Acupuncture for Pets

Did you know that both Dr. Yung and Dr. Marcus perform veterinary acupuncture?  This method has been used to treat humans for thousands of years, but many pet owners don’t realize that it can be used on pets, too. So we asked Dr. Marcus to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about acupuncture for pets!

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment modality originating in ancient China that involves the insertion of small thin needles into specific locations on the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that stimulating these points can alter the flow of Qi through channels or meridians in the body and achieve balance. Illness is created by imbalance, and health is achieved by restoring the balance of Qi. It has been developed and refined through more than 3000 years of use.

How does it work?

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, acupuncture works by adjusting the flow of Qi, or vital energy, of the body. This Qi flows through channels called meridians and connects to all the body’s organs and functions, and is accessible through the 350+ acupuncture points located along these 14 meridians. By stimulating the acupuncture points that are in or associated with the affected areas or functions, we can restore balance and resolve disease.

According to modern Western medicine, the stimulation of nerve endings by acupuncture needles creates a set of responses in the body that changes neurochemical balance, hormone production, blood flow, and inflammation that help to heal the body.

Will acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture needles penetrate the skin and activate nerve endings, some of which sense pain. Some animals react to this sensation as slight pain at first, but many are able to relax because it is a very short sensation that goes away almost immediately. The acupuncture needles are smaller than the smallest needle we use for vaccinating puppies and kittens. Most of the time, cats and dogs accept the needles with little more than a small flinch, and many even become relaxed enough to nap during the treatment.

What diseases/problems can acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of diseases, and can be used as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with Western medical treatments or other Traditional Chinese treatments such as food and herbal therapy. It is perhaps best known for it’s use in musculoskeletal conditions, but has many other uses:

  • Back pain (disk disease, spondylosis)
  • Arthritis (hip, knee, elbow, shoulder, etc)
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Chronic gastrointestinal diseases (vomiting, diarrhea, IBD, pancreatitis)
  • Skin disease (atopy, pododermatitis, otitis)
  • Epilepsy
  • Chronic Renal Failure
  • Urinary problems (cystitis, incontinence)
  • Feline asthma
  • Acupuncture can also be used to help reduce the illness associated with cancer or the side-effects of chemotherapy.

Both the World Health Organization (in 2004) and the National Institutes of Health (in 1997) have issued statements supporting the use of acupuncture for the treatment of diseases in humans.

What are the qualifications to perform acupuncture?

Both Drs. Yung and Marcus attended International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) for their acupuncture training, which does require you to be a veterinarian, and included over 200 hours of lecture and hands-on laboratory skills, a rigorous written and practical exam, and submission of a case report. Ultimately, both are Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists (CVA).  In contrast, there are a variety of quick and easy weekend courses that “hit the high points” of teaching veterinary acupuncture without teaching the fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and these courses do NOT require that you be a veterinarian.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture is very safe in the right hands. Some animals experience a mild, transient bruising or swelling at the needle insertion side; a mild worsening of the condition for a short time (24-48 hours) after treatment may occur; or infection of the needle site. These side effects are very rare, and best efforts are made to prevent these from occurring.

How will my pet be evaluated and treated?

Before any needles are inserted, a complete history and physical exam will be performed, and a Traditional Chinese diagnosis will be made. From this diagnosis, a prescription of acupuncture points will be determined to balance the specific energetic excesses and deficiencies causing disease. At this time, treatment can begin with the insertion of acupuncture needles: there is a prick of the skin as the needles are inserted, and then they are left in place for 10-30 minutes. Sometimes aquapuncture (injecting a small amount of liquid), moxabustion (adding heat to the needles), or electrical stimulation is added to the treatment plan to strengthen or lengthen the duration of effect.

Every pet is an individual, and the exact treatment plan will be tailored to what is needed on a case-by-base basis, but it is not uncommon for treatments to be once to twice weekly for the first four weeks. At that point, depending on response and how long the effects last, the treatments can often be decreased to monthly or less often as needed.

Additional Information

What's Next

  • 1

    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

  • 3

    Put a plan together for your pet.