If you’ve landed here I guess it’s because you’re interested in learning about the benefits of acupuncture in dogs!!
Or maybe you didn’t realise acupuncture in dogs was “a thing” and your curiousity was peaked? Whatever brought you here, welcome.
Of course I was familiar with acupuncture in humans, and I know many people who have derived tremendous benefits from it. Yes I was even aware acupuncture for dogs was available, but did I ever try it on any of my animals? No.
Why not you ask?
Well, first of all I hand’t looked into it to understand the benefits
I had never gone to a holistic vet
No veterinary practice my animals were patients at ever offered it
It was never recommended or mentioned by any vet
I thought it was an unnecessary expense
That last point sounds really bad but let me explain. Since I knew nothing about its uses or benefits I assumed it was a waste, for no good reason. Years ago I hadn’t started questioning the amount of drugs and poor quality diets being recommended by vets. No expense has ever been spared when it comes to treating my animals, but again it was never even an option on my radar.
Before I get into my experience with acupuncture, let’s talk about what it is and the different options available.
What is acupuncture?
Practiced by Chinese and other Eastern cultures for thousands of years, it is believed that the natural state of the body is balance, and disease is a result of imbalance. Acupuncture encourages the body to heal itself by correcting those imbalances.
As more and more people incorporate alternative therapies into their own health care regimens, they are extending that interest to the care of their pets. That may mean seeing a holistic vet exclusively, choosing a practice that offers alternative therapies, or having two vets.
There may be an endless number of success stories, but keep in mind acupuncture is not a guaranteed fix for every pet. I do like that it can be used alongside Western medicine, so it doesn’t have to be an “all holistic or nothing” scenario.
How does acupuncture work?
Special needles are inserted into acupoints (the spot where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together), to help redirect the body’s energy fields (called Qi but pronounced “Chi”) back into balance. They also stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory and pain relieving hormones (endorphins).
The number of needles used will depend on the issue. Some will need just a few in one area, others many all over the body. It is not a painful procedure, but that’s not to say he won’t feel something!
Treatment times vary and could last 10 minutes, or one hour. It’s not unusual for a dog to relax, or even fall asleep during acupuncture.
Types of acupuncture
You may be surprised to learn not all types involve needles.
Gentle pressure is applied to acupoints, releasing blocked healing energy and blood, and helping distribute nutrients the body needs to heal.
A mild electric current passes between needles, stimulating the nerves. It relaxes spasming muscles, and is often used to treat paralysis resulting from injury or trauma.
A solution of herbs or vitamins is injected into the acupoints through the tip of a needle.
A laser is used in place of needles to stimulate acupoints,.
Needles are heated with a dried herbal incense, stimulating blood flow. Heat is very beneficial for older dogs with sore or stiff joints, which is why you’ll often find senior pets with heating blankets, self heating mats, or even hot water bottles on their beds.
What conditions would benefit?
Acupuncture can be used as the main therapy or in combination with others, to treat a variety of health conditions including –
- Degenerative joint disease
- Chronic diarrhea or vomiting
- Help lessen side effects of chemotherapy
- Boost the immune system
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Trauma caused by surgery or a car accident
How often will my dog need treatment?
There is no set protocol since it depends entirely on your vet and what he advises. Typically it’s 2 or 3 times a week to start, then it becomes more infrequent but again, only your vet can answer that. The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, so going for treatment “whenever” won’t be as beneficial as going as recommended.
What improvements will I see and how quickly?
We all want guaranteed results quickly, but when does that ever happen! Firstly there is no guarantee your dog will benefit, and alternative treatments are typically slower to act as it takes time for a body to heal itself.
I did come across these statistics you may find helpful and encouraging:
About 25% of patients show major improvement, some being “cured”
About 50% experience significant improvement, but still have some symptoms
The remaining 25% did not respond to the treatment at all
Seems to me that 75% experiencing at least significant improvement are pretty good odds.
Are there side effects?
Some dogs experience them, others don’t. You could see an increase or decrease in things like energy and appetite. You may want to give your dog a couple of days to rest, light exercise and a calm environment after a treatment. On rare occasions a needle will break, infection will develop, or symptoms will worsen. If you have any concerns, or your dog doesn’t seem quite “right” call the vet immediately.
Can’t decide whether or not to try it?
So far it sounds pretty good, but you’re still on the fence. What will help you make a decision one way or the other?
- Going online and reading testimonials?
- Speaking to people who have tried it?
- Speaking to a practitioner?
- You love your current vet but he doesn’t offer alternative therapies, you don’t want to leave, and are concerned care will suffer with 2 vets because of crossed wires…
- How open are you to alternative therapies?
- Have you been satisfied, or not, with the treatment your dog has been getting?
- Are you concerned about the amount of medication your dog is taking, or their potential/actual side effects?
- Have you had a bad personal experience with acupuncture?
- Is cost a concern?
I’m ready, now what?
This is important to keep in mind
If you are already seeing a vet who offers acupuncture, this paragraph does not apply to you, but if taking your dog for acupuncture will mean you now have 2 vets in your dog’s life, then it does.
