Acupuncture, which has been practiced for thousands of years as part of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM), is now quickly becoming a popular holistic treatment modality for pets in the United States. This non-invasive, drug-free therapy provides many healing benefits for pets with a variety of ailments, and is an excellent complementary treatment when used alongside more traditional measures. 

What is acupuncture in pets?

Acupuncture is a holistic form of Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted into key points on the body. Manipulation of these points stimulates physiological processes in blood vessels, nerves, and tissues, and encourages the body to heal itself. 

Acupuncture can be used alone or in combination with other alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care, laser therapy, rehabilitation, or massage. The therapy can also be used as a complement to Western medicine, like pharmaceutical and surgical treatments. Types of veterinary acupuncture include:

  • Acupressure — Acupressure is practiced by applying pressure to acupuncture points on the body. Similar to a massage, acupressure targets a specific location, and is ideal for pets who cannot remain calm during a traditional needle treatment.
  • Aquapuncture — Aquapuncture involves injecting fluids into acupuncture points. Fluids that are used include vitamin B12, homeopathic liquids, or chondroprotective medications. The liquid targets the energy channel, to initiate healing reactions.
  • Electroacupuncture — Electroacupuncture involves attaching electrodes to the needles after placement, and the needles then transmit a small pulse of electricity. This electrical stimulation is particularly useful for pain relief, and is helpful for calming spasming muscles. Electrostimulation encourages more effective nerve function than dry needles alone.

What conditions benefit from veterinary acupuncture?

Veterinary acupuncture has many uses in pets. In addition to pain relief, this holistic technique can be used to help treat pets with the following issues:

  • Acute or chronic pain
  • Spinal and disc disease
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Joint conditions
  • Digestive issues
  • Illness associated with cancer
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Trauma
  • Surgery
  • Hot spots
  • Lick granulomas
  • Asthma
  • Epilepsy
  • Elbow and hip dysplasia
  • Tendon and ligament issues
  • Degenerative conditions
  • Urinary incontinence

This list may appear long, yet is by no means exhaustive. Acupuncture can also be used for behavioral problems, effectively calming a pet’s anxiety or fear, among numerous other conditions.

Which pets would benefit from acupuncture?

Despite the needles, acupuncture is a non-invasive treatment, making this an ideal therapy for many pets who cannot take medication, or undergo surgery. Pets who receive acupuncture treatment are generally calmed by the procedure, and may fall asleep. 

If your pet cannot have surgery to correct a joint, tendon, ligament, or other orthopedic issue, acupuncture can help reduce their pain and inflammation, providing substantial comfort, and improving their mobility. In addition, if your pet cannot take pain medication because of organ disease, including kidney or liver failure, acupuncture can help not only alleviate pain, but also to remedy the illness.

Does acupuncture cause side effects in pets?

Unlike medications and surgery, acupuncture is incredibly beneficial, because the therapy has few, if any, side effects. The most common issue seen in pets is lethargy for a day or two following treatment, but then their condition usually improves. Also, acupuncture will not interact with medications or supplements, so your pet can continue on their Western medical treatment plan without concern. 

What can I expect in a typical acupuncture session for my pet?

Each acupuncture session is tailored to your pet’s specific needs at the time, so treatment can change from appointment to appointment. Sessions can range between 20 to 40 minutes, with the initial visit taking an hour or more. To begin with, your pet may receive multiple treatments per week, which can then be tapered down to as infrequently as every few months, depending on the condition being treated, and your pet’s response. 

During the session, your furry pal probably won’t feel the needles being inserted, but if they do, their slight discomfort will disappear once the needle is placed. Few pets do not tolerate acupuncture, and for those, other alternative therapies may be more accepted. Depending on your pet’s condition, an average of 10 to 20 acupuncture needles will be used.  

You likely won’t notice a huge improvement after the first session. In fact, your pet may appear a bit more painful and stiff than usual, but you should see improvement within three to five treatments. If not, acupuncture may not be the therapy for your pet. 

Whether your pet is suffering from an acute or chronic condition, a well-balanced, multimodal treatment plan that combines Western and Eastern medicine can provide the most effective therapy. To see if your four-legged friend is an ideal candidate for the healing benefits of acupuncture, contact our Animal Rehabilitation Center team for an appointment.