All About Acupuncture For Pets!

Photo Courtesy of Hadley Hooper and the NYT

Photo Courtesy of Hadley Hooper and the NYT

Acupuncture has helped millions of animals (and humans) all over the world and still many people are unfamiliar with this amazing approach. Initial documentation of acupuncture dates back to China around the year 200 BCE. 

It typically involves the insertion of a very thin needle into very specific points in the body for remedial purposes. These specific points are highly vascularized (have a lot of blood flow) and highly innervated (have a lot of nerve fibers), making them very effective in promoting homeostasis, immune system balance, healing, and pain relief. 

Acupuncture is a powerful treatment modality that can be used for pain/discomfort, palliative cancer therapy, musculoskeletal disease, neurologic disease, immune system dysfunction, wound healing and much more.  

Acupuncture can be useful for all ages and species of animals. It is minimally invasive and offers nearly no risk of adverse effects. It can also be used in combination with most medications and can often times reduce the doses necessary for treatment. 

Here are just a few of the common conditions and diseases that acupuncture has been shown to help with:

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD or Osteoarthritis) is the process of deterioration in the joints due to aging and various other causes. DJD can present itself as pain, stiffness, tenderness, and loss of muscular definition. Joint disease is easily the leading reason for pet acupuncture; it's also typically the most simple and most reactive to treatment, depending on severity

Trauma/Injury is another common reason to use acupuncture. When inflammation and pain are present, and especially post-surgically, acupuncture has been shown to help speed the process of recovery and improve wound healing

Cancer (Palliative care) - Acupuncture can provide a great deal of relief from pain and discomfort associated with cancer and other terminal illnesses

Spinal pain and disk disease can be greatly improved with the help of acupuncture. Especially for animals with chronic back issues (dachshunds), treatments can help to regain and maintain structural symmetry

Gastrointestinal dysfunction can often be alleviated with the use of acupuncture, especially in acute cases such as diarrhea and vomiting

Skin problems, such as chronic dryness and itchiness, can be improved through regular acupuncture treatments. Acute conditions – like "hotspots" – may also improve from acupuncture treatments

Acupuncture has also helped with reproductive issues, incontinence, anxiety, and many more conditions...

Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture for Animals

Is acupuncture safe?
Yes. Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of treatment when performed by a certified veterinary acupuncturist. Although uncommon and typically minor, side effects are possible and may vary depending on several factors. Patients can seem to seem to get worse after the first couple treatments – for this reason, it's suggested that beginners give the process at least six visits to begin to see results. However, most patients see results quicker. 

Do the needles hurt?
No, acupuncture does not hurt. The needles that used for traditional acupuncture are very thin and many times animals don't even notice that they're being inserted. Rarely, pets get surprised by the needles (usually in the beginning) and may react some; however, a good acupuncturist will have taken great measures to create the most comfortable, non-threatening environment possible. 

How long does each appointment last? 
Appointment times can vary quite a bit, depending on the number of conditions/body parts being treated and the severity of each. Acupuncture with a Therapeutic Laser (no needles) is usually quicker as it does not require the placement of needles. Appointments can range anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more. 

How do you get the pets comfortable/to sit still?
It may come as a surprise, but most animals are actually very accepting to the acupuncture process – whether it be by needle, therapeutic laser, or otherwise. Some pets may react to the needles during the first couple sessions, but they will come to relax and most actually enjoy the appointments; we've even had several patients fall asleep during treatment! It's also normal for some needles to fall out during appointments – this does not have a significant impact on the success of the treatments. And if we have any reluctant patients that are also food driven, we use frozen baby food to keep them occupied!

How many treatments are needed/How long does it take to see results?
The number of acupuncture treatments needed can also vary depending on several factors. Different conditions require different protocols (a hot spot may require four treatments in two weeks, compared to something like chronic joint disease, which may benefit from monthly treatments for an indefinite amount of time). Many patients will see some results within the first few treatments – some even see results the same day – but we recommend sticking with it for at least six appointments to give it a chance to start working. Especially for chronic or complex cases, it may take some time to see results. 

Can pets take medications while being acupunctured? Other treatment modalities?
Yes. In most cases, your pet can continue to take medications. When possible, we aim to decrease the amount of medications your pet is taking as we begin to see improvement with acupuncture treatments. This will help to improve your pet's health and can even save you money!

What should we expect for the first appointment?
The first appointment will be used to start a relationship between you, your pet, and our doctors and staff. Your pet will learn to accept our office (or the doctor's presence at your home) and the doctor will learn more about you and your pet. We'll also use the first appointment to learn what you hope to accomplish through treatment and where that intersects with the doctor's expectations and recommendations. About 99% of the time, the first treatment takes place during the first visit. We usually recommend allowing about an hour and a half for that visit. 

How much does acupuncture cost?
The cost of treatments will vary depending mostly on the type of condition and the severity. Treatments can range anywhere from $16 to $100 or more and depend mostly on the size of the pet being treated and the time involved for the treatment.