Acupuncture And Dogs: Is There a Point?

acupuncture and dogs

acupuncture and dogs

Acupuncture and dogs…really? 

Yes really, and I’l tell you what, I’m a fan. Or more specifically I’m a fan of it for my dog Red. 

Of course I was familiar with acupuncture in humans, and I know many people who have derived tremendous benefits from it, and yes I was even aware acupuncture for dogs was available. Did I ever try it on any of my animals? No. Why not you ask? Well, first of all I never had a vet that offered it in their practice, and I (wrongly) assumed it was only helpful for dogs with arthritis, plus I thought it was an unnecessary expense. 

Not that any expense is spared when it comes to treating my animals, I just never gave a thought to how it might help them. Boy does that sound bad! 

Before I get into my experience with acupuncture, let’s talk about what it is and the different options available. 

Red having acupuncture for the first time

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been practiced by the 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. 

acupuncture needlesHow 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.

Acupressure

Gentle pressure is applied to acupoints, releasing blocked healing energy and blood, and helping distribute nutrients the body needs to heal.

electroacupuncture for dogs

Electroacupuncture/ Electrostimulation

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.

Aquapuncture

A solution of herbs or vitamins is injected into the acupoints through the tip of a needle.

Laser Acupuncture

Lasers are used in place of needles to stimulate acupoints.

Moxibustion

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 – 

How often will my dog need treatment?

Only your vet can answer that, but typically it’s 2 or 3 times a week to start. 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 to see guaranteed quick results, but that’s just not possible. 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.

lots of acupuncture needles in this dog

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. 

I have to add – if you will be seeing two vets, you need to be clear on who to call, when.

Can’t decide whether or not to try acupuncture?

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?

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.

Check out The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (aava.org) or Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists (abva.co.uk)

I will mention this again, if you will be dealing with 2 vets –

  • It is very important for you to understand what role each will play
  • The lines of communication between all parties are kept open
  • Everyone is clear on who the primary vet responsible for your dog’s care is. Crossed wires and mixed signals can jeopardize your dog’s health.

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. Do not expect your first acupuncture session to take place at that time. 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 had acupuncture twice a week for three months

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. I had always been interested in holistic vet care for Red, but there are no options where we live. I was so thrilled when I found one in Spain. 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 regular acupuncture treatments.

I admit I was bit reluctant – twice a week to drive so far and the extra expense but he assured me that supplements, a whole food diet and acupuncture were key to Red’s health. 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 fine. She never tried to pull them out, and they didn’t seem to cause her any pain.

I did ask Pepe a couple of times if there was a reason to continue, as I didn’t see any difference. What I was expecting to see I have no idea, but everything was the same. He assured me it takes time and reducing visits to once a week would have no benefit so early in the treatment.

missing my holistic vet

Boy do I miss Pepe!!

We’ve been back in the UK about 6 weeks, and I will tell you that after just 2 weeks 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. She’s already been to the vet 3 times with various issues.

Then I had a “ha ha” moment as I call it. I was telling the vet how Red had none of these problems in Spain and he couldn’t believe it. A combination of the climate and the acupuncture had made a world of difference to her health and specifically her immune system. 

Unfortunately we’re back to square one. She’s on her inhaler again and dealing with pus in her eyes. There is nowhere accessible for me to take her for acupuncture, and although my vet is very interested in introducing it into his practice, he’s too swamped with his practice, teaching and other projects to get something going. 

Acupuncture and 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

Acupuncture And Dogs: Is There a Point?
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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8 thoughts on “Acupuncture And Dogs: Is There a Point?

  1. I always though acupuncture was for humans and never for a dog. I also didn’t know the amazing benefits with regards to acupunture. Thanks for an interesting and educational article.

    1. Hi Uwais, I’m always happy to hear when people find my posts helpful and informative. Many animals can benefit from acupuncture including dogs, cats and horses. It’s a potential alternative to drugs, for people that prefer a more holistic and natural approach to their pets’ care.

  2. Hi Hindy – my English Setter-Pointer is turning 13 in just a few days, so this post is relevant for me. I am noticing that she seems to have some stiffness, and will be getting her checked out for arthritis at her next vet visit. Any of these treatments sound like good possible options to me. Thanks for such a clear explanation of them!

    1. Hi Heather, glad to hear your dog is doing so well, even though she’s a bit stiff. I think it’s good to know there are ways to relieve pain that don’t involve drugs. I hope your vet appointment goes well.

  3. Hello Hindy! Lots of good info in this blog. Years ago, I took a geriatric cat with me for acupuncture. We both laid on the table together and had our treatments. The cat was not thrilled in the beginning—but started to relax after a while. The treatments helped both of us immensely. The cat lived a lot longer without pain. I chose this route, rather than drugs, for my ailing cat. I would recommend acupuncture to anyone with a willing cat or dog.

    1. Hi Diane, thank you I’m glad you find my blog helpful. Wow, that’s so great to hear, thanks for sharing. The more people read about personal experiences with alternative therapies, the more they will be willing to explore other treatment avenues.

  4. Last June my 14 yr old mixed breed dog was unable to walk. He had been struggling with arthritis for years from many surgeries and finally everything caught up to him. As a last hope I asked my vet what he thought of acupuncture and he thought it was a good idea to give it a try. By chance a vet who filled in for him on occasion was a Holistic Vet who practices TCVM and also a CVA so I made an apt to see her. I literally carried my dog in to the appt and he got up and walked out. It took 3 days in a row of treatment to keep him mobile but he has been able to stay mobile since then. He goes twice a month now and enjoys the treatments a lot. She has also helped me improve his diet and has added Chinese herbs. He does still take pain meds but he if off the steroids and NSAIDS. Animals can’t lie. If something works we see it. Acupuncture has given me and my senior dog not just more time but quality time. I highly recommend people give it a try for their animals!

    1. Hi Penny, Wow! What an incredible story, thanks so much for sharing it. Sadly many people, and vets, would have chosen to put the dog down. You’re lucky yours is open minded, and you got to meet with a holistic vet. I wish more veterinary practices either offered alternative treatments, or at least educated their patients about it. There are too many success stories out there, to not believe the added benefits a holistic approach could bring to our pets’ lives.

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