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Acupuncture for Animals

What is it? Acupuncture can be described as inserting needles into certain points on the body to produce a healing response. Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated. The main goal of acupuncture is to assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiological changes. For example, acupuncture can stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasm, and cause the release of hormones, such as endorphins (one of the body’s pain control chemicals) and cortisol (a natural steroid).

Acupuncture can benefit all life stages (juvenile, adult and senior) and a variety of conditions. Most pet health problems are diagnosed once the illness has become very advanced. It’s vital to determine and resolve the underlying reasons or illnesses that are occurring.

What problems are acupuncture best used for?
Acupuncture is recommended for the following:

  • Musculoskeletal problems (such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, traumatic nerve injury, hip dysplasia, paralysis)
  • Neurological disorders
  • Respiratory issues (asthma, etc.)
  • Skin conditions (lick granulomas, allergic dermatitis)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, nausea)
  • Certain reproductive issues
  • Minor sports injuries

Although acupuncture can reduce pain and inflammation associated with many different medical conditions, traditional medicine is the first line of treatment. We use traditional medicine first to treat infections, cancer, and major organ disease. However, some smaller issues associated with cancer, or the side effects of cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation) such as tissue inflammation, nausea, and decreased appetite, can be helped using acupuncture. Veterinarians who provide acupuncture have treated patients with metabolic diseases linked with impaired organ function. Dogs with diabetes, kidney or liver failure, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease have experienced a decrease in nausea and an increase in appetite after acupuncture sessions. Even though acupuncture can’t cure a disease, it can make it more tolerable.

Who provides acupuncture?
The only people who can legally provide your pet with acupuncture therapies are veterinarians who are registered in acupuncture therapy. It requires additional specialty training and licensing. Acupuncture should never be administered without a proper veterinary medical diagnosis and an ongoing assessment of the patient’s condition by a veterinarian. It is critical because acupuncture is capable of masking pain or other clinical signs and may delay proper veterinary medical diagnosis once treatment has begun. Elimination of pain may lead to increased activity by the animal, which can delay healing or cause the original condition to worsen.

Is acupuncture painful?
For small animals, the insertion of acupuncture needles is virtually painless. Once the needles are in place, there should be no pain. Most animals become very relaxed and may even fall asleep. Although, acupuncture treatment may cause some sensation much the same as in humans, which may include tingles, cramps, or numbness and may be uncomfortable to some animals.

Is acupuncture safe for animals?
Unlike some medical treatments, there is a very low risk of any side effects from properly performed acupuncture. It means it is safe for a variety of different illnesses because there are no contraindications with any medications. It is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals. Side effects of acupuncture are rare, but they do exist. An animal’s condition may seem worse for up to 48 hours after a treatment. Other animals become lethargic or sleepy for 24 hours. These effects are an indication that some physiological changes are developing, including things such as nerve stimulation, increased blood circulation, and relieving muscle spasms. These effects are most often followed by an improvement in the animal’s condition. When this type of therapy is used in conjunction with medical treatment, it can reduce the occurrence of side effects and minimize the potential need for certain medications.

What are some ways my pet can benefit from acupuncture?
Veterinary acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s own pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory substances. Relaxation of muscles at the site of needle insertion and more distant locations of the body is achieved with acupuncture treatment, creating both a local and generalized pain-relieving effect. And it improves tissue blood flow, oxygenation and removal of metabolic wastes and toxins.

Acupuncture is often used to treat dogs with arthritis and joint inflammation. For example, dogs with hip dysplasia or degenerative joint disease are good candidates for acupuncture, which may alleviate pain and improve joint range of motion. Dogs with chronic back pain and even dogs with serious spinal cord conditions also benefit from acupuncture in much the same ways.

Less serious medical problems are also treated with acupuncture. Lick granulomas are lesions where the dog continuously licks a spot causing an irritated sore and exposing superficial nerve endings. These lesions are often difficult to heal, and acupuncture may be a good complement to antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Many of these lesions start out as hot spots.

Acupuncture is typically administered as a treatment, so it won’t often be included in an overall preventive care plan for your pet.

How successful is the treatment?
The total success of the treatment can vary due to the fact that it is dependent on so many different factors. Some of these factors are the skill of the veterinarian, the condition being treated and the number and frequency of acupuncture treatments. The length and frequency of the treatments depend on the condition of the patient and the method of acupuncture (dry needle, electroacupuncture, aquapuncture, acupressure, etc.). A simple acute problem, such as a sprain, may require only one treatment, whereas more severe or chronic ailments may need several treatments.

Depending on the conditions addressed, the actual session may last 20-40 minutes. The doctor outlines a treatment protocol that may involve one to three sessions per week for several weeks. Often, the number of sessions is tapered off as the dog improves, so visits are scheduled less frequently. The effects of acupuncture treatment are collective, so there is a benefit to repeated sessions. The goal is to achieve the largest amount of improvement and maintain that level with the fewest treatments needed.

What is the difference between acupuncture and acupressure?
Acupuncture uses needles, whereas acupressure is the administration of pressure to acupuncture points to create an effect comparable to needle placement. It is great for hard to reach locations, behaviorally challenging pets, and for circumstances when needle treatment may not be available.

If you have any questions, give us a call at 780.539.0636.

Written by: Miranda Kitzul, RVT

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