Acupuncture is becoming more popular for people, as well as for pets, specifically for dogs and cats! Acupuncture involves pricking the skin or tissues with tiny needles to alleviate pain and to treat various physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Acupuncture is one of the least risky physical treatments that exist. The main risk with acupuncture is if the patient has a clotting disorder. Conditions that don’t respond very well to acupuncture include degenerative myelopathy, behavioral problems, heart disease, skin disease or allergies, aggression, and seizures.
The goal of an acupuncture session is to create a relaxing experience for all pets. Acupuncture needles are tiny and solid, and the minor “prick” that pets feel when the needle is inserted is very quick. Most pets do not even notice. The process is less painful than a blood draw or vaccination. Occasionally, a needle might be inserted close to a nerve, but the needle can be removed if it is causing the pet discomfort.
Acupuncture works by changing the way pain is interpreted by the brain. This happens in three ways:
1. reducing inflammation in the area of the needle insertion
2. reducing stress and promoting a release of the body’s own pain relievers like endorphins
3. interrupting the pain-signaling that happens in the spinal cord.
Keep in mind that acupuncture is not successful in aggressive or very fearful patients. It also cannot be used for patients with a bleeding disorder. That being said, most dogs do well and enjoy the treatment. Cats generally do best if they have a friendly, outgoing personality.
Conditions commonly treated with acupuncture:
- musculoskeletal conditions, including myofascial trigger points (firm, painful, taut bands in the muscles)
- inflammation in or around joints
- post-surgical pain management
- spinal disk disease or nerve damage
- spay incontinence in female dogs
- chronic vomiting or diarrhea
- chronic nasal discharge
- chronic ear infections
- chronic kidney failure
- pain associated with cancer
Acupuncture should always be combined with the best medical or surgical therapies for each individual case. It is not necessarily an alternative therapy, but can be added to other treatments. In cases where surgery is not an option, acupuncture can aid in pain management alongside medications tailored to the patient. If you are interested in acupuncture for your pet, talk to your family veterinarian for more information.