While acupuncture may seem like a new-age trend, it is actually an ancient form of healing and disease prevention that is over 4000 years old. It was initially developed for humans but the ancient Chinese learned to apply acupuncture to animals such as dogs, horses, and cattle. Acupuncture can even be applied to many other species including cats, birds, rabbits, and even wildlife, with great success. Today, treating animals with acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of medicine that encourages the body to heal itself. Fine, sterile needles are inserted into the skin and underlying tissues at specific locations called points. This process sends a signal to the nervous system telling the body to heal and return to normal function.

Acupuncture is best used in conjunction with other eastern modalities and western medicine. There is a synergistic, or added effect when acupuncture is used with other services offered by your veterinarians such as medication, physical rehabilitation, and surgery.

Acupuncture is one of the many areas of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) that also include:
• Herbal therapies
• Food therapy
• Tui-Na

Applying Acupuncture to Animals

Acupuncture may be used for any condition whether chronic, acute, or atypical, and can be used alone or in conjunction with Western medicine. It is often found to be helpful with:

  • Musculoskeletal conditions: especially osteoarthritis or after major surgery such as a TPLO or TTA which are knee surgeries very commonly performed on dogs.
  • Neurological disease: such as disc disease in the neck or the back, even those that require surgery benefit greatly from acupuncture
  • Gastrointestinal diseases: such as irritable bowel disease (IBD) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Behavioral troubles: such as anxiety and hyperactivity
  • Side effects from chemotherapy: including nausea, vomiting, and anorexia. While chemotherapy may be a necessary regime to help treat your pet’s cancer, acupuncture can help with common side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and anorexia.
  • General Wellness: acupuncture is a great form of preventive medicine. Incorporating it along with a yearly health exam, vaccinations, exercise, and a proper diet, pets can reap great benefits with regular acupuncture to maintain health.

Can Acupuncture be harmful?

Acupuncture is very safe and there are no negative side effects when administered by a trained professional. Some possible contraindications include pregnancy (certain points should be avoided), open fractures, and extremely weak or debilitated animals. Placing needles close to tumors is also avoided.

How will my pet react to needles?

Most animals do not mind the needles. Some of the acupuncture points may be sensitive, however, very few animals react negatively to the experience. Pets may choose to walk around during the session or lay down and relax. The needles stay in for approximately 15 minutes, and owners are always invited to watch and be part of the appointment.

Types of Acupuncture

Acupuncture includes other variations:

In this form of acupuncture, needles are not used. Instead, a veterinarian applies gentle pressure to the areas where a needle would otherwise be inserted. This is beneficial for animals who may be extremely sensitive to the needling because of its very gentle and soothing nature. It can also be used with traditional acupuncture where needling is used to give additional benefits.

This incorporates a water-based solution, typically with a vitamin formulation, that is injected into the points where needles would otherwise be inserted. This can give a much longer-lasting version of the acupuncture treatment.

This is the most commonly used form of all acupuncture techniques. Once traditional acupuncture needles are placed, wires are attached to the needles and connected to an electro-acupuncture stimulation unit. The unit is controlled by your veterinarian and delivers a gentle electrical current to the needles. Most animals absolutely love electro-acupuncture! In fact, many fall asleep. This type of acupuncture is commonly used on people as well. The electrical current feels like a gentle tingling sensation that promotes relaxation and improves the potency of the treatment.

Your veterinarian will determine which form of acupuncture is most appropriate for your pet by taking into account your pet’s history and any current medical problems.

To learn more about veterinary acupuncture, make an appointment with one of our VRIVC rehabilitation DVMs.