Believe it or not, animals can benefit from acupuncture just like people.
This traditional Chinese medicine technique has ancient roots, and ever-increasing evidence to support its use for a variety of conditions. Some common conditions that acupuncture can benefit include arthritis, acute musculoskeletal conditions (such as a pulled muscle or tendon), respiratory disease, and gastrointestinal issues. Acupuncture can be used on most species of animals—from cats and dogs, to horses and rabbits—and is another tool that allows more options to help improve your animal’s quality of life.
There are a variety of techniques of acupuncture. The most common method is called dry needling and involves small sterile needles that are placed in the skin. There are a few other approaches to make the acupuncture treatment last longer. One method is called aquapuncture. This is where a sterile liquid (such as saline) is injected into the acupuncture points, and as this slowly releases, it continues to activate the special site. Another method is electroacupuncture, where a small current is run through two dry needles to "connect" the points and stimulate larger areas. This can be particularly excellent for pain relief. The last method is called moxibustion, which uses an herb that is heated to high temperatures and placed near the acupuncture sites to provide warmth to the site.
Acupuncture works in a variety of ways, and different methods can produce different results. Various acupuncture techniques can cause the release of serotonin or endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in the brain. Certain acupuncture points are located near nerve endings, and with the release of these calming chemicals in the brain, animals can become very relaxed with treatment—some may even fall asleep! When an acupuncture site is stimulated, it also sets off a reaction to that causes different types of cells and chemicals to come to the local area, causing results like increased blood flow or local pain relief.
Acupuncture uses a whole different medical system for diagnosing and treating problems. One of acupuncture’s strengths is providing a whole body approach. With one session, multiple issues can be treated. Preventative medicine, chronic or pain issues can all be great uses for acupuncture. Older animals with multiple issues can benefit from acupuncture to improve quality of life by handling several chronic conditions at once. For example, while acupuncture will not remove arthritis from joints, it can provide pain relief and improve mobility.
Integrative medicine is combining our Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, so it uses both medicines’ strengths to really offer the most care options for animals. Usually a few initial treatments are needed to see the full benefit from acupuncture, and it then can be continued on an intermittent basis as needed. Acupuncture is a great tool and option to help animals, especially when integrated with regular veterinary care.
Dr. Sydney Routley is a 2012 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was raised in Fort St. John and first started working at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student back in 2004.