandomenico, who still brings her dog Madra in for restorative jabs twice a month. “I wasn’t expecting my dog to still be around at this point.”

In another act of dog, Ryan says she treated a huge tumor in a hound’s mouth with herbs when all else had failed, and even she was astounded when the growth disappeared within months.

Notice in each case, we don’t know what, exactly, the clinical situation was. For instance, the natural history of most muscle injuries is to heal. They might heal with scarring, so that function is never the same. They might heal and leave the victim with chronic pain. But they do eventually heal. Why did this woman think she’d have to euthanize her dog over a “muscle injury”? Who knows? Maybe it was just age. In any case, that the dog ultimately recovered with apparently a good functional result does not mean that it was the acupuncture that is responsible for this favorable outcome.

As for the second case, what was this “huge tumor”? Was it biopsied? Without a pathological diagnosis of what this mass was, it’s really impossible to tell if there was anything “miraculous” about its resolution or if it is likely that it was the herbal concoction that caused it to resolve.

Of course, if you really want to know the reason why “integrative veterinary medicine” has become so popular, look for the financial consideration:

The four-legged folk healing doesn’t come cheap — Ryan charges at least $85 for each acupuncture session — but she says Brooklynites are forming closer bonds with their furballs these days, and they are willing to shell out for more than just a patch-up when things go wrong.

Yes, acupuncture and various woo represent a nice new revenue source for vets.

Now, I don’t entirely blame the reporter for producing such a credulous article. She works for a small local paper. Maybe her editor thought it would be a cute story (which is just how it’s written). Even so, she should have been more skeptical, even though her job is not investigative journalism but rather local interest stories. She probably thought that mentioning that there isn’t a lot of evidence for acupuncture and linking to a systematic review of veterinary oncology. That’s better than most would have done, but the anecdotes following the throwaway line basically undermined any skepticism.

Again, I realize that this is just a small article in a small newspaper. However, it’s a microcosm of the problems we see with how “integrative medicine” is reported. You could see this sort of credulousness in a larger paper, in a news report on local TV, and even on international news reports.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

105 replies on ““Cat-upuncture”? What did those poor cats ever do to deserve this?”


Didn’t need to see that header image before my morning tea.

Actually, I didn’t need to see that at all. Animal abuse gives me the shakes – and that’s what this cat acupuncture nonsense is: abuse.


Silly me–I thought that pussies (and their male counterparts) were the one place acupuncture needles dared not venture.

I don’t know many cats that would willingly sit still to have needles stuck into them. This would be doubly infuriating if these animals need sedation before subjecting them to this worthless quackery.

I’ve often felt a kinship with my pets’s veterinarian. She doesn’t go for this quackery. She very much endorses vaccines. A lot of the physiology she uses is very similar to human physiology, though she has to know a lot of different norms for different breeds and species. And her patients don’t talk, like many of mine ( at least in the early years) and are also extremely cute.

Veterinarians who go off the deep end can use quackery with even lower risk than physicians, because in most if not all states should a pet die from malpractice, the veterinarian is only liable for the replacement cost of the animal and not for any pain and suffering (not that the American Bar isn’t trying to change that:

That poor cat in the picture!
I know that if I tried acupuncture on my cats, they would perform acupuncture right back on me.

I’m sure my dad’s cat is more than willing to perform some real catupuncture on that quack. Her nails are quite sharp and she is not affraid to use them, as my dad has experienced, with some hospital care as the final result.

I’m glad you’re writing about this. The woo amongst pet owners and *some* animal practitioners is more than a little staggering. One of our dogs is an 8 year old Newfoundland girl. That’s pretty old for a Newfie and she is beginning to show her age a little (okay, more than a little, but I don’t want to go there). Anyway, when out and about we’ve had numerous people suggest not only acu but chiro, herbs, various supplements…

They might heal and leave the victim with chronic pain. Yes. We had a GSD who passed at age 13 who was very good at being stoic. 🙁 Just because this owner’s dog seems better, doesn’t mean said dog is feeling better.

I know that if I tried acupuncture on my cats, they would perform acupuncture right back on me.

I was thinking along similar lines: how did the acupuncturist not get clawed in whatever body parts the cat could reach? You can at least persuade a human that the needles will produce some benefit, whether or not they actually do. Cats are not easily persuaded. There is a reason that “herding cats” is a common metaphor in academic settings.

I was thinking along similar lines: how did the acupuncturist not get clawed in whatever body parts the cat could reach?

Many cats can be relatively immobilized by grabbing on to the scruff of their neck. What I’m surprised about is that the cat hasn’t shaken its head or tried pawing to dislodge all of those needles. That could be rather dangerous to the cat, too, if it did manage to paw a needle out, only to accidentally jab it back in somewhere else.


This sentence says it all “The alternative cures are controversial in the animal-healing world, but the dog doctor claims she has seen enough proof in her own surgery to have faith that they work.” I don’t have faith in my vets, I trust that they have had appropriate training and that if they suggest any treatment they can provide evidence to support the suggestion.

