It's kind of funny; I haven't been to the doctor in years, but my cat, Penelope, has been to the vet four times in 12 months. It's been frustrating, dealing with what has turned out to be kitty colitis (don't let the "kitty" part fool you — there's nothing cute about colitis for anyone).

Frustrating, because it's expensive, and also because as with human colitis and digestive diseases, there's no easy cure — and yes, she is eating a nonallergenic, high-quality whole foods diet already, which helps. For awhile, steroids seemed to work, but then they didn't anymore. She has trouble making it to the litterbox on time, and when she does, it's a pretty noxious, messy situation. Since Western medicine wasn't working, I decided to try the kind of healing I use for myself. (After a couple downright awful situations with traditional doctors — coupled with effective and complete healing of some issues using herbs — I use Western medicine for diagnosis only, not treatment.)

So, I found a complementary vet, one who has been trained in Western medicine as well as alternative healing modalities. A part of our first visit was acupuncture for my cat (which I immediately started calling "catupuncture, "of course). Unlike the conventional vet, this one spent more than an hour with me, taking a full health and lifestyle history for Penelope — in addition to the records she secured from my former vet. By the time she started to do the acupuncture, Penelope was relaxed and purring in my lap because we had been chatting for awhile.

The premise behind acupuncture (which has a 2,000-year history of use) is that certain points in the body, when stimulated with needles, release endorphins, the "feel-good" body hormone that causes blood vessels to dilate and improve blood flow to an area. Like in humans, cats (and dogs too) have 365 spots in the body that are acupuncture points, and these can be used in various combinations to deal with specific issues (like colitis) or to improve general immunity if, say, a pet is going through cancer treatments.

cat with acupuncture needles in its back

The first couple of needles (pictured above) made Penelope's skin flinch a little bit (these needles are so small and sharp that they feel much like a mosquito bite, or less), but she didn't seem bothered enough to get up. The third and fourth, however, made her get up, and while I encouraged her to sit in my lap, it was OK if she walked around a little bit. She got a little wiggly towards the end of the session, and the needles started to fall out of their own accord, which the doctor said was normal; the first few minutes after the needle's insertion is the time when most of the benefits accrue. She wasn't unhappy and didn't seem upset or uncomfortable, but she was aware something different was happening.

I'm also going to try some herbal support and treatments for her digestive problems, since nothing else has worked. I'll try B12 shots since she is losing nutrients since she's not fully digesting her food, and I will go back and do a couple more acupuncture sessions since treatment with acupuncture is cumulative. After the first session, which was included in my first visit, each session is only $20, and I figure it might help in combination with the other treatments (which are all low-cost; combined, they are about half the price of a regular vet visit). The biggest challenge with cats and acupuncture isn't that they don't react, just that they are less likely than dogs to sit still.

I'll update on the catupuncture if I see results! (Here's hoping.)

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

What is catupuncture?
Acupuncture for cats can help with chronic conditions and stimulate the immune system, helping them heal.