Acupuncture, the insertion of needles into certain pressure points on the body to stimulate healing, is an alternative therapy that is growing in popularity as a complementary treatment for dogs and other pets. This form of treatment still courts criticism from some in the field of medicine, but it’s proponents suggest that it is a low risk form of support that can offer great benefits to the dog.
Acupuncture is an increasingly popular complementary therapy for management of dogs pain
The History of Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a form of treatment that has been around, in some form or another, for thousands of years, originating in China. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy is a holistic one and it is believed that, as a part of this, acupuncture can restore an imbalance created between an individual’s physical, emotional and spiritual elements. Restoring this balance is then said to help promote healing.
There are now a number of Holistic Vets that promote this type of acupuncture and they are referred to as TCVMs.
Acupuncture in Modern Veterinary Medicine
Acupuncture is still a relatively new area of treatment in the field of modern veterinary science and one that some opponents argue does not have enough solid scientific data to support its benefits to convince them to recommend using it.
There is growing scientific data though, and it is an area that continues to be studied and developed, and there is a large amount of encouraging anecdotal evidence amongst those veterinarians using it too.
The Western medicine approach to acupuncture is more science-based and relates to the studies that show that the specific nerve stimulation occurring during treatment will have a neurophysiologic impact that can then benefit the patient, particularly when it comes to pain relief.
Given it is a low-risk type of treatment, when used in conjunction with other treatments, it is often something worth considering. Some Acupuncturists focus on the Chinese Medicine, some on just the Western Side, and some using a combination of both.
Make Sure You Seek a Qualified Veterinary Acupuncturist
If you are planning to introduce your dog to some sessions of acupuncture it is vitally important that you always use a fully qualified and accredited Veterinary Acupuncturist. Failing to do this can increase the chances of injury, pain or infection to your dog.
If your own vet does not already offer this as a treatment option, you can speak with them to find out about other local recommended vets that are qualified to offer this.
Alternatively, you can refer to the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society website which allows you to search for qualified vets by location
Acupuncture Should Complement Not Replace Other Treatment Options
If it is being used to help with a particular medical condition it is important that this compliments, rather than replace, the use of traditional veterinary treatment. It should not be viewed as a replacement for other forms of treatment unless all other conventional options have been exhausted without success.
How Acupuncture Treatment Works
Acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles into a number of specific pressure points on your dog’s body. These ‘Acupuncture Points’ are on areas where the nerves and blood vessels meet. The insertion of the needles should improve blood circulation and this is believed to help promote healing. It is also believed that it can stimulate the nervous system and relaxes muscles, and that this can be beneficial in terms of promoting pain relief and even anti-inflammatory benefits.
The benefits from the treatment are often shown to be cumulative, so one session will not likely be enough to maximise the effects for your dog. A number of sessions are often recommended and, depending on the condition and benefits seen, these may be able to be stopped completely as the condition improves or continued but on a less frequent basis, long-term.
The needles are usually left in your dog for a period of 5 minutes up to half an hour and, if inserted carefully and competently, they will not cause discomfort to your dog.
Some owners report a visible relaxing of their dog during treatment and they can also be sleepy afterwards too.
What Are Some of the Possible Benefits of the Treatment
The most widely recognised reason for administering acupuncture treatment is for pain relief and management, but it is also often used for a variety of other conditions and issues too. While some of these have more scientific data to back their use, given that it is a minimally invasive treatment option that will not usually cause any problems when used alongside more conventional treatments, it is often something owners are happy to try. Some of the more common reasons for use as a treatment are detailed below.
For Musculoskeletal Problems
Because of the potential anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing and pain relief benefits that acupuncture can have, it is a popular treatment option for dogs suffering from arthritis or other painful joint conditions or injuries that can limit the range of movement. This is the most common reason for considering acupuncture.
Dogs with musculoskeletal conditions, like arthritis, often use acupuncture as an additional form of pain relief alongside traditional pain relief medication
For Sporting Dogs
A number of dogs that participate in regular high impact canine sports are regular acupuncture patients. It is believed it can help alleviate issues with cramp, muscle twinges and other sports-related strain that can be put on your dog’s body.
For Helping to Alleviate Stress and Fear
Acupuncture is something used, alongside more conventional training and behaviour programmes, to help dogs that are particularly anxious or fearful. If they are not stressed out by the treatment process, it can promote relaxation and calmness and this can then help the dog be more responsive to the traditional behaviour modification sessions that an owner may be trying to implement.
For dogs that can become stressed as a result of canine dementia, it is also a treatment that some owners chose to explore.
During Cancer Treatments
Acupuncture is sometimes used as a complementary therapy for dogs undergoing cancer treatment. It can possibly help to control the nausea that can sometimes be caused by chemotherapy and provide additional, but natural, pain relief.
Other Possible Uses
Acupuncture is also sometimes tried for helping with conditions like epilepsy, kidney disease, skin allergies or granulomas, issues with the immune system, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory issues, urinary tract problems, reproductive conditions and more.
What Are Some of the Risks of Treatment
It is widely recognised that acupuncture is a minimally invasive and very low-risk treatment option. While some dogs may see symptoms seeming to worsen in the first one or two days, a dramatic improvement is often reported after this, particularly if the sessions are repeated.
There is a small risk of infection as a result of the needle insertion but these sort of cases are very rare and if you ensure you are using a fully qualified and licensed veterinary acupuncturist, they will be using appropriate and hygienic equipment.
If the treatment is used as a replacement to conventional medicines rather than in tandem with it, this is when it can become a risky proposition. Some owners may be putting their dogs at risk if they take this approach without proper consultation with their vet. Of course, sometimes acupuncture may be enough on its own, but this decision should never be made lightly when dealing with a chronic, debilitating or life-limiting condition.
Make Sure That Your Dog Is Relaxed During the Treatment
Most dogs respond extremely well to acupuncture and, as already mentioned, for some dogs it can have a relaxing effect on them. If you have a particularly nervous, fidgety or excitable dog then you should speak with the acupuncturist in advance and work out how to best introduce the treatment and help your dog remain contented and relaxed.
Sometimes having some tasty treats can be enough to keep them happy and distracted. Chews are not ideal as some dogs will want to move around with these. Choosing a favourite interactive and stationary treat toy may be a good choice, or just lots of tasty little treats to reward and distract your dog with.
Some acupuncturists will come to your home and this may also make a session less intimidating for your dog, particularly if they have a fear of the vets.
Some Acupuncturists will come to your home to conduct the treatment. This can be more relaxing for your dog, particularly if they are already anxious or fearful in a veterinary surgery setting
Other Forms of Acupuncture
As well as normal acupuncture, there are a few other forms of this type of treatment that can sometimes be utilised.
Acupressure is an alternative to acupuncture where the points are stimulated through the application of manual pressure rather than by needles. If an area if hard to reach on the dog, their owner is not comfortable with needle insertion, or the dog is too nervous to use needles on then, this can be a good alternative option to consider.
In Chinese Medicine, sometimes the needles will contain specific herbs that have a heating quality. This is called Moxibustion.
Electrostimulation involves passing a very low electric current through the needle. This is a technique more commonly used for conditions involving some form of paralysis.
Lasers can sometimes be used in place of needles to stimulate the same pressure points.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.