And, the consequence of people trusting their vets is that when those vets offer acupuncture and homeopathy, as most of our local practices do, people trust that these are effective treatments. Then they feel they have an invincible defence when some skeptic comes along and suggests that they are being taken in by the placebo-by-proxy effect.

I was lucky enough to be able to find a vet for my ponies who doesn’t deal in these fake treatments, but even he sells glucosamine supplements for arthritis. There’s no end to it.

BTW one of my cats actually would sit still and let you stick him full of needles, but he’s not a normal pussycat.

I don’t trust my vets uncritically, as I said I expect them to be able to back up suggested treatments with evidence and they do, furthermore they seem perfectly happy to do so. They are also good about catering to the particular problems my rescue dogs have, so after TTA for a snapped cruciate their normal recommendation would have been some hydrotherapy to help strengthen the muscles without utting any strain on the healing joint; that just wasn’t a possibility with my very timid GSD so they explained what they would have done to me so I could do a sort of equivilent in our small pond at home. And when challenged about their recommendation to give her glucosamine and chondroitin they were happy to admit the evidence wasn’t brilliant (it has since become more clear that the supplements are useless).

If this vet had treated my last cat this way I wondered if she would have used a real doctor to treat her wounds or an ND?

Oh, my last cat was named Rugger as in Freddy Rugger.

My vet offers that, or at least used to (I’ve got a photo of the brochure). I would never subject my cat to that kind of torture, and hopefully as he ages the vet will never suggest such ‘treatments’ for him.

That poor cat! What idiot sticks anything sharp near an unrestrained/unsedated cat’s eyes? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

I hope its vengeance was swift and involved claws that hadn’t been trimmed in a couple of weeks.

In fairness, the image that I used came from a Google image search. I picked it because it was the one I found in which the cat looked the most miserable, the same standard I used when looking for dog acupuncture photos in previous posts on veterinary acupuncture. If that image becomes too much of a distraction, I will replace it with a different one.

I have no idea if Dr. Ryan sticks needles this close to eyes, although it does state in the story that she has been “sticking tiny needles in their scalps and for a year and a half,”

Let me see if I can succinctly express the cat’s non-verbal communication in simple English…

You miserable f@ckers- I wish for you both to die.
Especially you, Ms So-called Cat Parent!
When we get home I will teach you your lesson very WELL and YOU WILL NEVER take me back to Dr Torture and the House of Pain again. EVER.

Most cats I know are overly proud. It is probably good for them to have their pretensions punctured.

On the theory that if you stick needles into someone every time they complain, eventually the complaining stops, this works. Oh, wait. Cats don’t complain when they’re sick, so not even that theory fits…

I would change vets if mine did such things. I am actually looking for a backup now, as one of the partners is now offering “veterinary chiropractic”, and I want an easy altenate if it goes farther.

Seeing this done to cats I find especially irritating, because cats have sensitive skins. (Dogs don’t; acupuncture on a dog may be futile, but at least it won’t hurt the dog much.)

Shucks, I have tried acupuncture myself, a few times. And you know what? It didn’t do a damn thing for me except cost me money.

I have to ask, who first mapped the “meridians” for the various animals? And how? Did they just take one of the numerous different human meridian maps and overlay it on the animals?

Also, I’m curious what herbs are being used. And what tests have been done to ensure that they are safe for animals to ingest. There are an awful lot of things that are safe for humans to eat but that are toxic to animals (and vice versa).

I’m pretty sure my blood pressure is soaring. I’m a veterinarian. I work in science. This bulls*#t enrages me. I also have pets, and I don’t do my own veterinary work on them. I recently had a veterinarian offer me acupuncture for a neurological problem in one of my older dogs. I think I may have frothed at the mouth a little bit. I’m almost certain there’s a note on my client file that suggesting woo is bad for business–I’m pretty sure the other clients in the waiting room heard my, um, objections. BTW, dog is almost normal, with what we vets call “benign neglect.”

O O bad curious kitty has ridden his master’s Horse. That is too many mosquito-gauge prefilled smack viles, he gonna be on the nod for a long time cheep cheep.

(Dogs don’t; acupuncture on a dog may be futile, but at least it won’t hurt the dog much.

Lots of breeds are predisposed to skin sensitivity issues. Our GR is one such dog. Acupuncture, with her recurrent skin issues, would be a form of torture.

When we get home I will teach you your lesson very WELL and YOU WILL NEVER take me back to Dr Torture and the House of Pain again. EVER.

The problem is that the sort of cat staff[1] that would take the cat to Dr. Torture and the House of Pain is likely to be oblivious to that sort of message. Which is why (s)he should not be cat staff in the first place.

[1]Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.

@enl #19

“”Oh, wait. Cats don’t complain when they’re sick

Maybe not ‘complain’ but they can let you know they need the attention of the veterinarian. I’ve had several cats over the years. All potty trained cats but sometimes they would pee right next to me but never so much as to make a mess — One cat actually topped a plastic bottle cap without a drop spilling over. Does that their aim so good mean they are really stressing about what they are doing but are willing to risk being bad kitty? All times the cat had some real problem which we otherwise overlooked as fine; Urinary, abcess, hyperthyroidism, FIP, an abdominal tumor… Kitty knows.

