Acupuncture is a healing modality that has been used for thousands of years in animals, mostly horses, and people. Acupuncture did not become widely used in pets until the 1990’s. Although it’s an eastern modality, more acupuncture treatments are done on pets in Europe and the US than anywhere else in the world.
How does it work? Some of the mechanisms are well understood. For pain control, acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s own Endorphins, which is our own internal source of Morphine, and Enkephalins which is our bodies own aspirin. Painful muscle spasms are also lessened by modulating the nervous system. The way I explain this to my clients is that placing an acupuncture needle in a spasming muscle is like turning off a light switch. I can tell you from my own experience, that this feels great!
The ways in which acupuncture helps the healing processes are less well understood. Acupuncture modulates Qi, which is energy that circulates through our body. Qi flows through channels or meridians. By placing needles at specific points in these meridians, we can alter the flow of Qi and assist our body (or our pets bodies), in the healing process.
The decision to begin acupuncture includes several factors. The most important to me recommending it is, does it work? Have I used this effectively in the past? I have performed about 10,000 acupuncture treatments in the last decade. I’m always open to trying acupuncture for something new, but most likely, whatever your pet is experiencing, I’ve tried acupuncture for this before. As a general rule, I don’t use acupuncture as often on young pets or for acute problems. For me, the specifics of your pet’s physical exam and history are extremely important in deciding if acupuncture can be of help. Another factor to consider is your pet’s response to previous medications, or problems associated with specific medications. Cost is always a factor in considering treatments. A few hundred dollars may be a lot to pay for a case of simple urinary incontinence when an inexpensive medication may do the trick. On the other hand, an MRI that costs $3000 or more for a neurological problem that may not yield a diagnosis, is a lot to pay for a procedure that won’t make your pet better.
Here are the conditions I treat with acupuncture: Neurological problems including disc disease, Degenerative Myelopathy, seizures, fecal and urinary incontinence and strokes, arthritis, bronchitis, asthma, inappetence, organ related disease like Liver and Kidney problems, and any night time problems.
The problems I usually do not try acupuncture on are skin and ear problems. Herbal medications, supplements, and diet changes can very often be helpful with these problems.
As a general rule, I’ll perform acupuncture weekly for 3 weeks and if we do not notice some significant change, we try something else.
Article written by:
Dr. Joe Whalen
LePar Animal Hospital