Acupuncture ~ when ancient art meets modern science, giving us the best of both worlds

Acupuncture is a therapeutic option for many veterinary health problems, most especially pain. It was originally believed to be based on energy flow through the body and its practice has been documented over thousands of years.  The primary goal of acupuncture is to promote the body to heal itself through stimulation.  Today, the science is pretty clear and much of the benefit of acupuncture can be verified with functional MRI.  The use of acupuncture in veterinary care is a more recent application of this ancient art of healing.  Today acupuncture treatment is used successfully in virtually every species from dogs and cats to rabbits, lizards, snakes, horses, goats and many exotic species.

The benefits of acupuncture treatments have been observed and well documented in both human and veterinary subjects:

  • Acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s own pain relieving substances such as endorphins.
  • Acupuncture can stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory substances to facilitate pain relief and healing.
  • Muscle spasms and myofascial trigger points in the muscles can be released at the site of needle insertion.
  • Acupuncture stimulates tissue blood flow, oxygenation and removal of metabolic wastes and toxins.

During acupuncture, very thin needles are carefully inserted to stimulate nerves in specific locations or acupuncture points. These acupuncture points are located at places where nerves are accessible and quite often are locations where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together. The subsequent stimulation at the acupuncture point impacts correlating organs or areas of the body based on the specific acupuncture point.

At a physiologic level, a great deal happens when those skinny little needles are inserted. The effect of acupuncture is referred to as neuromodulation – a complex series of events that occur with appropriate acupuncture point stimulation.

How can these complex physiologic responses to acupuncture be used to help our pets?

  • Pain Management is one of the most common indications for acupuncture, in humans and animals. It can be used alone or in combination with traditional techniques for pain associated with arthritis, hip dysplasia, surgery, cancer, trauma or injury and intervertebral disk disease, a common and very painful condition of the spine. It can also be used for pain not associated with the musculoskeletal system such as pain associated with the bladder, pancreas and other organs.
  • Neurological problems such as loss of motor function due to a ruptured disk or trauma to a nerve can respond very well to acupuncture.
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas or hot spots may respond well to acupuncture.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and digestive imbalances can respond to the increased blood flow and stimulation of acupuncture.
  • Respiratory problems such as asthma can benefit from the neuromodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture.
  • Elimination disorders such as fecal and urinary incontinence can be addressed with acupuncture & electroacupuncture.
  • Acupuncture can be used as part of a preventive care program (as is common in China) including helping athletes (agility, dock diving, lure coursing) stay in top physical condition.

Acupuncture benefits are likely much greater than presently documented and research continues to fully characterize all the benefits of acupuncture treatment.

Most pets do remarkably well with acupuncture. Treatment generally starts with calming points that promote relaxation followed by the specific acupuncture points indicated by the treatment plan. Some animals actually start to fall asleep during treatment! The procedure is very safe and side effects are quite uncommon. A treatment plan can include singular applications or combinations with supplements and drug therapy without any fear of any negative interaction.

For an acute injury or problem, acupuncture may be performed only once or twice. For a chronic issue such as osteoarthritis or spinal pain, the treatment will typically start with frequent sessions (2-3 per week) followed by a gradual reduction in frequency as the pet improves. Neurological issues may require a more aggressive schedule initially with a rapid decrease if the response is favorable. Some patients will receive electro-acupuncture, often abbreviated as E-stim. The addition of electrical stimulation to the acupuncture points can amplify the body’s reaction to acupuncture and is especially helpful in neurologic problems such as paralysis. Acupuncture treatment is often combined with therapeutic laser treatments for many conditions.

Acupuncture treatment for animals should be performed by individuals with extensive post-graduate training in veterinary acupuncture, preferably those having completed rigorous certification programs conducted by exclusive, internationally recognized, veterinary acupuncture training programs.

Acupuncture can open new doors to treating our animals by allowing us to harness and direct their own healing powers to facilitate pain control and recovery from a variety of health problems. It is an additional treatment option for those patients who don’t tolerate certain medications and can also be used in combination with medications and other therapies to optimize patient care and facilitate successful outcomes for our pets.  The documented benefits of such treatment are increasing as continuing research identifies a growing body of evidence to the benefits of acupuncture, and its ability to stimulate the body to heal itself.