Veterinary Acupuncture Frequent Questions
Asked Questions About Acupuncture
For which problems can I use Acupuncture for my pet?
Acupuncture is most well known for it's effects with
musculo-skeletal disorders such as arthritis and non-surgical
intervertebral disc disease. However, Acupuncture has
been used successfully to treat a wide variety of disease
conditions, only some of which are included on main Acupuncture
page. See Acupuncture (main).
Almost any condition can be addressed using acupuncture,
however, there are conditions where acupuncture should
only be used secondarily or adjunctively. These are discussed
What conditions are best NOT addressed PRIMARILY by acupuncture?
(Note that acupuncture may help many of these as an adjunctive
- acute surgical conditions such as:
- broken bones,
- gastric torsion,
- severe trauma with internal injuries
- acute, severe medical conditions such as:
- diabetic shock and coma
- extreme vomiting/diarrhea with dehydration
- acute poisonings
Acupuncture is used by some practitioners for certain
cancers, however it's effectiveness lies primarily in
normalizing body systems and tissues function (and of
course cancer cells normal function is not 'normal').
However, acupuncture can be syngeristic with chemotherapy and can be used to help treat
the side effects of surgery and chemotherapy.
How does Acupuncture work?
Acupuncture works by stimulating specific points in the
skin/muscle/nerve that may cause a variety of effects
through various physiologic mechanisms. Two of the general
ways in which acupuncture works include:
- release of endorphins and endocrine substances which
help control the physiology (ie. blood flow, ion flow,
metabolism) either locally and/or other areas or more
generally in the body.
- nerve reflexes via muscle receptor and/or nerve branch
stimulation. These reflexes may go through the spine
and/or the brain to trigger actions either locally,
in the nervous system, or in other parts of the body.
What is involved in an acupuncture treatment?
The initial acupuncture appointment will involve at
least 1 hour to take a good history, determine an initial
acupuncture point prescription, and to give the initial
treatment. Needles are placed and left in place from 5
to 30 minutes (usually about 15). Follow-up appointments
usually run 30-45 minutes, and involve a brief re-assessment
and the treatment
Do you use moxa or electro-stimulation? What are they?
Yes, depending on the individual case, Electro-Stimulation
and/or Moxa are used with some of the acupuncture points
to augment the response and/or relax muscle groups. Electro-Stimulation
is done with a battery operated unit designed for this
purpose. The pulsations are kept to either just over or
just under the level necessary to make the muscles contract
or make the patient uncomfortable. People who have had
TENS units applied to them (using stick on pads instead
of needles) to pulsate and relax their muscles will appreciate
why we do not make their pet's stimulation too strong.
Moxa, or Moxibustion (the using of Moxa) is the burning
of a dried plant which gives off a deep and penetrating
heat as well as smoke, and has been shown to help augment
the effects of the acupuncture depending on the TCM (Traditional
Chinese Medicine) diagnosis.
Will the treatment be uncomfortable for my pet? Will he/she
Acupuncture needles are usually placed with no more than
simple distraction of the pet by the owner. Acupuncture
points are usually not especially painful -- they may
have varying sensations (extrapolated from people since
your pet can't tell us) such as tenseness, numbness, sensation
of heat orcool, or even a slight 'electic' sensation.
Use of sedatives is not desired, as it can dampen mechanisms that
trigger some of the desired acupuncture responses.
For the few animals that REALLY object to the sensations, I do have an Infrared Stimulator (cold, non-cutting laser) to stimulate the points. This I will also use to treat some eye and soft tissue conditions. It has also been good for some animals that just don't allow themselves to be handled. (You would expect me to be using it on more cats, but most cats tolerate the needles surprisingly well.)
Will my pet improve? And how long will it take?
We certainly wish that there could be guaranteed improvement.
In my experience, almost every animal has had positive
effects as a result of acupuncture. However, not all animals
have tolerated being handled (much less allowing the needles
to be placed effectively) -- these are the exceptions.
Most tolerate the treatment well. And now I can often use the Infrared Stimulator for these patients (see previous faq).
There have been a few animals who's disease state is
so advanced, or are on such overwhelming medications,
that they have not been able to respond reasonably. And
perhaps the biggest block to improvement can be owner
frustration -- it is not always a fast way to see response!
As for how long to effect -- this really depends on how
severe and long standing the problem is with your pet,
what factors (such as medications and external influences)
might interfere with the assessment and/or treatment,
and the diagnostic and treatment skills of the acupuncturist [me -- I wish I were perfect and knew everything].
Some patients have seen excellent response with only one
treatment. Others have taken 10-12 treatments to see a
And of course there are some patients that do not respond as well as
we would like. Sometimes I will recommend Chiropractic treatments, and for some this seems to help and be synergistic with the acupuncture, and for others I might suggest Homeopathy, massage, hydrotherapy, etc., or conventional medicine, either concurrently or instead of acupuncture and/or herbs (see below), depending on the situation and concerns.
Do you use herbs or other modalities?
Although not all cases require herbal formulas, I do have limited training with herbs, but not enough to be
comfortable in complicated cases -- for these cases I consult with a veterinary herbalist (for a modest fee), who may make herbal recommendations.
I do not use any other
modalities, except for nutrition and nutritional supplements.
Should I stop seeing my regular veterinarian or give up on conventional medicine?
We do not suggest that alternative medicine is the end all or be all. There are many parts of conventional medicine for which acupuncuture has no equivalent, most notably - a variety of surgical procedures. In addition, labwork, radiographs (xrays), ultrasound, EKG's, etc. all can give valuable insight into an animals condition for consideration with either alternative or conventional treatment. And we feel it is best to look at as many of the potentially viable options as possible in the search for the optimal treatment for your pet.
We suggest keeping your regular (conventional) veterinarian for services such as emergencies, vaccinations, testing and preventatives (although use of vaccinations and preventatives would likely be part of our discussions when you visit).