Excuse me if I’ve made this point already on a previous pet acupuncture post. To the extent that this “works,” it’s likely due to the fact that the poor animal learns pretty quickly that showing any discomfort results in getting stabbed repeatedly. Hey look- he’s not showing discomfort any more!

If a feline responds unfavorably to cat-upuncture (e.g., hissing, biting, clawing, irritability) can cat-nip therapy be used to lessen such behaviors?

I know some people like smoking marijuana before getting acupuncture.

If you support or purchase organic, you support woo and quackery. Take at look at this link from Organic valley in which they brag about using acupuncture on their cattle.

Look at who the US government chooses to put on the Organic Board, the executive director of the naturopathy school accreditation.

Here is how an organic dairy producer association recommends the use of acupuncture for organic livestock. Of course it is not just acupuncture, but all forms of woo and antivaccine as well.

If there is woo in the human world, then organic vets and producers will use it on their organic livestock.

Don’t call her a quack — she only deals in meows and woofs.

Good thing, too. Considering how easily birds can get bone infections, the idea of acupuncturing a duck is pretty horrifying.

I am impressed anyone is able to do acupuncture on the cat. I would’ve thought that most attempts would end with the cat performing acupuncture on the human. (So to speak.)

I first thought that “Eastern veterinary practices” meant slaughtering endangered species so Chinese nouveau riche-biches could show off their wealth gained from selling bogus remedies to gullible Westerners. After a quick Startpage search on “traditional Chinese veterinary” I was stunned (shouldn’t have been) by the amount of woo on exactly that topic. Fortunately, debunking was also high up on the first page, such as this: Doctor Ramey collects Chinese veterinary manuscripts and gives the topic a thorough and sensible discussion. If you go there be prepared to stay a while. I have no special interest in equine veterinary but his blog is a delight to read.
And there is this: So good – a Skeptvet to complement the Skepdoc.

We share our house with a Cairn terrier. Cairns don’t have owners either. When you think you’re giving one a command,

As I was saying, you think you’re giving a Cairn a command. The Cairn thinks you’re making a suggestion, with compliance optional.
I fulfill many roles with her; doorkeeper to the backyard, for one. Sergeant of the guard, turning out for every threat she identifies. If I don’t investigate when she barks, she doesn’t stop, and with a bark as loud as a gunshot, you don’t hesitate. I am also the dispenser of treats, dropper of tasty crumbs, scratcher of an itchy tail root. I am her bodyguard, giving her the courage to face down much larger dogs while stands against my leg. Most important of all is the TCTM I provide (Traditional Cairn Terrier Medicine) which consists of giving her energy meridians a tummy rub. She pays us back with her vigilance. Since we’ve had her, no one has fallen victim to a murderous car horn and the cardinal points of the compass haven’t dared to come any closer. She also provides hours of entertainment, much of it consisting of the game of “What is that crazy dog doing now?”.

Calli@28: It could be worse. Orac did a memorable post a few years back about practicing chiropractic on a duck. A procedure which I compared to Daffy Duck being petted (to use the term loosely) by Hugo the Abominable Snowman.

I shudder to think of any of my animal friends being subjected to this. I know a Greyhound who is good and patient enough that he would probably sit still for it, but luckily his people are smart enough never to do anything like that.

Still wish I could have a cat. I’ve actually always had my eyes on one of those domesticated Siberian foxes, but I understand they are a lot of work and would probably require a place with a yard. No pets policy in my apartment anyway, though maybe I’ll get myself an aquarium with fish someday.

I did give in and buy myself a stuffed animal fox to have around for cuddling and totemic purposes. He currently lives in my office, which is looking more and more like a Gypsy pad every day, now that I have it essentially to myself.

And “The Dog Whisperer” frequently gives acupuncture during his shows. I don’t know how I avoided breaking our nice TV by throwing things at it.

Let me guess that the anti-vax types who wouldn’t dream of letting their dear pet be jabbed by an evil vaccination needle share substantial overlap with the folk happy to let a whole bunch of useless needles be jabbed into them at a time…

I’ve watched maybe 3 episodes of Cesar’s show and he uses outmoded “techniques” like flooding, which don’t work very well in the long run. It doesn’t surprise me that he uses acupuncture at all, given his use of unsound, dated training methods.

BTW one of my cats actually would sit still and let you stick him full of needles, but he’s not a normal pussycat.

We had a German shepherd who probably would have, also — we had a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence that his brain and his pain centers were not connected.

I said this to the vet once and she remarked “That’s a nice way of putting it.”

Orac: “In fairness, the image that I used came from a Google image search.”

That poor kitty looks just like my daughter’s cat, Quicksilver. Though I doubt anyone would be able to put needles in her. I call her the “psycho cat” because she loves it when you pet her, and then without warning is attacking your hand with teeth and claws.

