How Veterinary Acupuncture Could Benefit Your Pet

Pet Owners Should Know About Veterinary Medicine

As veterinarians, we like to have as many tools in our toolbox as possible. If our more traditional means of treating your cat or dog’s pain or other ailments haven’t worked, we might draw on a more holistic approach and incorporate some eastern medicine. One of the things we’ve found to be hugely beneficial in this regard is veterinary acupuncture. We might use it as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with some of our western medicine. And, yes, it is very similar to the acupuncture that humans receive for various ailments, with a few exceptions.

In the following article, we’ll cover the following topics:

  • What is veterinary acupuncture?
  • What is an acupoint?
  • Is veterinary acupuncture safe?
  • Does veterinary acupuncture hurt?
  • How long does each veterinary acupuncture session take?
  • How soon can we expect results from veterinary acupuncture?
  • How many veterinary acupuncture treatments are needed?
  • When would we recommend veterinary acupuncture?

What is veterinary acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a safe, minimally invasive procedure with very few, if any, adverse effects and is tolerated well by most animals. It has become an accepted and even revered treatment for pain relief in veterinary medicine. Acupuncture usually involves the insertion of a very thin sterile needle into specific points on the body, known as acupoints. These points follow pathways known as channels or meridians. As mentioned, we can use acupuncture independently or in combination with conventional pain relief protocols. It has been shown to significantly affect inflammatory, neuropathic, and visceral pain. It can help decrease acute pain from neuromusculoskeletal injuries and surgery as well as chronic pain.

Electro-acupuncture is the process of applying electricity through the needles for 10-30 minutes. This has been shown to have more profound and prolonged pain-relieving effects.

Acupuncture has been practiced in humans and animals for thousands of years in China—the earliest veterinary acupuncture book dates back from 659 BC to 621 BC.

Acupuncture has been practiced in humans and animals for thousands of years in China—the earliest veterinary acupuncture book dates back from 659 BC to 621 BC.

Dr. Jarvis practicing acupuncture on new patient

What is an acupoint?

An acupoint is an area with a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels. Studies have shown that the stimulation of an acupoint induces the release of beta-endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters known for their pain-relieving properties.

Is veterinary acupuncture safe?

Yes! Acupuncture is a very safe medical procedure when administered by a qualified practitioner. There are very few adverse effects that have been found in clinical cases.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Very rarely. Acupuncture is not painful since the acupuncture points are stimulated using very fine needles, almost as thin as hair. Most patients are very comfortable with acupuncture therapy. Due to the relaxation effect, some animals fall asleep during treatment.

How long does each veterinary acupuncture treatment take?

Each session may take 20-45 minutes. The first session is generally longer than the follow-up appointments.

How soon can we expect results from veterinary acupuncture?

Some results can be seen shortly after the first session, while others might require several treatments. Generally, a minimum of three to five treatments, one to two weeks apart, for chronic conditions are needed for notable improvement.

How many veterinary acupuncture treatments are needed?

As with all veterinary scenarios, the number of veterinary acupuncture treatments needed depends on the patient and the situation. Your pet’s treatment plan (daily, weekly, monthly, or further apart) also plays a role in how many sessions they will need.

When would we recommend veterinary acupuncture?

You might assume that we’d only recommend veterinary acupuncture for acute or chronic pain cases in your pet, but some of its uses might surprise you.

Acupuncture is recommended for various conditions:

  • Musculoskeletal Disorders: muscle soreness, back pain, osteoarthritis, and degenerative joint disease
  • Neurological Disorders: intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), laryngeal hemiplegia, and facial and radial nerve paralysis
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders: diarrhea, gastric ulcers, vomiting, and constipation
  • Other chronic conditions: skin problems, asthma, cough, chronic liver diseases, behavioral issues, geriatric weakness
  • Quality of life and hospice care: As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes, “By utilizing integrative care methods, the veterinarian’s ability to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for hospice and palliative care patients has never been more powerful.”

Cautions Regarding Veterinary Acupuncture

While veterinary acupuncture is very safe overall, there are some conditions for which we would likely not use it, or if we did, we’d certainly weigh the risks versus the benefits.

Acupuncture should be used with caution in pets with the following conditions:

  • Fractures
  • Pregnancy
  • Open wounds
  • Tumors

If you think your dog or cat might be a good candidate for acupuncture, give us a call. We’d be happy to evaluate them and decide if this type of integrative medicine could be an excellent supplement to or even instead of any current treatments.

– Dr. Colton Jarvis