top donate button

Acupuncture for Animals

<<< Ask a vet index

Legend has it that animal acupuncture has it’s origins in war time when horses that had been injured in battle were cured after being pierced by arrows in specific points on their bodies. However it began, it has been part of traditional Chinese medical treatment of animals for thousand of years. Increasingly, it is used in the Western world as one mode of treatment in veterinary practice.

So what is acupuncture and how does it work? By definition, it is the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body in order to stimulate changes that will help the body heal itself. There are two ways of looking at it. In traditional Chinese view, areas of disease or dysfunction occur as a result of blockage in the flow of energy along specific pathways, known as meridians, through the body. Acupuncture acts to restore that flow of energy, enabling healing to occur.

From a Western point of view, acupuncture works in a number of different ways. There is some direct stimulation of nerves. There is release of the body’s own anti-inflammatory substances locally at the site of needle insertion. And there is more general release of these substances, including the pain-controlling endorphins, through the blood.

I’ve been using acupuncture in veterinary practice for about 16 years. As a small animal vet, most of my patients are cats and dogs, although I number the odd bird, horse and even one elephant amongst my clients! Many people find it hard to believe that animals will tolerate a 15 to 20 minute session with needles stuck all over them. However, in many cases, the acupuncture has a calming effect - a lot of animals will just lie quietly until the needles are taken out. Even cats are surprisingly tolerant, although I do have laser for use on any that become overexcited at the thought of staying still even for a moment.

Although acute problems may respond very quickly, sore necks for instance - most of the problems I see are more chronic and long-standing, so I usually recommend a course of treatment - usually a minimum, of three, initially, at one week intervals. Provided there has been a response (about 20% of cases don’t respond to acupuncture), I may then see them at increasing intervals of time, or simply when symptoms recur.

The conditions I find respond best to acupuncture - and which I treat most often - are the musculoskeletal problems - arthritis, sore necks. Epilepsy is another which often responds well, as do many chronic problems including sinusitis, constipation and gastric dilatation.

For many pet owners, a solution to their pet’s problems that avoids the use of drugs that may have side effects is highly desirable. Acupuncture encourages the body to do it’s own healing. However, it may be the most appropriate treatment. For me, it is just one of the tools I use in Veterinary practise. Sometimes it’s the right one to use, other times it’s not. And sometimes it’s used in conjunction with more conventional therapy. However, it is a method of treatment that’s been field tested for hundreds of years and many owners will attest to its success in helping their pets.

- Virginia Williams