More and more senior dog parents are exploring alternative ways to treat their dogs various ailments, so it’s no surprise many are considering acupuncture.
That’s right, acupuncture for dogs is a thing and that cutie in the picture above is my dog Red (RIP) at one of her twice weekly sessions.
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 your dog 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.
To learn more read this ⇒ What is Veterinary Acupuncture?
Types of acupuncture
In case you’re worried about the use of needles, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn not all types use them.
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.
- Arthritis/Degenerative joint disease
- Back pain
- 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
- Neurological problems
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Lick ganulomas
- General vitality
To learn more read this ⇒ Acupuncture/Acupressure for Dogs
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 came 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.
Even if acupuncture can’t cure your old dog’s illness or issue, it may offer some relief which is still a positive outcome.
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.
How much will it cost?
That is an impossible question to answer since we all live in different countries, and even within the same city prices may vary widely. The best thing to do is visit the websites of the vets you’re considering, or give them a call. Sometimes they offer packages which are more cost effective.
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?
What my Facebook group members have to say
Recently I asked my FB group members about their experiences with acupuncture – what conditions they were treating and whether or not they saw results. I have omitted their names but these are direct quotes.
“Yes! Mine had a spinal stroke with full recovery. He loved acupuncture, even fell asleep during the procedure!! We did not do it for my other dogs IVDD, but he had great physical therapy and healed completely.”
“One of our rescue dogs was suffering from vestibular disease and she refused to eat for many days. We had just about given up when we tried acupuncture and–after one treatment–she started eating like she was starved! This was the turning point for her recovery–and it made me a believer in acupuncture. Of course, acupuncture doesn’t work for every problem, every time. But it definitely is effective for certain things!”
“Kiera had acupuncture. She received needles in her snout, neck, back, legs. Was great with all of it, but it didn’t help so stopped after 3 sessions. We did it for lymphoplasmacytic rhinitis / upper respiratory issues.”
“Nicholas had very bad arthritis and as the disease progressed, laser therapy became less effective. So, we added acupuncture to his treatment plan. My impression was that you saw results quicker with laser therapy but it didn’t last as long. Acupuncture took more sessions to show results but those results lasted longer.”
“Cookie had acupuncture when she had a severe wound that resulted in 90 sutures. It helped her relax the adhesion she developed over much of her torso. She also had cold laser treatments on those visits.”
“Abby also had acupuncture while going through renal failure. It also helped her relax after each visit.”
“Alfie has acupuncture monthly from smart vet from vet rehab clinic it’s a great help along with Photizo treatment daily.”
“My senior (16) recently started it to support his digestive system bc of his chronic pancreatitis. I actually found an energy increase instead. Which is still good.”
“My shihtzu gets it for her IVDD. It’s really helped her back.”
“Yes our holistic vet gives it for arthritis and perhaps it will also help his cancer.”
“My Tink gets it for her arthritis and hip dysplasia. She gets Stem treatment where the needles get electrical stimulation and also gets laser therapy. You can tell when she’s hurting and you can see the improvement it makes in mobility.”
“We did it for IBD he said it would help her bloodwork because her levels were so out of whack and it did help once we were done with a few rounds her levels were right where they needed to be. Our vet sedates her because he uses an elevated table that moves up and down and she doesn’t like the height.”
“We did it initially for Cushings. I think the Chinese herbs helped more with that but we continued the acupuncture because it seemed to help with his joints and his quality of life.”
“Yes, works wonders for my 12 1/2 year old golden.”
“We do needle acupuncture, hooked to the machine to send the extra boost through. Started for pain management and to give him an extra boost after ivdd surgery. Kept it up after he developed arthritis. I noticed that after treatments, he’s a bit weak and tired that night but the next day and for 2-3 weeks after, he’s stronger, faster and doesn’t stumble as much.”
“My boy Timba suffered from degenerative Lumbosacral Spondylosis & was losing the use of his back legs. Acupuncture & laser therapy worked wonders. He was noticeably improved after each session & I know it bought him time. We lost him last year aged 12 (a good age for large breeds).”
“Maya regained strength in her hind legs thanks to acupuncture.”
“Arthritis and yes totally recommended.”
“My bichon had needle acupuncture for years. She had 2 back surgeries and was left with partial paralysis so the acupuncture helped ease the arthritis pain to a minimum and improved her gait. She’d be shaking and nervous going in, but as soon as the first needle was placed she would stop shaking and lay down on the metal exam room table. She was so calm and content after her treatment and she’d instantly walk better and it would last a few weeks. I never believed in it before I saw with my own eyes that she improved instantly. It was the weirdest thing. She also had laser therapy and that worked well. The best was when the vet hooked up one or two of the needles with an electrode. Had the best results then.”
“We did laser and acupuncture for DM. It helped for a few months.”