I don’t even know where to begin with this. Okay…let’s say you have what I call a “traditional” vet and you will be going to a holistic vet for acupuncture. Seeing a very different approach to veterinary care is interesting, and it’s very easy to start looking into various supplements and natural therapies to add to your dog’s healthcare plan.
Nothing wrong with that but…it is not a good idea to be dealing with these two vets as separate entities. You need to decide who your dog’s primary caregiver is going to be, and you will need to keep both of them in the loop about any changes you are interested in making. It is vital that there are no clashes between what each vet is prescribing, so your dog’s health is not put at risk.
I will tell you something from personal experience. Each vet has their own way of doing things and they can very easily conflict. Even when it comes to analyzing blood test results. That’s right! How do you know who to listen to? Trust me it can get so confusing and so overwhelming very quickly, and that’s exactly what happened to me recently, especially because I was trying to juggle 3!!!
Later on in this post I talk about my experiences with acupuncture for Red, and I will explain about this in more detail.
Find a practitioner (if your current vet doesn’t offer it)
Find a very qualified, very experienced practitioner that you feel comfortable with. Start off with the obvious – ask your vet and anyone you know and trust who has pets. You may be surprised to discover they see a holistic vet, or at least have someone to recommend.
The first appointment
If your appointment is with someone new, they will ask for permission to have copies of your dog’s medical history, treatment plan and list of medications sent over, beforehand if possible. Do not expect your first acupuncture session to take place at that time, although it could happen. This appointment will be a “get to know your dog” (and you) – physical examination, your concerns… Your vet will either make the recommendations for treatment at the end of your appointment, or will get back to you with the details.
Red’s experience with acupuncture
A few months ago we went to Spain for an extended stay, and naturally I needed to find a new vet. For awhile now I’ve been interested in holistic vet care for Red, but there are no options where we live in England. At least not close enough to be considered a primary caregiver.
Anyway I was so thrilled when I found someone in Spain, I made an appointment to see him not long after we arrived. We had a quick chat on the phone beforehand and was grateful his English was perfect. Yes I’m learning Spanish but I couldn’t possibly communicate the way that was needed.
Although it was almost one hour from where we were living, I made the decision that I was going to give it a try. Long story short Pepe was amazing. Our first appointment was a one hour discussion about Red, my observations, what she’s like, how she gets on… He also took blood to get a clear picture of her health. Once the results were in, he created a whole foods home made diet for her, replaced 3 of her drugs with supplements, and recommended twice weekly acupuncture treatments.
I admit I was bit reluctant – twice a week to drive so far, not to mention the extra vet bills on top of the already exorbitant amount my sweet girl costs us!! What can you do, Pepe assured me that supplements, a whole food diet and acupuncture were a 3 pronged approach he uses to care for his patients. The ones that are willing anyway!!
We went twice a week for 3 months, each session was about 15 or 20 minutes with 3 needles, occasionally 4. Red is blind so naturally gets anxious in new situations, and yes she squirmed when a needle went in, but otherwise she was pretty fine. She never tried to pull them out, and they didn’t seem to cause her any pain but she wasn’t relaxed or resting the way some dogs apparently are.
I did ask Pepe a couple of times if there was a reason to continue, as I hadn’t noticed any difference other than the bank balance!! What I was expecting to see I have no idea, but everything was the same, or at least “seemed” to be. He assured me it takes time and reducing visits to once a week would have no benefit so early in the treatment.
So, did acupuncture help!
Within 2 weeks of being back in the UK without treatment I noticed changes in Red…and not for the better. Before she went to Spain she was on a cortecosteroid inhaler twice a day because of some breathing issues, and had lots of problems with pus in her eyes. In Spain she was able to give up the inhaler and her eyes were fine. Since we’ve been back she’s already been to the vet about 6 times with various issues.
Then I had a “ha ha” moment as I call it. I was telling my vet how Red had none of these problems in Spain and he couldn’t believe it, he really was shocked. A combination of the climate and the acupuncture had made a world of difference to her health and specifically her immune system.
Remember I mentioned a holistic vet that was far but I could get to, just not as my primary caregiver? Well, a few weeks ago I started making the trek for acupuncture, and it was interesting to see how different her approach was to Pepe’s. She used only a couple of needles, but also incorporated acupuncture with a laser which was new. Unfortunately Red was never relaxed during the treatments.
The reason I mention you have to be careful to balance so many vets is because of what I’m about to say. I have my amazing vet in England, Pepe in Spain and now another holistic vet in England. I still get medication from the UK, and I have supplements sent from Spain, and the third vet has made some recommendations. I had blood tests taken here, and the other two wanted to see the results as well to keep their records up to date. Not to mention Pepe had a different opinion and interpretation to the other vets. I was feeling so overwhelmed I had to take a step back and re-think what was in the best interests of my dog. So if you do have more than one vet, just be clear on who you’re going to use as your “ultimate trusted source” of care for your dog.
Acupuncture in dogs – conclusion
I hope this post has answered some of your questions, or got you thinking about acupuncture for your dog. I highly recommend you at least look into it, because I see how much good it did for Red.
Have you tried acupuncture on a pet before? What made you look into it? Was there a specific condition you were hoping to treat? Did it help? Sharing helps others so leave a comment below or on my Facebook page.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.