During a trip we boarded her at our local vet. When we came to pick her up there was a note that she was no longer welcome back. Apparently she attacked the techs and then escaped the cage, and wrecked havoc in the practice including getting into the vet’s office and knocking books off the shelf.

She has mellowed as she has aged (over twelve years old). So the vet techs no longer need to use elbow length leather gloves to deal with her.

I usually try not to wish ill upon people, but I really hope that this vet gets a few good chomps from her patients for trying this insane woo.
(Not a dog that would get in trouble, but I don’t think there are laws about biting cats.)
Maybe a case of cat-scratch fever to go with it.

And I thought my last vet was unprofessional! She just cried about how I would put my cat down rather than give her (the cat) insulin injections. About a cat who not only does not have diabetes, but doesn’t even have pre-diabetes! *And* I had already told her I worked with animals and needles. What a wimp.

My wife and like to joke about “massage” therapy for our dogs. When did petting your dog become therapy?

Maybe a case of cat-scratch fever to go with it.

I wouldn’t wish Ted Nugent upon anyone, frankly.

it’s spun as a cutesy, uplifting story… a credulous article… she should have been more skeptical… the anecdotes following the throwaway line basically undermined any skepticism… You could see this sort of credulousness in a larger paper, in a news report on local TV, and even on international news reports.

I have to stand up for Lauren Gill here. As Orac does note, she’s operating within the narrow conventions of a local-interest ‘light feature’ story. She can only do so much w/o having her editor kill the piece, and she does everything she can to subtly subvert the ‘uplifting story of vets doing new things to help our furry friends’ frame:

• The word “quack” is in the lead.
• She identifies veterinary acupuncture as “controversial” in the first full ‘graph.
• She links to scientific evidence that it’s bogus.
• The link comes before the anecdotes – which, in inverted pyramid journalistic form, means it’s more important.
• Throughout the piece, Gill distances her authorial voice from Dr. Ryan, and the anecdotes are clearly attributed as such with a subtext of ‘well, this is just anecdotal’, from a dubious source. Gill ‘s note that Ryan is “a graduate of the Chi Institute in Florida”, undermines the vet’s credibility, as for Brooklynites, ‘Florida’ is a metonymy for ‘batsh!t crazy’ (c.f. the ‘Florida man’ meme).
• She emphasizes the cost of ‘cat-upuncture’ in language (“doesn’t come cheap”) that suggests it’s unwarranted, and immediately following “one of her pup patients takes a combination of calming herbs and Prozac to deal with anxiety”. I’d bet Dr. Ryan offered Gill other examples of ‘integrative veterinary care’ and Gill chose the one that would appear the most loony and scammy at $85/session.
• The tone is more snarky than ‘cute’. Note the exclamation point after the silly-making “Cat-upuncture!” in the head. The double entendre darwinslapdog noted (#2) – ‘using acupuncture on pussies’ is clearly intentional. “Restorative jabs” is a complicating oxymoron where ‘aw shucks cute’ would dictate a different language choice. And Orac seems to have completely missed the snark de grace: “In another act of dog…”

Compare Gill’s piece to the WDIV/DFP story on ‘chiropractic vet’ Loren Weaver, which Orac discussed in 12/14. That one is a straight ‘human interest’ puff piece, with no hint whatsoever of any of the skeptical stones Gill has tucked under the mattress.

The question skeptics may be thinking is ‘but do Gill’s readers catch any of the fairly subtle critique, or just interpret the piece as warm-cutesy essentially identical to the chiropractic vet story?’ The answer is ‘well, that depends, but it’s the wrong question’. Any single ‘message’ is but one drop in a bigger bucket of meaning-making. By itself, it’s always going to mix in with whatever’s already in the bucket. Readers already sympathetic to woo will simply fail to see the snark, and have their tendencies reinforced. The more skeptically inclined of the hip urbanites who read Brooklyn Paper will pick up the cues, snigger along with Gill, consider Ryan a clown act, and her clients the sort of fools who soon get parted from their money. Folks in the ‘no opinion’ center will just skip the article on their way to the art-film screening schedule or the ads for burlesque shows. The short term outcome is much the same as either the WDIV puff piece, or the hard-ass skeptic attack it seems Orac would have preferred Gill to write. The puff angers the skeptic, the frontal assault alienates the woo-sympathic, and everyone goes away with their pre-existing attitudes reinforced.

Of course, people can be persuaded, and do sometimes change their beliefs. And media scholars have a pretty good handle on how this works now after kicking different theories around for over a century. Though any one drop is all but meaningless, the strongest river current is still just a lot of drops moving in the same direction. Thus, neither the rejected confrontational hard-skepticism or the missed condescending hipster irony are necessarily failures.

Some people, of course, are completely unpersuadable. But for non-zealots the ‘hard’ message, if it appears again and again and again, can reach a sort of ‘paradigm shift’ tipping-point where the erstwhile rejecting reader finally gives up and actually listens. The subverted satire Gill uses is more subversive. There’s likely no tipping point with repetition, but more of a glide path as the interpretation shifts in the context of other discoveries and changes.