“It works. For the first month, vet advise us to go twice a week as the effect will be multiple, after that once a week for maintenance. Every time after acupuncture he will be more tired and sleepy, after get some rest he is much stronger.”
“We do monthly acupuncture. Currently, one dog is treated for her heart murmur. Another for IVDD/Lumbosacral Disease. But, we have treated vestibular, neurological issues, incontinence, anxiety, etc. We have done regular needle acupuncture, as well as electro and hydro acupuncture.”
“I did needle acupuncture and herbal supplements for my cocker spaniel who had terminal mammary cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. It dramatically slowed the return of tumors (she lived 9 more months after her initial diagnosis and surgery).”
“Tess has needle acupuncture every 3-4 weeks for her back pain and arthritis she feels great in herself afterwards.”
“We tried acupuncture for our dog Casper who has suspected DM. We tried for 3 months or so but didn’t see any positive outcome.”
“We are currently doing acupuncture for arthritis and leg aches/pains for out 12 year old pug with joint supplements and CBD oil. We are definitely seeing a difference.”
“My senior Basenji was at our holistic vet for gut issues. We did a full body acupuncture treatment he loved it.”
Red’s experience with acupuncture
About 3 years ago we went to Spain for an extended stay, and naturally I needed to find a new vet. I was 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, her issues, medications she was taking, my observations and what she was like. No vet had ever asked about what any of my animals were “like.” Fascinating.
Although I had all her records with me, he wanted to take his own blood tests so he could see exactly how she was doing at that moment. 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 about the acupuncture. Not because I was worried about the treatment per se, it was more about driving that distance twice a week, and of course the extra vet bills on top of the already exorbitant amount my sweet girl cost 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!!
It didn’t make sense to do this half assed so we went twice a week for 3 months. Each session was about 15-20 minutes with 3 needles, occasionally 4. Red was blind so naturally she squirmed when a needle went in, but otherwise she was pretty fine. She never tried to pull them out, they didn’t seem to cause her any pain but she wasn’t relaxed or resting the way some dogs apparently are. My husband would hold her, and Pepe would play calming music.
To be honest I asked him a couple of times if there was a reason to continue, since 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 took time and reducing visits to once a week would have no benefit so early in the treatment, so we continued.
I never once thought he was trying to keep us going twice a week for the money. He genuinely believed in his approach and cared about the welfare of all of us.
So, did acupuncture help?
Like I said I never noticed a difference while we were doing it, but within 2 weeks of being back in the UK without treatment I noticed changes in Red…and not for the better. I can best explain it by saying there was an obvious lack of vitality. 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. In a short time of being back Red was at the vet 6 times with various issues.
Then I had my “ah ha” moment. 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, not liking what I was seeing in Red my husband and I decided to go there for acupuncture and turn it into a day trip. It was in a lovely town I used to work in, so the four of us (including our dog Jack) would turn the treatment into an outing. We would go to a dog friendly cafe, do some shopping and just enjoy.
The first thing I noticed was the difference in approach this vet had to Pepe. She used only a couple of needles and focused more on laser, no pun intended!! Unfortunately Red was never relaxed during those treatments, actually that is an understatement. She was very stressed, couldn’t sit still so we stopped going. It wouldn’t have been fair to subject her to that level of anxiety.
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, especially because I was trying to juggle 3!!!
I have my amazing vet in England, Pepe in Spain and then the other holistic vet in England. I had medication from the UK, the supplements Pepe started her on were being sent from Spain, and the third vet also 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. 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 interest of my dog.
I would have chosen Pepe under different circumstances, and even though he was able to mail me the supplements, having a vet in another country just doesn’t work.
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.
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. It’s a good idea to arrange for that to happen before you meet so he or she has time to get familiar with what’s going on.
While it is possible acupuncture will take place at your first appointment, it may not happen because the first appointment is often a “get to know your dog” (and you) – physical examination, your concerns… He may also need time to determine the best course of action. When you call to book a time ask what to expect.
I recommend you prepare a list of questions to bring with you so you leave that appointment confident you understand the process. It’s quite possible most of them will already be answered during your chat, but it’s good to have it just in case.
Things you will want to know include –
- Success rate for the condition you’re there to treat
- Can it be cured or just managed
- How many sessions are recommended per week/month
- Will it be long term
- What is the cost per session and are there packages available
- What kind of acupuncture will he use
- What side effects if any can you expect to see
- What would be considered worrisome and who can you call
- Does acupuncture interfere with any medication
- Can your dog eat right after
These are just a few questions I thought of off the top of my head, but you may have others. Never be shy about asking questions, and if for whatever reason you aren’t feeling comfortable you can leave.
Can acupuncture help your old dog feel better?
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 and group members’ dogs.
Have you tried acupuncture on a dog before? Was there a specific condition you were hoping to treat? Did it help? Sharing helps others so leave a comment below.
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.
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