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.
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.
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.
Lasers are 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?
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.
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.
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’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.
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.