Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Chinese Medicine


Oliver is Orchard Hills Animal Hospital’s clinic cat. He is 11 years old and has a chronic history of inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel disease is an inflammation of the GI tract that disrupts the absorption and motility of the GI tract causing vomiting and or diarrhea. Oliver had been at Orchard Hills since 2010 and was relinquished due to his diarrhea. He was in need of a home, but over the years at the clinic, Oliver’s diarrhea started to get worse. He was requiring more consistent medications. By summer 2013, he was having diarrhea regardless of the medicine and special diets I tried. It was looking like things were pretty grim for Oliver in terms of finding a home or even ever getting better.

At this point, I had decided to pursue a career goal of training in veterinary acupuncture at the Chi Institute in Florida with Dr. Huisheng Xie. Acupuncture, by definition, is the stimulation of specific points on the body where a high density of free nerve endings, small arterioles and lymphatic vessels reside. By stimulating acupuncture points, endorphins are released and pain relief ensues. It also causes stimulation of the immune system that can resolve internal medical problems. I wanted to try this on Oliver to treat his chronic diarrhea.

Oliver’s Chinese diagnosis was Spleen Qi Deficiency. In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is responsible for digestion. When the Qi or “life force” is deficient in the region of the Spleen, poor digestion can occur and loose stool or diarrhea develops.

Typically with acupuncture, you need to allow at least 3 treatments that are 1-2 + weeks apart to see if the animal is a responder to acupuncture. Oliver’s first treatment was 8/27/2013. I treated him with permission and calming points and major digestion points. Oliver had minimal response to his first treatment. Unfortunately, his diarrhea worsened on 9/11/2013 to the point of liquid stool (see below). He was given anti diarrhea treatment but he didn’t improve.


Due to my schedule, I wasn’t able to perform another acupuncture treatment on him until a month later. His acupuncture treatment was very similar, but he seemed very uncomfortable with this session. I was starting to be concerned that Oliver might not be an acupuncture candidate because he wasn’t patient with the needles. He didn’t have a significant improvement in his diarrhea after this treatment so I let things lie for a time. In early December, he was not having liquid diarrhea, but it continued to be really soft. I decided there was nothing to loose and tried another treatment. At this point I felt that a more comprehensive approach needed to be taken in terms of the points I used to see if I could really make a difference. I focused on balancing his water metabolism due to all of his liquid stool. I also wanted to get some longer lasting effects and access more difficult points. In order to do this, I injected Vitamin B12 at some acupuncture points, rather than put an acupuncture needle in them. Finally, some success! Oliver’s stool’s started to firm up for about 1 week (see below), but then it went back to being liquid diarrhea. However, I felt this had been a great improvement since he had not had any normal stool in months.


His next treatment was in mid-December 2013. It was a similar treatment tothe early December treatment and Oliver responded again for about 3-5 days with mostly normal stool. This time frame is about how long regular acupuncture works in severe chronic conditions. I was starting to think I needed something to prolong the effects of the acupuncture in between the treatments. The best thing to do in a case like this is Chinese herbs. My goal was to use this for a temporary treatment, such as 6 months, in addition to his hypoallergenic diet to get the diarrhea resolved. In January, I started an herb to stimulate his Spleen Qi. Essentially, I was resolving the inflammatory bowel condition and balancing out his GI tract. Herbals take longer to work than medicine like antibiotics or anti-inflammatories do. In Oliver’s case, it took about 3 weeks to see an improvement in his stool. When he started to improve, he showed steady gains. He has been on the herbs regularly since January 2014 now and he is having normal stools! We discuss Oliver daily during hospital rounds. I ask, “How is Oliver’s poop?” and for months it has been normal. Everyone laughs at my excessive interest in Oliver’s poops! I continued with his acupuncture treatments, monthly, focused on keeping his GI tract healthy, for another 2 months. After this, I discontinued them to see how well he would do with just the herbs. He did very well. He will be off the herbs at the end of June 2014 and he has gained weight and has normal stools now.

I think Oliver is a great example of the power of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Many avenues of Western Medicine had been used on Oliver to no avail. In this case, it was the acupuncture initially and then the herbs that allowed his severe inflammatory bowel disease to be resolved. Hopefully now, he can find a new home!