We might imagine someone reading this piece, or slightly altered clones, three different times, months apart. On the first take, it seems just smiley-face woo-thusiasm. On the second, the critique begins to emerge, but is counter-balanced with the residual warmth – ‘oh, I can kind of see both sides here!’ On the third look, other conditions have pulled the reader further towards skepticism, the sharp edges of ‘using on pussy’ and “act of dog” appear, and the reader feels somewhat chastened by having been too square to catch them on the earlier go round. (This is BROOKLYN we’re talking about…) Wised-up, the reader now demonstrates his/her new and improved sophistication by spreading the gags, and snarking on the light woo. ‘Cat-Upuncture!!’ Exclamation point! How perfectly silly!

It would be futile to attempt to weigh the strategies of Gill’s article, and Orac’s commentary here, against one another as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in any general or universal way. Persuasive value is context dependent, mainly ‘target audience’ dependent. I’m quite confident an RI type scourging of the pet-quack would go over like an lead balloon in Brooklyn Paper, and Gill’s approach is proper for that publication and readership.

In short, it’s a GOOD article… And i now have both the ‘pussy’ line and “act of dog” in the front pouches of my gag belt, eager to find a bit of comparable silliness in my quotidian existance to dump them on…

The comenters here obviously have never had acupuncture.

The needles are hair thin and there is normally no pain when they are inserted.

Reason the cat looks a bit uncomfortable is probably because the handles of the needles are close to the eye. (Not to mention they are probably used to treat something effecting the eye).

And acupuncture is hardly considered “quackery” , any major hospital/healthcare institution (especially those specializing in pain/chronic pain) offers acupuncture as treatment.
It is commonly considered a very good treatment option for chronic pain patients.

No, acupuncture is quackery, for the reasons explained above and in many posts on this blog. (Just type the word “acupuncture” into the search box, and check it out.)

It’s actually part of the problem that major healthcare institutions and academic medical centers offer acupuncture. Indeed, we have a term for such universities and hospitals offering quackery: Quackademic medicine.

The comenters here obviously have never had acupuncture

I have. A self-styled “expert” in “fertility acupuncture.” First she looked at my baseline temperature/cervical mucus charts. Then she looked at my tongue. Then she asked me to lie down, and she stuck the needles in me. She placed a plastic basket (similar the green baskets that hold berries in the supermarket) over my pelvic area, turned off the lights, and left the room for about a half hour.

Upon her return I referred her again to my latest temperature chart. “My period is 4 days late,” I said. She glanced at the chart, said, “Your eggs have poor energy.” I said, “What is the energy of an egg?” She didn’t anwer. Instead, she took my pulse, looked at my tongue again, and said, “You’re not pregnant.”

You can fill in the punchline…

She glanced at the chart, said, “Your eggs have poor energy.”

Did she graduate from Trump University School of Medicine?

There was a practitioner of traditional Chinese nonsense at the emergency clinic where I used to be a vet tech. She didn’t have anything to do with the ER, thank goodness, but she was impressively versed in, and taught me a few things after 6 years of being a tech, about restraint. If her patients looked anything like the cat above, with good reason, it seems.

One good thing about this clinic is that occasionally they would close up shop and hold seminars for the whole staff so we could learn more about medicine. One such seminar was held by one of the vets, where she talked to us about recognizing signs of pain in such stoic animals as dogs and cats, how certain forms of sedation work, and about supplements. Her conclusion was that there is no evidence that glucosamine supplements do anything at all. But she prescribes them anyway, and takes one herself, just in case. I am still appalled by her thickness.

I also have 32 hours of equine chiropractic credit. From an earlier, more woo-filled age.

I’m looking at that picture, and I can’t help but think it’s been photoshopped. One of the needles is right below the cat’s eye. In fact, it looks like it’s in the tear duct of the left eye. I could be wrong, but it screaming “shopped!” to me.

James Peters says (#54),

All I see here is animal abuse

MJD says,

The needles definitely appear to make the cat’s left eye defective.

Furthermore, the right eye is jaundiced.

This miserable cat simply needs a few mice to chase, torment and consume (naturopathic medicine).

Did she graduate from Trump University School of Medicine?

She did say that if she wasn’t happily married and, ya know, my acupuncturist…

I had no idea how fortunate I was to have found a practical, science-based vet!

Also, I hope that picture of the cat is photoshopped. Or else that the poor cat is sedated enough to be feeling no pain.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous comment, but whenever someone brings up equine acupuncture, I note that if you google ‘equine acupuncture images’, and variations there upon, you will see charts noting that horses have a ‘gall bladder meridian’.

This is interesting, because horses do not, in fact, have gall bladders.

Animal abuse, end of story.
I know personally a vet who practices “integrative veterinary medicine” (tried to treat raging feline gingivostomatitis with homeopathy, I kid you not).
Some of those are actually aware that all this bullshit is placebo and advocate it anyway – I wonder how does it work in their minds, animals and placebo 😕 Does the cat need to believe in the needles working? How do you make it believe? Would be hilarious, it it weren’t abusive.

