Acupuncture has been practiced for a long time—estimates range from 3500-5000 years, with written records dating to the second century BC, though its origins are unclear. Despite ancient sources showing acupuncture being applied to animals, it has only started to catch on in modern veterinary medicine in the last few decades.
How it Works
Whether the explanation for its effect comes from contemporary medicine (it stimulates nerves and releases endorphins) or traditional Chinese (it restores the flow of Qi through the area), the purpose of acupuncture is to relieve pain and stimulate the healing process.
- Immediate results
Applications for acupuncture include:
- Treatment of arthritis, degenerative joint disease, or hip dysplasia
- General pain management
- Post-surgery pain
- Cancer chemotherapy/radiation support
- Immune support
- Treatment of nerve dysfunction
Acupuncture can be administered at any time and is frequently tried after other types of treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have failed to produce the desired results or have undesirable side effects. In cases of degenerative nerve disease it actually works better than drugs because it stimulates nerve function. Electroacupuncture, a variation on traditional acupuncture, also involves needles being inserted at specific locations. The difference is that an electric pulse is applied, through two needles at a time, in sessions typically lasting 20 minutes. (See this link to an article from AnnArbor.com for a more in-depth look at acupuncture.)
An informative study was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) on June 1, 2010, about intervertebral disk disease (IVDD)—a common though difficult and painful disease we see in dogs—and the use of electroacupuncture to treat it. The study showed a significantly higher success rate for dogs who underwent electroacupuncture than for dogs who received decompressive surgery.
- Electroacupuncture alone saw success in 15 of 19
- Decompressive surgery saw success in 4 of 10
- Surgery followed by acupuncture saw success in 8 of 11
Yet despite recent successes and clinical studies, many remain skeptical as to the efficacy of acupuncture for animals.
A Case study from Ann Arbor Animal Hospital:
We have seen a lot of wonderful old pets who are generally healthy but in pain, like Maggie, a 15-year-old cat.
Maggie, my beloved 15 year old feline has had a relatively healthy life. But when she started having problems, even though I suspected they were part of the aging process, I became alarmed. Last winter, I noticed Maggie was limping which was followed by her inability to groom herself in the meticulous way she always had. Then as time went on, I noticed she had stopped playing and going up and down the stairs was becoming difficult for her. Then, it seemed that I could not even pick her up without her flinching from pain and crying when I put pressure on her lower spine.
Presenting these problems to Maggie’s veterinarian, Dr. Jess Franklin, Maggie was eventually given a diagnosis of arthritis. I knew Dr. Franklin was also an animal acupuncturist, so I asked her if she thought acupuncture would help and could she do it for her. She said the Ann Arbor Animal Hospital has had good outcomes with other animals and she would certainly try to help Maggie.
After weeks of acupuncture sessions combined with Dasuquin (a Glucosamine for cats), my Maggie is back to her near meticulous grooming and she no longer cries when I pick her up. She is moving a bit slower and she still has a slight limp, but Maggie is back to being the queen of the household and she won’t let anyone forget it!
Maggie is a great example of how well acupuncture and natural products can be integrated into the care of our animals. Maggie also takes Amlodipine for high blood pressure; Standard Process Renal Support, a whole food supplement; and uses Hill’s Prescription K/D for ongoing kidney disease.
Around 85% of our acupuncture patients are older dogs with musculoskeletal ailments. Some signs that your dog is experiencing pain that acupuncture may be able to assuage:
- Abnormal sitting or lying posture
- Whining, groaning or other vocalizing
- Limping, unable to get up or lie down
- Difficulty getting into car or down stairs
- Lack of grooming
- Won’t wag tail
- Licking or biting area
- Lack of appetite
Ann Arbor Animal Hospital has two acupuncturists on staff, Dr. Taryn Clark and Dr. Jessica Franklin.
Dr. Clark just finished her advanced acupuncture course and has interest in doing the Chi Institute Chinese vet medicine herb and food courses. Dr. Franklin has been practicing acupuncture since 2000, and has had advanced training with the Chi Institute.