Acupuncture is a type of medicine that has been around for thousands of years. In human and veterinary medicine, it is used as an alternative method for treating chronic pain. This traditional Chinese medicine refers to the insertion of a tiny needle or thin piece of metal into pre-established points in the body. From a western viewpoint, acupuncture points correlate with areas where we have a bundle of vessels and nerves. The insertion of the needle often causes an increase in blood flow and the release of some anti-inflammatory mediators. From the eastern perspective, acupuncture is said to restore the energy, or chi, throughout the body’s pathways.
Many people are skeptical of acupuncture even in human use, let alone its use in treating pain in dogs. Still, the truth is that, as veterinarians, we’ve seen dog acupuncture work wonders on a pet with inflammation and pain. And just like in humans, acupuncture in dogs involves the insertion of minuscule needles into their skin to stimulate certain points on the body and to promote a healing response.
But you might be asking, “How do I know if acupuncture is right for my dog?” We’ll talk about that and answer some dog acupuncture FAQs below.
How does the use of acupuncture impact the wellbeing of my dog?
Most veterinarians will tell you that they like to think of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture as just another tool in their toolbox. It's a unique type of tool, though, as acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine treat the body as a whole interconnected unit. In other words, if we have a lameness problem in a dog, we're not just treating the sore leg; we're treating those points and thinking about the organ systems in the body that may support the bone system or the hind end. So we're looking at the dog’s whole body and a balance of that energy and health to not just correct this problem but also to maintain health and wellness long term.
Is there more than one type of dog acupuncture?
There are many different types of acupuncture and ways that we can use it too. The stereotypical idea of acupuncture is of the needles sticking out everywhere, and that's what we call dry needle acupuncture. There's also electrical acupuncture, which uses those needles with small electrodes attached to them. The veterinarian will connect these needles to the dogs at various points on the body to send a mild electrical current to stimulate things and wake up those nerves.
There's also something called moxibustion, in which we put a small, incense-like piece on the needle to bring about different effects through heat. Then, there's also aquapuncture, which involves the injection of a small amount of saline or vitamin B12 at the acupuncture points to have a more prolonged effect.
How old should a dog be to get acupuncture?
Acupuncture is good for dogs of any age, but we change how we use acupuncture in younger animals versus older animals. Any reputable veterinarian treats each dog as an individual. There is no cookie-cutter acupuncture or acupuncture points, as it's a very individualized plan.
In younger animals, we'll often use acupressure, gentle pressure at the points versus using needles. If we use needles on a younger dog, we typically won’t leave them in as long. Veterinarians mostly see older animals for acupuncture because acupuncture is often used as the second, third, fourth, or last-ditch option. We’re often called upon to pull this out of our toolbox when dog ailments have not been managed or cured with traditional Western medicine. In those situations, the veterinarian is trying to manage chronic conditions. Still, we can also use acupuncture to maintain health, and we can also use it as a preventative care mechanism in younger dogs or even puppies.
What are some conditions that you can treat with acupuncture?
Most veterinarians use acupuncture for mobility issues such as osteoarthritis, back problems, neck pain, and sometimes with ACL injuries. However, there are other illnesses, diseases, or conditions we can treat using dog acupuncture, and HillsPet.com came up with this comprehensive list:
- Surgery - acupuncture can help relieve anxiety and pain surrounding surgery
- Cancer side effects - acupuncture can mitigate things like nausea, pain, and loss of appetite
- Arthritis and degenerative joint disease - the most common reason for dog acupuncture
- Intervertebral disc disease and nerve pain - bulging discs, pinched nerves, and spinal arthritis
- Skin or dermatologic conditions - acupuncture can be a complementary treatment for allergic dermatitis or lick granulomas
- Gastrointestinal issues - acupuncture can provide relief for dogs suffering from diarrhea
- Idiopathic epilepsy - acupuncture has been shown to reduce seizures in epileptic dogs
- Hormonal or metabolic conditions - Cushing's syndrome, diabetes mellitus, Addison's disease, hypothyroidism
- Trauma - dogs who have been hit by a car, broken a bone, or experienced other trauma can get relief with acupuncture
Would acupuncture complement my dog's current western medicine treatments?
Absolutely. Acupuncture is one of the arms of integrative medicine to use to aid or boost our standard Western medicine for many conditions. Acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine treatments - like food therapy and massage - can help Western medicine bring about results more quickly and help with maintenance over time.
How do I know if acupuncture is right for my dog?
Ask your veterinarian if acupuncture is right for your dog, especially if your pooch has been in pain and typical western treatments haven’t helped to date. We are always happy to chat by phone to provide a consultation. At that point, we can review records to determine if we think acupuncture can make a difference for your dog. If your veterinarian doesn’t typically use acupuncture, they can still refer you to someone who does. Never hesitate to reach out if you have questions or think acupuncture might be a good fit for your dog.
If you have any more questions about dog acupuncture, please give us a call!