I just wish all those vets that abuse their cat and dog patients to have a bootload of cats just like mine every day of their practice. Don’t get me wrong, my Szarka is a lovable elderly cat lady (14 years old this summer), she just hates vets. She had to be sedated every time for blood tests (kidney failure) or even ultrasound and even though she was very close to death then, she almost bit through the vet’s finger (who just said “now, we can see that she has a lot of will to survive, good sign”). And for the last four or five years we’ve been sticking a huge needle under her skin every 4-5 days – but that’s for her saline solution, which keeps her alive and well.

Although Szarka seems to have mellowed a bit in her elderly years. This summer, when we took her to the vet with eye infection, she let the doctor examine her eyes without any prior sedation – and she was so scared that her pupil would not narrow, which facilitated the exam very much.

This miserable cat simply needs a few mice to chase, torment and consume (naturopathic medicine).

Vet: Hm. I see. Well I think I may be able to help you. You see … {he goes over to armchair, puts on spectacles, sits, crosses legs and puts finger tips together}… your cat is suffering from what we Vets haven’t found a word for. His condition is typified by total physical inertia, absence of interest in its ambience – what we Vets call environment – failure to respond to the conventional external stimuli – a ball of string, a nice juicy mouse, a bird. To be blunt, your cat is in a rut. It’s the old stockbroker syndrome, the suburban fin de siecle ennui, angst, weltschmertz, call it what you will.

Mrs B: Moping.

Vet: In a way, in a way … hum … moping, I must remember that. Now, what’s to be done? Tell me sir, have you confused your cat recently?

The comenters here obviously have never had acupuncture.

Why would I want to?

Delphine, not only didn’t MJD read the article, but, ironically, Ramey is the blogger I cited for his debunking of so-called TCVM. I suspect that reading for meaning is a dying art.
The placebo effect in any case is not medicine. At best it’s a short-term placeholder for more definitive treatment; at worst it’s cynical manipulation of a patient in distress.
One of the best stress reducers I know is to dress a cat in a cape and ride it around the kitchen on a Roomba. I don’t know what it does for the cat, but seeing it never fails to lift my mood, at least.

Old Rockin’ Dave, there are video clips on YouTube featuring a cat dressed in a shark suit riding a Roomba, chasing a duckling. I think you’ll find them enjoyable.

In a similar vein, the other day in a discussion about black salve on SBM, I found pictures of owners using black salve on their cats that had facial tumors. Absolutely horrific, I can only imagine what the cat is perceiving as the black salve is slowly dissolving it’s face. 🙁

If that image becomes too much of a distraction, I will replace it with a different one.

Ohh, I wouldn’t do that, Orac #16. It’s a hit, an instant meme.

Please only replace it with stock photos of kids who got needles in their eye because their rivals hoped their mothers to not die after they tattoed X’s onto their hearts..

I’m awfully tired of the same old business
Kiss the babies, make ’em cry
I’m only lookin’ for one good woman
Cross my heart and hope to die
Stick a needle in my eye, eye, eye

Delphine says (#63),

MJD, did you read Ramey’s entire piece?

MJD says,

Yes, I used quotation marks and posted the site for reference.

Since I’m on auto-moderate everything that comes through is Orac approved.

I’m seriously thinking about changing my username to MJDorac or Michael J.Doracniak.

Any suggestions minions?

Zee: “The comenters here obviously have never had acupuncture.”

I have (via a professional acupuncturist). It didn’t work. It was not what I’d call painful, but neither was it a painless procedure.

Acupuncture isl overwhelmingly quackery.

Psst…the “you can’t comment on it till you’ve tried it” argument is lame.People don’t need to try ear candling, black salve or coffee enemas to know they’re useless and potentially harmful.

“The comenters here obviously have never had acupuncture.”

My cats have administered it to me on many occasions.

People don’t need to try ear candling, black salve or coffee enemas to know they’re useless and potentially harmful.

Also sky-diving and country dancing.

Zee: I had acupuncture from a Chinese physician (“MD”) who had been practicing for over 30 years. It didn’t do anything for me.

There is this ad on the buss I take to and from work. It is from a local vet clinic. To my horror I just recently noticed that, in very small print, they do indeed offer acupuncture for your pets. As a cat person myself, I am outraged – doubly so because I thought my neck of the woods was spared quackery like this.

How naive of me, eh?

That really sounds like torture. Those people should be prosecuted for animal abuse. I would like to give them a taste of their own medicine..

Johnny @ 59: People who do acupuncture and related therapies on horses will quite openly tell you that horses have a gallbladder meridian (copied on to them from one of the human maps, with variations thought up by the practitioner) despite not having a gallbladder,and they will go on to explain that this is a feature of TCM, not a bug … that the meridian is as much to do with ‘function’ as with the actual physical organ it’s named after, so imbalances in the gallbladder meridian result in physical problems with muscles and tendons, and mental problems with stubbornness and anger. I am not making this up, though the TCM folks clearly are.

Similarly, in TCM, humans have an organ and a channel
( San Jiao) called the triple burner or heater which has no physical existence.
Must be PURELY energy or suchlike. Right.

