Acupuncture for Pets

Our pets now have a whole host of natural therapies available to them. This article from All Natural Vet Care helps us understand what acupuncture is and when we could use it with our pets…


What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a technique of using very fine needles that pierce the skin at special points in order to help bring about healing. It is perhaps one of the oldest forms of medicine in the world, and along with herbal medicine probably one of the oldest forms of veterinary medicine. Although dogs have only relatively recently been treated with acupuncture, in China, horses, cows and pigs have been treated for well over 3000 years.

Acupuncture forms just one part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which also includes nutrition, breathing techniques, Tai Chi, specialised massage called Tui Na, and herbs to correct underlying imbalances.

How does Acupuncture work?
Acupuncture has been shown to have both local and systemic effects. As well as analgesic effects mediated via the central nervous system, needling of acupuncture points releases hormones and tissue chemicals which reduce inflammation, and or result in relaxation. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture points are either sedated or stimulated, to increase or decrease the flow of Qi or energy along a meridian, and achieve homeostasis.

What does acupuncture involve?
Traditionally, acupuncture involves the insertion of special acupuncture needles in specific points along a meridian or channel. These needles are round at the end, and not cutting, so there is minimal discomfort as they are inserted.
Sometimes a particular point may be more sensitive if it is an “Active” point. These may be uncomfortable to needle, but are important points to treat.
Other forms of acupuncture used in veterinary practice include: acupressure, moxibustion, electroacupuncture, laser acupuncture, Trigger Point therapy and Gold Wire Implantation.

Can acupuncture be combined with medications?
Acupuncture can be used as a sole treatment, or can be safely used with conventional medications or surgery, or other treatment modalities such as chiropractic, massage, herbal medicine or homeopathy. Acupuncture may be less effective if combined with corticosteroids or some other medications.

Is acupuncture ever contraindicated?
Acupuncture may be contraindicated in pregnancy, when there is generalised skin infection, and in some forms of cancer (however there are acupuncture techniques for treating cancer and to give relief for cancer pain.) It is important that a full veterinary checkup and correct diagnosis is completed prior to acupuncture treatment.

How many treatments will my pet need?
Acute conditions may require several treatments, one week apart. More chronic conditions may be treated every few weeks or couple of months.

What is Laser acupuncture?
Some animals and some conditions may be too sensitive to undergo traditional acupuncture in which very fine needles are inserted through the skin. For these animals that are not amenable to needle insertion, there is the option of laser acupuncture. Laser acupuncture is similar to regular acupuncture in terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis and prescription of appropriate acupuncture points; however, the method for stimulating the points is with a red light or low-energy laser beam, there is no absolutely no pain or discomfort associated with the treatment.

A beam of light from a laser tube is pointed onto an acupuncture point, stimulating it in a similar fashion to the way acupuncture needles do. The visible red laser beam usually heats up the point slightly. During the treatment, the acupuncturist holds the beam steadily for a period that can range from ten seconds to a maximum of two minutes. The duration of the beam usually depends on the amount of tissue the laser must penetrate, and the power the acupuncturist needs to apply on a point.

Generally, this method can treat a similar range of complaints as needle acupuncture; however, the effectiveness of this treatment is often limited to peripheral points. The acupuncture points on hands, feet, and ears respond to laser treatment, but deeper abdominal points do not usually benefit, as most of the laser beams used cannot penetrate beyond 5mm.

Photo courtesy of www.wideopenpets.com/laser-therapy-can-help-pet/

Veterinary acupuncture may be used to treat patient with:   

  • Musculoskeletal conditions such as degenerative joint disease, intervertebral disc disease, cruciate ligament injury, luxating patella, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia,  back pain, neck pain, spinal trauma, spondylosis, temporamandibular myositis, trigger points (link to trigger point therapy). Acupuncture may also be used to help prevent injuries for working/sporting dogs.
  • Skin conditions such as allergic skin disease, poor coat, lick granulomas, scars
  • Urinary tract conditions such as urinary incontinence, cystitis, kidney disease
  • Respiratory conditions such as allergic asthma, sinusitis, collapsing trachea, cough, rhinitis
  • Cardiovascular conditions such as mitral valve insufficiency or palpitations
  • Central Nervous System disorders such as vestibular disease, cognitive deficits, seizures, paralysis, traumatic nerve injuries
  • Gastrointestinal disease such as vomiting, diarrhoea, colitis, constipation, abdominal pain, poor appetite, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease
  • Disorders of reproduction such as infertility, whelping problems
  • Eye conditions such as conjunctivitis, dry eyes
  • Ear conditions such as otitis externa, deafness in some animals
  • Geriatric conditions
  • Immune mediated conditions such as pemphigus, immune mediated anaemia, immune mediated polyarthritis
  • Hormonal imbalances such as Cushing’s disease or hyperthyroidism
  • Behavioural problems such as worry, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder
  • As part of a general tonic for animals lacking in energy
  • For cancer support eg: poor appetite, pain relief, to treat the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, reduce anxiety
  • As a component of Wellness, to help prevent disease

For more information on acupuncture, ask your vet or visit All Natural Vet Care.


Have you tried acupuncture with your pet? Let us know if it helped your pet…

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