Veterinary Acupuncture 101

What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin, solid needles into the different parts of the body. It is used to provide pain relief or to help the body deal with other diseases.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture works via the nervous system. The needles block pain signals and encourage the brain to produce more of the body’s natural painkillers. In conditions that are not painful, acupuncture may help to reset the body’s normal functioning.

What is Acupuncture Used For?

Pain is the most common indication for acupuncture. Usually for musculoskeletal pain associated with arthritis, muscle strains, disc disease, and bony changes of the spine. Conditions such as irritable bowel problems and generalised pain may also respond well to acupuncture.

Is Acupuncture Safe?
When preformed by a trained veterinary acupuncturist, it is very safe. In fact, there are no known reports of problems in animals. There are reports in humans, but these can usually be avoided with care and a good knowledge of anatomy. There are always a few reasons acupuncture should be avoided, but your veterinary acupuncturist will advise you of these during your consultation.

Does it Hurt?
No, acupuncture is a painless procedure, it just looks intimidating! Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves that are not associated with pain. Animals may react to the sensation of the needles as though they are expecting pain, but once they get used to it, they usually relax. After a few sessions pets may seem sleepy and totally relaxed during sessions, and may even look forward to the next one!

Would my Pet Need to be Sedated for This Treatment?
Normally, no. Sedating the pet would also negate the effect of the acupuncture. Your pet may need to be sedated if they are so sore that any touch causes them pain.

How Often Would my Pet be Treated?
The usual course is once a week for four to six weeks. After four weeks the therapy will be reviewed to see if it is having a positive effect for your pet. An individual plan will be made for your pet to ensure the effect of the treatment will be maintained for as long as possible.

What can I Expect During Treatment?
Your pet will receive a full examination. After this, several needles will be put into different parts of the body, depending on where the pain is. These needles may be moved or stimulated a few times to ensure they block the nerve signals. There is not a set “dose” of acupuncture as there is for medication, so your vet will judge how much to do based on your pet’s response both at the time and after the treatment.

And After the Treatment?

It is not uncommon for pets to go home and sleep very soundly for a long time. This is a good sign and shows that your pet will probably respond well to acupuncture. But do not worry if they are not sleepy – this does not mean that they will not respond, it can take up to four sessions to see if they are a good candidate. Your pet may seem a little happier than usual. This is also a good sign. Try to keep them in their usual routine; do not change exercise, diet or medication unless it has been discussed with your vet. If the pet is feeling better, they may want to exercise more, and run the risk of overdoing things. Like most things, routine is key.

How Will my Pet Respond to Treatment?
There are generally three types of responses your pet may show after treatment.

1. You may see no response. This is always disappointing but it does not mean your pet will not respond; it may just be that they will take a little longer or that their improvement after the first treatment was too brief or small for you to see. We cannot say that they will not respond until after the fourth treatment. Not all animals or humans are acupuncture “responders”, but about 80% will be.

2. They may seem stiffer or more uncomfortable. This just means that the dose was a bit too much. It also shows that they should respond to treatment, it would just have to be adjusted. After a day or two they will improve again and should be better than before. However, you must mention this to your vet so they know to adjust the treatment.

3. You may see an improvement. This may occur anytime in the three days after treatment. The signs that we are trying to treat may then return before the next treatment, but this is fine. After each subsequent treatment the effects should last for longer, so that your pet may eventually not need more treatments for some time.

Leave a Reply