This quackery is more common in veterinary medicine than we would like to believe. I recently ended a subscription to one of the largest veterinary forums. While it did offer science and real medical advice from its own consultants and from knowledgeable members, the most active board was the alternative medicine board. The posts there were positively medieval. There was plenty of discussions on acupuncture, TCVM herbalism and homeopathy but then it degraded into the truly bizarre. Prescriptions for treating invasion of wind, wind cold, wind damp, cold damp, damp heat, wind heat, wind heat dryness, toxic heat, and of course chi Stagnation. I can only imagine them wearing the beaked masks, goggles and a long gown. used by medieval physicians when treating these evil vapors.

A Google image search yields this link:

I might look that way if I had 10% or more of my body weight in impacted poop removed via enema too:

‘“Penny” is a two year old British Short Hair cat who came to me with terrible constipation. She has a disease called Megacolon, which rendered her unable to defecate. At the time of presentation, she had not passed a bowel motion for three weeks. She was dehydrated, toxaemic, thin and depressed, with impacted faeces taking up her whole abdomen.

She was treated with fluid therapy, more than one kilogram of faeces removed via an enema, and acupuncture to get the bowel moving again. She is now maintained on Cisapride (a drug to help bowel motility), a faecal softener and acupuncture. This combination of Western and Eastern treatments sees her very well maintained and happy, with daily bowel motions!’

When I saw the television-show from the picture in post 81 for the first time, it scared the hell out of me.

I can only imagine them wearing the beaked masks, goggles and a long gown. used by medieval physicians when treating these evil vapors.

Actually, that clothing was used by doctors to prevent them getting the plague while treating its victims. The leather gown and goggles blocked the plague bacillus, while the beak contained a sponge soaked in oil of cloves, which killed plague bacillus. If anything, it was more evidence based than TCM.

Julian Frost, #67: After the video I described went viral, there were videos posted with ever imaginable variation, although, come to think of it, it might have been the shark suit first. Whichever, it’s just so pointless and silly that now I just have to think about it to make myself smile.

Mein Herr Doktor B., #73:
“People don’t need to try ear candling, black salve or coffee enemas to know they’re useless and potentially harmful.
Also sky-diving and country dancing.”
That brings to mind these wise words of Sir Christopher Lee:
“One should try anything he can in his career, except folkdance and incest.”

@herr doktor bimler,

re: sky-diving

I once asked a military parachutist why he would jump out of a perfectly safe airplane.

His response: Army pilots.

So sky-diving – not so obviously useless.

As the daughter, grand-daughter, and sister to Army officers, plus the aunt to nephews who served in the Navy, Army and Marines (who are part of the Navy… just to clarify)… I can jus say: :-p

By the way the first part of that sentence was part of a very awkward post-Christmas dinner conversation with grandfather (retired Army Captain, reserve), father (retired Army Lt. Colonel, regular) and brother (then an active Army Major, regular) about why I was not going to accept the Air Force’s invitation to join with my engineering degree… just a few years after the Navy ROTC program rejected me (that year they gave a total of fifteen NROTC scholarships to women, compared to the over ten thousand to men — let me tell you what I thought about telling my dad when he told me an Army friend’s daughter got into Air Force Academy* during my college sophomore year!).

Instead I became an employee of a private company, that was a military contractor.

* My dad actually suggested I transpose two letters in my name to apply to the Navy Academy in 1975. Unfortunately I he raised a child more honest than himself (he had been in the Counter Intelligence Corps), so I could not do that. Which is why I settled on applying for the NROTC scholarship (when I thought I was going to be an oceanographer, not a structural dynamics engineer).

Erg… the second second sentence should say: ” I can just say: :-p”

“She was treated with fluid therapy, more than one kilogram of faeces removed via an enema, and acupuncture to get the bowel moving again. She is now maintained on Cisapride (a drug to help bowel motility), a faecal softener and acupuncture. This combination of Western and Eastern treatments sees her very well maintained and happy, with daily bowel motions!”

Combination of Western and Eastern treatment my butt. I think we can safely conclude that if you were to remove the acupuncture from that list of treatments, the results would’ve been exactly the same.

I mean, they even admit as much: if they gave the poor feline acupuncture to “get the bowels moving again” why did they also see it necessary to give it Cisapride, too? Pretty sure only one of those got it’s poor bowels going again, and it wasn’t acupuncture…

The stupid. It burns. And saddens me.

That picture enrages me. I said to my housemate, “Can that cat come live with us?” and he said, “Yes. Yes, that cat can come live with us.” The thought of someone using black salve on their cat just makes me sick to my stomach.

It also makes me think of how my late cat George (aka “Jorj”), when his congestive heart failure flared up for the first time, jumped up on the bed and came crawling to me in distress, because he knew from the moment he met me, that I could fix it. I failed his trust that time, but I tried. And I used honest medicine.

