Did you think I was talking about acupuncture for human maladies? You wouldn’t be wrong if so: just as in humans, acupuncture can effectively heal and even reverse many of the similar diseases and symptoms that afflict pets. Even though acupuncture has been used on people for thousands of years in China, it wasn’t so long ago that the Western world only thought of acupuncture as that weird looking, slightly skin-crawling concept of sticking needles all over one’s body, and… eeek… leaving them there. But the results were solid, people started feeling better, yoga devotees, health fanatics and soccer moms alike started swearing by the treatment, acupuncturists proliferated, and techniques in alternative medicine became commonplace. And as holistic therapies become more and more common for people in the West, so too are they becoming accepted forms of treatment for pets here too (though according to the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, acupuncture has been used on animals for at least 3000 years!).
How does acupuncture work?
The principle of acupuncture is based on the belief that a being’s overall physical, mental, and emotional health depends on the state of its Qi or chi, thought of as an indeterminate and immeasurable life force of vital energy that flows throughout the body. If anything blocks the flow of chi, such as bacteria, virus, inflammation, etc., pain and illness can manifest in a number of ways.
Nerve endings in the body contain trigger points or “acupoints” which are stimulated by specifically-placed acupuncture needles to help release endorphins, reduce swelling, relieves spasms, and ultimately, restores the flow of energy, or chi, through the body to provide relief from pain.
Veterinary acupuncture sessions can last from 10 to 60 minutes, depending on the animal’s condition and sensitivity. Veterinarians assess the dog’s condition and ailments, and place the needles accordingly. For example, when searching for the underlying cause of disease, Chinese medicine practitioners will often start with inserting acupuncture needles at the “liver points.” Because the liver filters over a liter of blood every minute, it is responsible for detoxifying, nourishing, replenishing, and storing blood. So it’s not a stretch to believe that the health of one’s liver is a reflection of one’s overall health and well-being. According to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of energy throughout the body, so stimulating these points will help release general blockages and stimulate free flow of chi, which will help heal other ailments throughout the body.
What does acupuncture treat (in humans and animals!)?
- Musculoskeletal problems: Acupuncture is probably best known for treating these kinds of problems, including pain, stiffness, spinal disc problems, soreness, back and neck pain, degenerative joint disease (like hip and elbow dysplasia), osteoarthritis, and sports injuries.
- Neurological disorders: Seizures, some paralysis
- Digestive Problems: Gastric ulcers, vomiting, constipation (the ultimate blockage!), diarrhea, etc.
- Chronic Conditions: Behavioral and emotional problems like aggressiveness, anxiety, irritation; asthma, allergies, hypo and hyperthyroidism, and skin problems.
How to find a qualified veterinary acupuncturist?
Only licensed veterinarians can practice acupuncture on pets in most states in the U.S., and in those that don’t require a veterinarian acupuncturist also have a veterinary license, it is HIGHLY advisable to seek one out with a license regardless! To find a vet who performs acupuncture and has successfully completed an approved veterinary acupuncture course, contact the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture or the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.
Have you ever used acupuncture on your pet? What did you use it to treat? Please share your story with us in the comments below!