Acupuncture and Your Dog

By: DogTrekker Staff

Vet Buzz from Bill Barboni, DVM and Chris Pitts, RVT,
Marin Pet Hospital, San Rafael, CA

dog getting paw rubbed

Veterinary acupuncture can be an adjunct to conventional Western medical treatment. Many people who have health conditions that include arthritis, back pain, neck pain, muscle pain, and strains, receive tremendous benefit and pain relief by choosing acupuncture treatments either instead of, or in conjunction with, traditional Western medical treatments.

Not surprisingly, when pets suffer from these same conditions, owners rightly wonder if their animals could also benefit from acupuncture treatment. The short answer is YES!

Acupuncture is the insertion of small needles at precise sites (called acupoints) on the body. These points are based on physiology and the needles cause a local reaction that stimulates blood flow and eventually results in the release of neurotransmitters that help to alleviate pain.

The conditions that veterinary acupuncture is most beneficial in treating, are largely the same ones that afflict people; musculoskeletal pain, arthritis, back pain, and for our four footed friends, hind end weakness. Veterinary acupuncture can also help with appetite stimulation and may be helpful for nausea and vomiting too.

Before receiving acupuncture for your pets, it is important that they have a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian to ensure they are not suffering from a serious underlying condition such as cancer or infections that require antibiotics. Painful conditions in our pets, just as in people, need pain medications until healing can occur.

A common question about Veterinary acupuncture is if a pet will tolerate being “poked” with needles. Most pets tolerate the insertion of these especially small and thin needles quite well. It may be easier to insert the needles with the benefit of a pleasant distraction, like getting a treat of some sort, for example. Most pets become very relaxed after the needles are inserted and often fall asleep during the procedure.

Most sessions last approximately an hour and many owners report that they notice positive changes in their pets not long after the initial treatment. However, it is important to note that these improvements are not permanent after a single treatment rather they build over time with successive and regular treatments, which work to help the muscles maintain a state of relaxation and blood flow in effected areas. For that reason, it is recommended that a course of four to six acupuncture sessions be completed before assessing whether significant improvements are resulting.

Acupuncture melds well with Western medicine. The additional modality of veterinary acupuncture can speed healing, increase mobility, and may significantly reduce the need for your pet to remain on pain medication. Some pets cannot tolerate pain medication due to their side effects, and acupuncture may allow them enough relief to maintain a good quality of life without enduring these unpleasant side effects.