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Guaranteed to work (meaning: to impress pet owners)
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Acupuncture for dogs is placebo by proxy - owners are the vector 

Acupuncture does good for some people, particularly by relieving pain, because it channels the incredibly powerful placebo effect: If we think we're being helped, we often help ourselves in ways that science has failed to understand. The theoretical underpinnings of acupuncture isn't real - ch'i and all that stuff - but that's OK: We don't entirely understand how aspirin works, either, yet we're happy to use it.

But what about acupuncture for pets? There's no placebo effect for animals because they don't know what's going on - ergo, acupuncture is real!

First, pets do respond to attention, obviously, and their happiness can help their health, so there is some animal placebo effect. But a better response is this: No, acupuncture doesn't work on pets.

As Slate reports in a fine piece today, studies that claim it does stink, partly because many fail to discount the placebo effect on owners.

If you care enough about your Fluffy to take him to an acupuncturist, you're going to want Fluffy to get better, and you'll probably believe in pet acupuncture or you wouldn't spend the money - so it's going to be easy to fool yourself into saying that he's eating better, walking better, etc. Placebo effect by proxy! From the piece:

"(The owner) was completely convinced that acupuncture was controlling the dog’s pain. But the animal wouldn’t put any weight on his leg, and when I touched it, he screamed. Acupuncture makes us think we’re helping animals, when in fact we are not.”

Of course, traditional medicine can go awry, as well, using unnecessary tests or drugs. But avoiding animal acupuncture is one way to help your pocketbook and your pet.