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Acupuncture for Dogs & Cats

By Dr Charlie May (Veterinarian)

What is acupuncture for dogs & cats?

Acupuncture for dogs and cats is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is one of the oldest forms of veterinary medicine in the world. It has been used as far back as 3000 years ago, when horses, cows and pigs were treated in China.

Acupuncture for dogs and cats involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body and utilises the body’s own ability to heal itself and stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) substances. In some cases, other methods can be used in addition to needles. These include laser, electrostimulation, acupressure and moxibustion, which can be utilised to stimulate acupuncture points.

Heidi, a spinal patient undergoing acupuncture

How does acupuncture for dogs & cats work?

The ancient Chinese developed an intricate theory to guide the acupuncture practitioner. This has been refined through research and observation of animals and humans over thousands of years. Modern studies have shown meaningful correlation between acupuncture points stimulated, and the area of the body targeted, including MRI studies assessing the effect of acupuncture on the brain.

Acupuncture from a TCM perspective influences the flow of energy (Qi) throughout the body. Qi is believed to flow through energy meridians that run between internal organs and the surface of the body. By selecting combinations of acupuncture points, the functions of the internal organs and structures along the meridians can be influenced.

Although acupuncture is derived from TCM, scientific studies have shown benefits for:

  • Endorphin release: Such as naturally occurring morphine-related endorphins. These relieve pain and create a general sense of wellbeing in the patient
  • Cortisol release: A natural anti-inflammatory hormone
  • Block pain signals in the body: Generally at the level of the spinal cord
  • Decrease inflammation
  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Stimulates nerve regeneration and modulate nerve pathways
  • Increases blood flow to areas around the acupuncture needles

What conditions can acupuncture for dogs & cats treat?

In veterinary acupuncture, musculoskeletal conditions comprise approximately 80% of treated cases. Conditions that are commonly treated with acupuncture include hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis, intervertebral disc disease, chronic lameness and neurological injury. Whilst acupuncture is an excellent treatment option in many cases, it should always be used in conjunction with other forms of veterinary care.

Is acupuncture for dogs & cats safe?

Acupuncture is generally considered a safe treatment and usually well tolerated in patients. It may be contraindicated if the patient cannot remain still enough to perform needling safely and high levels of fear or aggression can counteract health-promoting changes generated by acupuncture.

What does treatment involve?

Acupuncture for dogs & cats is offered through the SASH Sports Medicine & Rehab department. The treatments are usually performed in a consult room with the owner present. Each treatment lasts 10-30 minutes and the number and frequency of treatment depends on the patient and the condition. Some patients will improve rapidly after treatment, others may get a bit worse for about 24 hours before improving and others will need several treatments before any improvement.

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