Veterinary acupuncture is becoming increasingly more commonplace as veterinarians and the general public become more aware of the benefits of acupuncture when it comes to treating a variety of medical conditions. Acupuncture can even treat serious conditions, like intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) – slipped disc.

Traditionally, surgery has been the only way to treat severe cases of IVDD; sveterinary acupuncture needleurgery with all its risks and worries. However, acupuncture is now a recognised method to complement surgery, both before and after the procedure. Electroacupuncture (EAP) is particularly effective at promoting full recovery after surgery. It relieves pain and significantly decreases the amount of pain medication required. In fact, a study in 2010 found that EAP was more effective at treating IVDD with severe neurologic deficits than decompression surgery (DSX) alone. EAP alone was also more effective than DSX combined with EAP.

Does acupuncture really work?

The Chinese have been successfully using acupuncture for 1000 of years, and up until a few years ago most of the evidence supporting acupuncture in the western world was anecdotal. But now several studies have proven that yes, acupuncture really does work. For example, functional MRIs have revealed that acupuncture activates pain-associated areas in the brain.

How does acupuncture work for pets

Acupuncture works for pets in much the same way as it works for people. It stimulates their natural pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory substances, it has a local and generalized pain relieving effect, it improves blood flow in the tissues, it increases oxygenation and it removes waste and toxins, it doesn’t have the side-effects that OTC medicine has, and it doesn’t react with most medicine and supplements.

Types of acupuncture

Acupuncture cat

Acupuncture involves inserting small needles into acupoints, which are clusters of free-nerve endings, blood and lymphatic vessels and mast cells in the immune, and which stimulate specific nerve, circulation and immune functioning.

Electroacupuncture is when the needles inserted are connected by metal clips and electro-impulses are used to relax muscle spasms and re-establish nerve impulses. It’s also called electrostimulation (Estim).

Acupressure uses pressure instead if needles to get the same effect.

Aquapuncture is when liquids are injected into acupoints. Liquids contain homeopathics, diluted vitamin B12 and chondroprotectant medications.

Moxibustion is when heated Chinese herbal compounds are applied to the needles before insertion.

Laser – cool laser – is a non-invasive way to stimulate acupoints.

Some of these treatments are used in conjunction with one another to provide maximum benefits. For example, cool laser treatment is used in hard to reach or sensitive areas while acupuncture needles work on other parts of the body.

When is veterinary acupuncture used?

Acupuncture is best treat pain and inflammation, but it can also treat anxiety and depression in dogs and cats, and aid digestive and energy problems. Some examples of when acupuncture can be used to treat pets include:

  • Arthritis
  • Dog in wheelchairJoint diseases and musculoskeletal disorders, including IVDD, hip and elbow dysplasia, and spondylosis
  • Trauma, including post-surgery and recovery after a car accident
  • Note: Acupuncture benefits only certain types of cancer. It can stimulate cancer cell growth in some instances. A qualified holistic veterinarian and veterinarian acupuncturist will know when acupuncture is the best course of action
  • Metabolic diseases, including pancreatitis, kidney and liver disease, feline hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including gastritis, colitis, rectal prolapsed and chronic diarrhea and vomiting
  • Respiratory problems, including sinusitis, asthma and pneumonia
  • Neurological disorders, including epilepsy, stroke and trigeminal neuralgia
  • Allergies
  • Skin problems, including lick granulomas
  • Urinary disorders

Acupuncture eases pain and relieves stress during emergencies.

How long does treatment last?

Sessions vary in length and depend largely on how your pet responds. For example, highly stressed or anxious dogs or cats may start off with very short sessions of 5 minutes. This is because extreme stress at the time of treatment can negate the positive effects, and because the idea is to reduce stress, not increase it.

As your pet starts to relax and look forward to treatment, you can extend sessions to 30 minutes. Veterinary acupuncturist might use several different methods during an appointment, including acupressure and laser therapy.

It’s important to note that you might not see immediate results with acupuncture; it can take 3 – 4 sessions before you see a difference in your pet’s health. However, the effects are cumulative, so once you start to see improvements, the change may be rapid.

(Some pets respond very quickly, and can go from paralyzed to standing after just one session.)

At the start of treatment, your dog or cat may need 1 – 2 sessions a week for a few weeks. The time between sessions can be extended as their condition improves sessions. Eventually you move onto a maintenance schedule of once every 4 – 6 weeks.

What you need to know before your pet starts veterinary acupuncture

The first thing you need to know is that the first session will be mostly fact finding. The acupuncturist will want to see x-rays and medical reports and will ask a host of questions about your pet’s lifestyle. You might not see the point to some of the questions the vet asks, but remember that acupuncture is part of a holistic process and it goes much deeper than general health and diet. So be patient and answer the questions honestly.

It works both ways, so you should also feel free to ask questions about the treatment. You should also find out about qualifications and whether the veterinary acupuncturist belongs to any professional associations. The Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists, for example, is a good start. There is also the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).

You’re free to consult another practitioner if you’re dissatisfied with the way in which the acupuncturist answers your questions, or you don’t like the way in which your pet is handled.

Another reason to find a registered veterinary acupuncturist as opposed to any acupuncture practitioner prepared to work on pets, is your pet insurance won’t cover complementary medicine unless is it provided by a qualified vet. Most dog and cat insurance policies will cover acupuncture, chiropractic, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, as well as herbal medicine and homeopathy as part of vet fees.

You can find out a lot more about veterinary acupuncture from John Cargill and Susan Thorpe-Vargas on Acupuncture.com.