small puppy smiling
Michelle Chasse
Words by:
Michelle Chasse, DVM — Associate IndeVet

Veterinary medicine has changed (for the better) quite a lot over the last few decades. With that, come changes and developments in medications and therapeutics for our beloved four-legged friends. One treatment modality that has not changed, but has been gaining popularity in the veterinary community, is acupuncture. Rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has been around for many years for a reason. While acupuncture alone is beneficial, we often combine it with medication, laser therapy, and rehabilitation.

So, what is acupuncture, and what can it help treat?

Acupuncture is a technique where needles are inserted into specific points on the body that target the central and peripheral nervous system, provide pain relief, and aid in muscle relaxation. It is helpful for intervertebral disc disease (very common among the beloved Dachshund breed), hip dysplasia, arthritis, degenerative musculoskeletal and nerve conditions, allergies, seizure disorders, incontinence, constipation, feline lower urinary tract disease, and even heart-related issues. Basically, if you name it, acupuncture can probably help. Acupuncture can even help with nerve damage and stimulate nerve regeneration. To help stimulate the nerves further, once needles are placed, they can be attached to an electrical stimulation unit that will provide pulses of electrical activity across the muscles and nerves to help them repair.

What do I need to know before my pet’s first acupuncture visit?

An initial exam and treatment usually take about 45-60 minutes. A certified Veterinary Medical Acupuncturist (cVMA) will do a thorough exam at the first appointment, including a gait analysis, which is a fancy way to say that we will watch your pet walk around to detect any abnormalities in their movement. The goal of this is to ensure that we are making the correct diagnosis and can come up with the best treatment plan for every pet. Each treatment session after that may be a bit shorter, running about 30-45 minutes. Needles can be left in for the entire session or placed and immediately removed. Every point and needle placed is carefully chosen to benefit the pet. The pet’s comfort and a positive experience are always priority number one. During most treatments, it is very helpful to have treats on hand to distract the pet and positively reinforce the acupuncture treatment.

For their comfort, some pets may require sedation for acupuncture. If that is the case, owners can administer a sedative at home before bringing their pet in for treatment, or the pet can be sedated at the hospital with intramuscular or intravascular sedation. Often, acupuncture can be done during a surgical procedure since the pet is already anesthetized.

Where are the points that the veterinarian will use on my pet?

Exact points will vary depending on the condition being treated. Rest assured; every treatment plan is individualized for each pet. It would take MANY hours to go over every individual point. However, several points are very common to all pets being treated. These points are located on either side of the spinal cord and are called the Bladder points. All the Bladder points make up the Bladder channel, which runs from the head to the tail. Each point along this channel has a different use and can target internal organs, such as the liver, kidney, and heart. This is also a common channel to target back pain and helps to break up tight muscles along the back. There is also a point called Governor Vessel 20 (GV 20) that sits atop the head of each pet, which helps with relaxation. A pet may become so relaxed during acupuncture that they will fall asleep. FUN FACT – there is even a point located just under the nose, called Governor Vessel 26 (GV 26), that aids in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

How long will it take to notice a difference in my pet?

Every pet is different when it comes to how quickly acupuncture will work. However, most clients do notice a difference in their pets after just one treatment. Other times, it can take 3-5 sessions to really get the most benefit from it. Some pets will be treated indefinitely for a chronic condition, while others may completely recover and only be treated for a few months. It depends on the condition being treated and how cooperative the pet is for treatment.

I am interested in scheduling an Acupuncture treatment for my pet; now what?

Only a cVMA should perform acupuncture on animals. They are very well trained in anatomy and can adequately diagnose and formulate a treatment plan that will be the most beneficial for each pet. cVMAs have not only graduated from vet school, but they have obtained additional training and certification in veterinary acupuncture. The best way to find a cVMA is to search online for the closest one in your area or inquire with your local veterinarian for more information.

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