Veterinary Healing Arts

Nancy Tharp, DVM, CVA, CCRT
(720) 468-0481

Veterinary Acupuncture

Lucy receives acupuncture for shoulder arthritis.Acupuncture is the insertion of small needles into specific points on the body to cause a desired healing effect. This technique has been used in veterinary medicine for at least 3000 years to treat many ailments. Acupuncture may also be used as preventative treatment against various acute and chronic conditions in animals.  Used either by itself or in conjunction with Western medicine, veterinary acupuncture can assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiologic changes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) now recognize acupuncture as a valid treatment for many human ailments.  The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality in veterinary medicine and surgery.Zeb receives acupuncture for renal disease.

How does Acupuncture work?

A healthy body is said to be in “homeostasis” or “balance.” Illness and/or injury cause the body to become unbalanced. Acupuncture is a key therapy used to bring the body back into its proper homeostatic state and is known to affect all major physiological systems. It works primarily through the central nervous system affecting musculoskeletal, hormonal and cardio-vascular systems. It does more than relieve pain. How it works depends on what condition one is treating and which points are utilized. Acupuncture increases blood circulation, causes a release of many neurochemicals (some of which are endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing hormones), relieves muscle spasms, stimulates nerves, stimulates the body’s defense systems, as well as numerous other beneficial effects.

Is Acupuncture painful? How will my pet react during treatment?

Pain from insertion of acupuncture needles is minimal or non-existent. Once needles are in place, there should be no pain. Acupuncture patients can feel either relaxed and sleepy or renewed with vitality following treatment. The physiologic effects from acupuncture stimulation continue to evolve over 24-48 hours after treatment.

What happens in an Acupuncture treatment?

A physical exam is done on the patient to locate “reactive points” and identify areas of discomfort or decreased mobility. Based on the physical exam, acupuncture points are selected for treatment and needles are inserted. Once needles are in place, most animals are content to be still and quiet, although some may prefer to move around the exam room. Needles will remain in place 5 to 30 minutes depending on the condition being treated. In addition to needling, other ways of stimulating acupuncture points include electroacupuncture, aquapuncture (injecting a liquid into a point), and moxibustion (heating the point). More than one method of acupuncture point stimulation may be utilized in a single treatment.

What conditions respond to Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as those that involve pain, non-infectious inflammation and paralysis.  Examples include:

  • Acute or chronic pain from illness or injury.

  • Musculoskeletal and neurological problems

    • Osteoarthritis

    • Intervertebral disk disease

    • Nerve injury/paralysis

    • Laryngeal paralysis

  • Gastrointestinal problems

    • Vomiting/Diarrhea/Constipation

    • Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Urinary Tract Diseases

    • Urinary incontinence

    • Kidney disease

  • Cardiovascular and Respiratory Diseases

    • Hypertension

    • Asthma

  • Dermatologic conditions

    • Allergies/hot spots

    • Lick granulomas

  • Miscellaneous

    • Behavior problems such as separation anxiety, urine spraying in cats, feather picking in birds.

    • Immune system stimulation

    • Palliative therapy for cancer pain and side effects of chemotherapy

Is Acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is performed with thin, sterile stainless steel needles. It is one of the safest therapies utilized if practiced by a competent acupuncturist. Side effects are rare. Because acupuncture balances the body’s own system of healing and no chemicals are administered, complications rarely, if ever, develop.

How many Acupuncture treatments are needed?

The length and frequency of acupuncture treatments depends on the problem being treated.  A simple acute problem such as a sprain may require only one treatment.  More chronic conditions may need five or six treatments to obtain a maximum response.  Typically, pets receiving acupuncture display positive changes within one to four treatments which are usually done at weekly intervals.  Once a good response is obtained, treatments are then gradually tapered to every few weeks or even months. Different points may be selected at each treatment, depending on how the animal responds to acupuncture.

How should I choose an acupuncturist for my pet?

There are two important criteria you should look for in a veterinary acupuncturist:

  1. Your veterinary acupuncturist must be a licensed veterinarian.

  2. Your veterinary acupuncturist should have formal training in the practice of acupuncture for animals.

In most countries, states and provinces, veterinary acupuncture is considered a surgical procedure that only licensed veterinarians may legally administer to animals. A veterinarian is in the best position to diagnose an animal's health problem and then to determine whether an animal is likely to benefit from acupuncture treatment, or whether its problem requires chemical, surgical or no intervention. In the USA, the American Veterinary Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery, but extensive educational programs should be undertaken before a veterinarian is considered competent to practice acupuncture.

© Veterinary Healing Arts, LLC 2019