Ok I have not read all of the comments, but wanted to explain some things regarding the picture. I am a veterinarian, practice science based medicine and do not believe acupuncture does much, however:

– The needles are so small they do not hurt. The cat is not sedated and is in no distress from the needles, that I can assure you. If it was, as so many have pointed out, it would not be tolerating the needles at all.
– This cat appears to be suffering from Horners syndrome, which is likely why it has needles near the eye. In other words, the eye looked like that prior to needles.
– it’s right eye is not ‘jaundiced’ as one commenter believed. That is just the color of its iris. I mean, have you ever even seen a cat?

Huh. I guess you know more than Memorial Sloan, NYU, NY Cornell and Columbus Presbyterian, Mt Sinai, etc etc etc major medical centers in New York and elsewhere offer acupuncture.

Do you ever write about all the drugs and procedures that western medicine maims, poisons and kills?

Do you ever write about all the drugs and procedures that western medicine maims, poisons and kills?

Examples required.

#89 – That’s ok, Chris. I remember reading, years ago, a comment by a Naval aviator that Marines do maintenance with ballpeen hammers.

@ Dr. M:

Whether or not the needles hurt the cat is sort of irrelevant as it is pure quackery and as such uncessesary and pointless regardless. I mean, sure it would be worse if it also hurt the cat but it changes nothing in the end that it doesn’t.


“Make us Whole again.”

Says Linda Reynolds, #95:
“I guess you know more than Memorial Sloan, NYU, NY Cornell and Columbus Presbyterian, Mt Sinai, etc etc etc major medical centers in New York and elsewhere offer acupuncture.”
Argument from authority is a fallacy regardless of the authority cited. For example, the US Army and the CIA both ran extensive and expensive studies of remote viewing. You can tell how well that worked from the drones, ELINT aircraft. and recon satellites that fill the skies. Nobelist Linus Pauling believed that Vitamin C could cure an endless number of conditions. Years later, the world has tested his claims and moved on. I could go on – Isaac Newton and alchemy, Blondlot and his N-rays, centuries of bloodletting, cupping and mustard plasters…
To paraphrase mothers everywhere, “If all those hospitals promised to cure patients by throwing them off a rooftop would you let them throw you too?”

My vet friend regularly mentions how she chased a dealer of quackery du jour out of her office, rude words included. At least one sane vet out there.

But, I’ll digress. I have two cats, one is chronically ill, and I have my collection of health nuisances so I spend some time in waiting rooms… and almost everywhere, human docs or vets, I see posters and adverts for all sorts of quackery. I must start pointing it out to the doctors because it annoys me to no end.

Linda Reynolds says (#95),

…major medical centers in New York and elsewhere offer acupuncture.

MJD says,

Since cat’s can’t speak to the efficacy of acupuncture and animal medical-science (i.e., veterinary medicine) has not proven it’s validity, cat-upuncture is just a mickey-mouse procedure.

@ Dr. M. (#94),

I graduated from a college that had some pre-vet students and they were, in my opinion, the brightest and kindest people.

Thanks for taking care of our animal friends Dr. M.

Best way for a vet to lose my custom is to start on about ‘complimentary’, ‘holistic’ therapies that they offer, for a price.
My current vets are science based, love animals and scoff at the way some of thier contemporaries go after the $$ with the altie crowd – they aren’t treating the animals, they are treating the human guardian.
I hate when my cats and dog are unwell, but I would not expose them to stress inherent in such useless treatments (besides, the cats are always plotting to kill me, why give them more ammo for that?)

As the husband and caregiver of someone struggling with stage-IV lung cancer (who never smoked), I’m as wary as anyone when it comes to claims of beneficial effects from alternative treatments. And as a long-time subscriber to The Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer magazines, a fan of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and (especially) the late Christopher Hitchens, I hope my bona fides as a skeptic are sufficient.

However . . . (you probably saw this coming) . . . we had a 10 year-old cat who was clearly in discomfort and had no energy or appetite. We took him to two different vets, both of whom diagnosed him with acute hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a rapid and ultimately fatal thickening of the heart muscle — and each gave him a month to live (one actually recommended we euthanize him then and there).

We tried one more vet: a legit and well-respected one who also includes some naturopathic things to her treatments (Cheryl Schwarz, DVM). She gave him a conventional veterinary medication, which had no visible effect on him (although a modest clinical effect on his liver and kidneys), but after a month, she also began giving him acupuncture treatments every two weeks. We were always with him (helping hold him) while she gave the treatments.

Clearly, it caused him no discomfort whatsoever to have the 3 or 4 tiny needles inserted next to his spine for a few minutes. But the effects seemed to be profound: immediately after each treatment, he had much more energy, playfulness and appetite for the next 5-10 days, which would gradually taper-off. After the next treatment, they would return in just the same way. I think we can safely rule out the placebo effect.

In the end, he still had to be euthanized for the heart disease, but that was ten months later; nine more than the two other vets told us he could live. During that time, he did not suffer and his quality of life was excellent.

While that didn’t make us True Believers in the effects of acupuncture, it’s worth noting that one of my wife’s oncologists — who happens to be the head of the oncology department at San Francisco General Hospital, the largest community hospital in Northern California — recommended acupuncture for her, to help with pain she’s suffering from bone metastases.

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