Guest Post: Acupuncture for Pets - a safe modality for pain management

DSC06391Since this month's topic is alternative treatments for pet health issues, Dr Riggs deferred to Dr Cathy Latimer in his practice who is now certified in acupuncture from Colorado State University. I for one wasn't sure how acupuncture worked and now I know!

The pictures are our very own gentlemanly Bruiser, Chrissy's 10 year old Mastiff, who needs a little help getting his mojo back as he ages. You'll see that Bruiser is getting
his acupuncture therapy at Dancing Paws Animal Wellness here in Richfield, OH. We are very fond of them and all the good work they do.


DSC06383 (2)Acupuncture as a veterinary treatment has been used since the 1970’ s in the U.S.A. The past 40 years have produced an explosion of evidence-based studies and an increase in the structural understanding of how acupuncture stimulates the neurohormonal system to effect healing outcomes. Some countries such as Australia embraced acupuncture in human medicine earlier than the U.S., evidenced by insurance coverage of acupuncture treatments. There is currently a clinical trial underway in Australia and New Zealand studying the use of acupuncture to treat the most common conditions presenting to human emergency rooms - pain, ankle sprain, migraine, and low back pain. (2011 Cohen et al). The outcome of trials like this will inform the medical community of the effectiveness of using acupuncture in human emergency rooms.

So how does inserting a needle into the body cause a healing outcome?

DSC06387Traditional Chinese acupuncture points have been found to be at sites that are rich in nerves and blood vessels. As a needle is inserted and rotated, collagen and elastic fibers wind and tighten around the needle causing a mechanical coupling between the tissues and the needle. A series of cellular responses follow, leading to gene expression, protein synthesis, micro-inflammation and neuromodulation. The effects of stimulated neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, purines, glutamate, and ion channel modifiers cause changes in the spinal cord, brain stem, and autonomic nervous system creating body wide effects. Some of these changes continue to cascade for up to 48 hours after the end of a session.

What does acupuncture treat?

  • DSC06388Musculoskeletal problems: muscle soreness, arthritis, degenerative joint disease of hip, knees, back and neck pain, acute and chronic lameness, ligament and tendon injuries. It is also used to support the athletic dog in agility, lure coursing or search and rescue to keep them in top shape
  • Neurologic disorders: spinal disc disease, degenerative myelopathy, nerve paralysis
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: vomiting, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease
  • Urogenital problems: urinary incontinence, kidney insufficiency
  • Respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic cough from heart enlargement
  • Skin problems such as lick granuloma
  • Cancer: quality of life, pain, side effects of chemotherapy

What can a one expect?

DSC06386An initial visit often lasts one hour or more during which a full medical history is taken, previous medications are reviewed, a full physical exam is done concentrating on the palpation of muscles and joints to locate tender points needing treatment. A definitive western diagnosis is sought and a treatment plan is devised. Individual points can take from 1 to 20 minutes to stimulate and sessions often last 40 minutes. The length and frequency of treatment depends on the condition and the method of stimulation being used. When multiple treatments are necessary, they usually begin intensively, perhaps 2 - 4 visits per week and are tapered when a strong positive response is achieved. In some chronic, degenerative conditions treatment intervals can stretch to 2 - 4 times yearly. Owners can tell by their pets response the appropriate treatment interval.

What does the pet feel?

The treatment is often painless and relaxing for the pet. Occasionally it may cause mild tingling that is uncomfortable for some pets. Often the first treatment is purposefully limited to gauge the pet's responsiveness to the stimulation.

How safe is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment when practiced by a properly trained veterinarian. Side effects are rare, but can occur. An animal’s condition may seem to worsen for up to 48 hours after a treatment. Other animals may sleep more for 24 hours. These effects mirror physiological changes and are most often followed by improvement in the animals condition.

Related Posts:
July is Alternative Treatment Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Acupuncture for Pets - a safe modality for pain management
Claim example: Wally regains his mobility through acupuncture and hydrotherapy
Claim Example: chiropractic treatment for Tygon the greyhound

Other posts by Dr Riggs

Dr Cathy LatimerCathy Latimer DVM practices general small animal medicine and surgery at Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. She became a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) at Colorado State University in May 2012. This training focuses on a scientific, evidence based approach to acupuncture. She has a passion for relieving pain and suffering in companion animals and looks forward to helping pets lead more comfortable lives with this newly added practice tool.


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