Acupuncture Helps Ailing Alligator in Brazil

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October 30, 2013 | 7,233 views

Story at-a-glance

  • An 8 year-old albino alligator named Bino living at the Sao Paulo aquarium was born with several serious health problems that caused chronic back pain and an inability to move normally in or out of the water.
  • In 2011, veterinarians at the aquarium decided to try acupuncture on Bino, since other attempts to relieve his suffering and improve his mobility had failed.
  • Performing acupuncture on an alligator requires a rather different approach than doing the procedure on the family dog or cat, but now that Bino is receiving weekly treatments, he’s feeling more comfortable and for the first time is able to swish his tail as he glides through the water.

By Dr. Becker

Bino the albino alligator was born in 2005 with a number of serious health problems. He has scoliosis and a very painful back. Two of his legs don’t work, and until recently he couldn’t even swish his tail.

Bino has been living at the Sao Paulo Aquarium in Brazil since 2007. Aquarium veterinarians tried a variety of treatments to relieve the alligator’s pain and improve his mobility, without success. Then in early 2011 they decided to see if acupuncture might help Bino, as it had for other animals at the aquarium.

Veterinary Acupuncture Is Becoming Increasingly Common Around the World

According to biologists at the Sao Paulo aquarium, acupuncture on animals is growing in popularity around the globe. Within just the last few years in the U.S., the number of practitioners certified in veterinary acupuncture has increased 50 percent.

According to Simon Flynn, executive director of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture:

"There are many zoo veterinarians who use acupuncture, a number of equine practitioners who treat race horses with acupuncture, it's proven to be a useful treatment. It's common with dogs and it's becoming increasingly common with cats. More veterinarians are seeing the worth of the treatment."

Veterinarians use acupuncture to treat neck and back issues, skin problems, pain, and other ailments, said Flynn.

Bino Glides Easily Through the Water These Days, Swishing His Tail

As you might imagine, it’s not easy to perform acupuncture on an alligator! First Bino must endure having his mouth taped shut so he can’t use his powerful jaws to sink his sharp teeth into any nearby humans. Bino thrashes around a bit while the tape is applied, but it doesn’t take him long to calm down.

The veterinarian then positions herself behind the alligator and presses the acupuncture needles into his leathery hide. The needles are placed along his spine and around an area where he has developed a pronounced hunchback. Bino doesn’t move a muscle while the needles – around a dozen – are inserted.

After all the needles are placed, the veterinarian gently strokes the side of Bino’s neck. A short time later, she removes them, and Bino’s handlers help him back into his display pool at the aquarium. He seems to move easily and is able at last to swish his tail as he glides along in the water.

According to Rafael Gutierrez, an aquarium biologist, the acupuncture is alleviating Bino’s pain and improving all his vital functions. The aquarium plans to continue the weekly treatments indefinitely, as long as they are helpful to Bino.

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