For 8,000 years, humans have been benefitting from the alternative medical therapy known as acupuncture. Back then, we were using stone and fish bones as needles, but with the advent of metals, we have progressed to using tiny needles to get the same effect. If you question the validity of acupuncture, consider that 8,000 years is a long time to continue a treatment that doesn’t work.

When people saw acupuncture’s positive effects on their health, offering it to their pets was a quick, natural step. Today, even as veterinary medicine evolves and makes tremendous technological advances, many veterinarians still rely on the ancient art of acupuncture to increase the quality of life of their four-legged patients. 

What is acupuncture, and how does it work?

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that entails using small, sterile needles to stimulate specific points just under the skin. The answer to how acupuncture works depends on how you approach the question. 

Those who are approaching their pet’s condition from a traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) standpoint believe that acupuncture restores disruptions of the flow of energy, or qi. The TCVM philosophy is that this bodily imbalance causes the patient’s underlying pain or  illness. In a healthy, balanced body, energy flows smoothly along channels, or meridians, but if the flow of energy is disrupted, an imbalance occurs and leads to illness and pain.

The Western viewpoint of how acupuncture works focuses on the body’s physical response to needles. A needle-stick causes increased blood flow to the area and white and red blood cells and platelets rush in to aid in healing. This increase in blood flow, and the resulting benefits, can last up to two weeks. The needle placements also stimulate the release of endorphins (i.e., feel-good chemicals) and decrease muscle spasms, both of which alleviate pain.

How can acupuncture help my pet?

Acupuncture can be used with other TCVM modalities, such as herbal medicine and food therapy, or it can be used with traditional Western veterinary medicine therapies, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and other prescription medications. Acupuncture seeks to address the patient’s disease by re-establishing balance in the body, so any condition causing your pet illness or discomfort can be treated. Examples include:

  • Pain with many underlying causes, including musculoskeletal disease, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), cancer, and traumatic injury
  • Skin diseases, such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal diseases, including diarrhea, constipation, and gastric ulcers
  • Respiratory disease, especially in cats with feline asthma and upper respiratory tract infections
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Hospice care

Do acupuncture needles hurt my pet?

Acupuncture needles are tiny. Your pet may feel a small pinch when the needles are inserted, but once they are placed, they are virtually painless. Most animals relax when receiving acupuncture treatment, and some fall asleep.

Does acupuncture work? Is it a one-time treatment?

Acupuncture’s positive effect on our pets is supported not only by anecdotal evidence but also by hard science. The September 2017 Canadian Veterinary Journal published the results of a study showing that acupuncture reduced pain and improved the quality of life in dogs with neurologic and musculoskeletal diseases.

If you think acupuncture could help your pet, be prepared to commit to the treatment. Initially, acupuncture is given weekly or biweekly for about six treatments and then spread out if your pet is responding. Patients with conditions known to respond to acupuncture can show a minor to dramatic response to therapy after the first treatment, but your pet may take longer to perk up, so don’t get discouraged. If you haven’t seen a positive impact on your pet after six weeks, her acupuncture treatment should be reconsidered. 

With an 8,000-year history, you can be sure acupuncture is here to stay. Please call us or schedule an appointment to find out if acupuncture would be a useful component of your pet’s treatment plan.