What is Acupuncture and How does it Work?
Acupuncture, a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine now well supported by medical research, involves the insertion of extremely thin needles through the skin at strategic points on the body to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. This stimulation may have a variety of affects including: increased production of the body’s natural painkillers, increased blood flow, regulation of the immune system and decreased inflammation by altering enzymes (cytokines) produced by the body.
How Can Acupuncture Help My Dog?
Research supports the use of acupuncture for various medical conditions. We typically recommend a combination of both acupuncture and conventional treatments. Acupuncture is an excellent adjunct to conventional therapies as it helps support a patient by reducing pain and side effects of traditional medicine and surgery. Acupuncture is generally safe with minimal risk of side effects; as such, it may be used along with the majority of treatments your primary veterinarian or veterinary specialist will prescribe.
How Does a Veterinary Acupuncturist Know Where to Place the Needles?
Modern research shows that acupuncture points (acupoints) are located in the areas where there is a high density of free nerve endings, immune cells, and small blood vessels. A large number of studies indicate that the stimulation of acupoints induces release of the body’s natural pain relief substances (beta-endorphins, serotonin, and other enzymes). The acupoints on dogs and cats have been adopted from the acupoints on humans, with some anatomic variances for size and shape.
Is Acupuncture Treatment Safe? Is it Painful?
Acupuncture is a very safe medical procedure when administered by a qualified practitioner. The needles used are sterile, single-use needles so there is no risk of cross contamination between pets being treated. The majority of patients are comfortable during acupuncture therapy and most fall asleep during treatment. Acupuncture needles are hair thin without a cutting edge, unlike injection needles, which are thicker, hollow and have cutting edges. This is why acupuncture feels nothing like getting a shot or having blood drawn.
How Many and How Often are Treatments?
The treatment protocol depends on the condition and patient being treated. The treatment does not require sedation or anesthesia and most clients sit with their pet during treatment. The average appointment lasts 1 hour.
Acute conditions may respond much faster than chronic conditions. A single treatment may be enough for a simple acute condition. For severe acute conditions, daily treatments may be recommended for an average of 3-5 days. An example of acute condition is post op pain.
For chronic conditions, an average of 3-7 treatments are necessary. Approximately 90% of patients will demonstrate improvement after 3 treatments for most chronic conditions. Typically the treatments are scheduled once weekly or every other week. As the patient’s condition improves the length of time between treatments may increase. Many patients with chronic condition will eventually be placed on ‘maintenance’ therapy, where they receive treatment once monthly, every other month, every 3 months or every 6 months, depending on the condition being treated and the patient’s response to treatment. An example of chronic condition is arthritis.
What Conditions can be Helped with Acupuncture?
Acupuncture may be used for the following conditions (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):
Pain Control – pre and post surgical pain; orthopedic pain (ACL tear, luxating patella); arthritis
Support for Cancer Patient – potentially reduce side effects of treatment such as gastrointestinal upset and immune suppression; reduce pain associated with the tumor; improve stamina or energy level; reduce anxiety associated with frequent vet visits for cancer treatment
Gastrointestinal Disorders – vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, poor appetite; inflammatory bowel disease
Neurologic Disorders – nerve or muscle weakness; seizures; intervertebral disc disease
Bladder and Kidney Disease – inflammation of bladder (cystitis/feline lower urinary tract disease, FLUTD), incontinence, support for patient with chronic kidney failure
Immune Disorders – regulates the immune system to promote restoration of function
Nasal and Respiratory Disorders – sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, allergic bronchitis, asthma, cough, nasal discharge
Dental Disorders – pre-op and post-op to control acute dental pain; use as an adjunct for pain control for patients with chronic dental disease, TMJ pain, stomatitis (inflammation of mouth)
Skin Disorders – control allergy, a major cause of dermatitis, promote healing of chronic wounds
Cardiac Conditions – support the patient with congestive heart failure, help promote improved function of heart, help reduce risk of irregular heartbeat
Acupuncture Case Study: Blossom Finds Relief from Arthritis Pain
Blossom is an 11-year old spayed female Golden Retriever who has benefitted from acupuncture treatment to alleviate arthritis pain. She originally presented to Hope Veterinary Specialists Surgery Department for consultation and diagnostic work up for severe lameness. At that time, Blossom’s owners reported that she was barely moving at home. She had left cruciate ligament (ACL) tear that was fixed surgically several months prior. The owners reported that Blossom would reluctantly rise and walk short distances, but she was otherwise inactive. The owners were concerned that her quality of life was becoming more and more diminished due to severe lameness.
Upon an orthopedic exam, she had severe changes in both elbow joints as well as pain on manipulation of the hips and back. X-rays were performed and confirmed the diagnosis of arthritis. Blossom was placed on traditional arthritis medications including Rimadyl, Tramadol and Gabapentin. Her mobility was improved, but after several weeks of this treatment routine blood work revealed severe elevation of liver enzymes. An ultrasound of the liver revealed benign aging changes, as such it was suspected that the liver enzyme elevation was due to Rimadyl treatment. Rimadyl was then discontinued and the liver enzymes were monitored and noted to improve; however Blossom’s mobility was diminished significantly – she was back to square one. Other anti-inflammatory medications were tried with the same effect: improvement in mobility, but with the price of liver enzyme elevation. Blossom’s liver unfortunately could not tolerate the medications that were helping her walk.
Thankfully around this time, Hope Veterinary Specialists Acupuncture Service opened. Blossom was started on acupuncture and her treatments focused on alleviating pain, improving mobility, supporting the liver and increasing energy. She was initially treated with acupuncture once weekly for one month then we moved to an every other week maintenance protocol. Blossom’s owners report that since starting acupuncture, Blossom is able to move with more ease and she will even run in the yard and attempt to jump into the car! She has been able to perform activities that she has not attempted in years. Since starting acupuncture her liver enzyme values have returned to normal as well. Her owners (and Blossom) have been very pleased with the results. At Hope Veterinary Specialists we are so very grateful that we can help wonderful dogs like Blossom get a new lease on life!
Close Up of Acupuncture Needles during Blossom’s Treatment
Blossom rests comfortably on a cushioned bed during acupuncture treatment. Typically she falls asleep for the 20-30 minute treatment.