I have written extensively about acupuncture and the scientific evidence concerning it, even going so far as to complete a certification course in acupuncture myself. This extensive examination has convinced me that while there are a few effects of electrical nerve stimulation done under the umbrella of acupuncture that might be clinically useful, overall the evidence does not support acupuncture as a powerful, widely useful therapy. Most of the apparent responses seen in humans are likely due to placebo effects or mild non-specific reactions to the minor trauma of needling. Since acupuncture is pretty safe when done properly, it is not unreasonable to try needling with electrical stimulation in specific cases where all other conventional means have been used appropriately or there are no available therapies with better evidence, and as long as clients understand the lack of evidence to support significant objective effects.
I also think that the limited potential for benefits from needling are often swamped by the risks from the nonsense associated with some schools of thought in the acupuncture field, particularly the so-called Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) approach. Unlike the medical acupuncture model, which at least attempts to ground needling therapies in established anatomic and physiologic principles, TCVM is effectively a religious belief system that is inconsistent with science-based medicine, and as such it does more harm, in terms of inflicting unproven therapies and mystical diagnostic and treatment practices on patients, than it can do good even if a few needling practices have some clinical benefits.
Given this position, I agree with the recent decision of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), following the recommendation of the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS), to deny a petition by an association of acupuncturists, dominated by the TCVM approach, to certify acupuncture as a legitimate medical specialty in veterinary medicine. Such certification requires that the area designated as a specialty be a legitimate, scientific discipline, not simply that it be a complex collection of beliefs and practices accepted by adherents regardless of the scientific evidence. Homeopathy is not a medical specialty any more than shamanism or ritual sacrifice to Apollo are medical specialties, because it has failed to prove it can or does work through scientific testing. While some non-TCVM approaches to acupuncture are more plausible and compatible with science than homeopathy or TCVM, even these approaches have failed to generate the kind of robust, consistent body of positive research evidence needed to justify creating an entire medical specialty within the veterinary profession.
In addition, any specialty in acupuncture would almost certainly include the majority of veterinary acupuncturists who practice faith-based, TCVM acupuncture. This would mislead animal owners into believing that the body of knowledge mastered by these practitioners was scientifically valid and equivalent to that mastered by specialists in cardiology, internal medicine, oncology, and other recognized specialties. This is clearly untrue, and it is encouraging that even such a political organization as the AVMA, which has refused to condemn homeopathy in the past despite acknowledging it is ineffective.
Of course, this decision doesn’t prevent anyone from offering acupuncture treatment of any kind. It simply makes clear that acupuncture advocates have not been able to generate reasonable scientific proof for their claims despite decades of trying. The decision appropriately challenges the trend towards integrating alternative therapies into veterinary practice even when there is not good evidence for their safety or efficacy.