What can Acupuncture do for my pet?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is rooted in the philosophy that illness is caused by an imbalance of vital energies in the body. Acupuncture is one aspect of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) that focuses on restoring the energy balance in the body to promote healing.

Like human acupuncture, the technique requires the insertion of fine needles into the dog’s body at specified points where nerves and blood vessels converge. TCVM calls these sites meridians, which are believed to be energy channels that transmit energy throughout the body. The inserted needles guide “chi” or vital energy along the meridians. Placed in these identified points, the needles enhance blood circulation which in turn improves healing. They  also stimulate the nervous system, increasing the release of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving substances to reduce discomfort.

A Systematic Benefit

In addition to enhancing blood flow, acupuncture increases the oxygenation of tissues. It also reduces the amount of waste product produced and increases the amount of metabolic waste the body can remove, creating a systemic benefit. In addition, acupuncture relaxes muscles, both where the needle is inserted and those located elsewhere in the body, relieving pain locally and generally. 

By stimulating the release of naturally occurring pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory substances, acupuncture can serve to decrease pain medications. Most pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs are quite safe but may affect organ function, so we closely monitor organ function to minimize the risk. Because acupuncture has no systemic side effects, it is particularly helpful for dogs in poor health.

As with most medical protocols, a combination of treatments often provides the best results. Fortunately, acupuncture and medical therapy can be safely used together, which is beneficial when neither method can provide the desired response alone.

Natural Relief

Acupuncture is often used to treat dogs with arthritis and joint inflammation. For example, dogs with hip dysplasia or degenerative joint disease are good candidates, as well as those with chronic back pain and even dogs with serious spinal cord conditions.

Lick granulomas are lesions on the legs of dogs that continuously lick a spot causing an irritated sore, exposing superficial nerve endings. These lesions are often difficult to heal and acupuncture can be a good complement to antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.

Although acupuncture can reduce pain and inflammation associated with many medical conditions, traditional western medicine is the first line of treatment for infection, cancer and major organ disease. However, some issues associated with cancer, or the side effects of cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation) such as tissue inflammation, nausea, and decreased appetite, can be helped using acupuncture. 

Veterinary acupuncturists also treat patients with metabolic diseases associated with impaired organ function. Dogs with diabetes, kidney or liver failure, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease have experienced a decrease in nausea and increase in appetite after acupuncture sessions. If acupuncture cannot cure a dog’s condition, it may make it more tolerable.

What to Expect

The first appointment with our certified acupuncturist starts with reviewing the dog’s health history, latest lab tests and current  medications. Most dogs become very relaxed after needle insertion. Depending on the conditions addressed, the actual session may last 20-30 minutes. We will outline a treatment protocol that may involve one to three sessions per week for several weeks. Often, the number of sessions is tapered off as the dog improves, so visits are scheduled less frequently.

The effects of acupuncture treatment are cumulative so there is a benefit to repeated sessions, but the goal is to achieve the greatest degree of improvement and maintain that level with the fewest treatments necessary. There are few side effects with acupuncture, but some dogs may be sore or stiff following a treatment session, while other patients appear tired. These symptoms usually resolve within 24-48 hours.