Acupuncture for Pets
Veterinary acupuncture is a complementary therapy that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on an animal’s body to stimulate the body’s natural healing process. This therapy has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of health conditions in humans and animals.
Acupuncture points have been documented and mapped in humans as well as animals and are connected to each other via meridians or channels, which are pathways that correlate to different organ systems. They often follow peripheral nerve pathways.
In veterinary acupuncture, the acupuncturist will carefully select the acupuncture points to target specific areas of the body, based on the animal’s medical history, physical examination including a Chinese Medicine exam, and clinical signs. The acupuncture needles are inserted into these points to stimulate the acupoint that are often near nerve endings, which can trigger a release of natural painkillers (i.e. endorphins), improve blood circulation to the targeted area and stimulate stem cells for healing.
Veterinary acupuncture has been proven useful in treating a wide range of conditions in animals including musculoskeletal disorders (arthritis, back pain, orthopedic injuries and healing from orthopedic surgeries), gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea, vomiting, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.) respiratory disorders (asthma and coughing) and neurological disorders (intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and seizures).
Acupuncture can also be used to promote overall health and well-being, reduce stress and anxiety, and enhance the immune system.
It can also be immensely helpful in treating cancer patients to help improve discomfort from the cancer itself and/or help reduce the side effects from cancer treatments (surgical healing, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy).
While scientific literature is more limited in veterinary medicine, there are still hundreds of published studies in animals and thousands of studies in humans regarding the proven efficacy and health benefits of acupuncture.
In addition to traditional needle acupuncture, veterinary acupuncture may also include other techniques, such as electro-acupuncture (E-stim), in which a small electrical current is applied to the needles, or aqua-acupuncture, in which a solution (often vitamin B12) is injected into the acupuncture points. Hemo-acupuncture may also be used to release excess heat in the body (such as a fever) by using a very small gauge needle to prick the end of a meridian with the expectation of a few drops of blood to emerge.
The success of acupuncture is variable based on the duration of the condition, the disease being treated and the number and frequency of treatments. As a general rule, about 50% of animals show significant improvement, 25% may have complete resolution of symptoms and 25% may show little to no benefit from acupuncture.
It is important to note that veterinary acupuncture is not a replacement for conventional veterinary care. Rather, it is a complementary therapy that can be used in conjunction with other treatments to improve the overall health and well-being of animals. Acupuncture may mask pain or other symptoms that may delay or prevent an accurate diagnosis; therefore working in conjunction with a primary care veterinarian is still crucial for the success and recovery of the patient.
What to expect during your pet’s acupuncture treatment session:
Most animals tolerate their acupuncture treatment well, and sedation is discouraged as it may interfere with the efficacy of the acupuncture. However, for severely anxious animals sometimes an anti-anxiety medication like trazadone prior to their appointment may allow them to relax and accept their acupuncture needles more readily.
Using treats such as frozen Kong’s, peanut butter, cream cheese, or baby food on a lick mat may allow a positive distraction during needle placement.
Fractious or aggressive cats may not be suitable for traditional acupuncture, though aqua-acupuncture with vitamin B12 can be attempted in these patients with adequate and safe restraint.
The first consultation including treatment will take longer as a full assessment, discussion of history, exam and treatment plan is created. The treatment itself lasts 10-30 minutes, depending on the compliance of the patient and disease process being treated.
Risks Associated with Acupuncture:
Acupuncture is a very safe treatment option with little risk to the patient. Though rare, adverse reactions may include temporary mild bruising/swelling at the insertion site, infection at the treatment site (in particular in immunocompromised animals), mild transient worsening of symptoms in the short time (this may be due to causing soreness in the muscles if they are tight or knotted), injury to an underlying organ if the needle is inserted too deep, breaking of the needle into the skin, or consumption of a needle by the pet. All reports of animals swallowing needles have passed without incident; however this should be avoided due to the potential harm.