In our previous post in this series on alternative veterinary treatments, we looked at homeopathy and herbal medicine. This blog will focus on something many pet parents are familiar with – acupuncture.
Acupuncture is an ancient technique that has been used as far back in history as 3000 BC in China, where needles made of stone and fish bones have been found. The theory of acupuncture is that pain and illness are caused by disruption of the flow of energy (“qi” or “chi”). Acupuncture aims to restore the flow to normalcy by stimulating specific points under the skin. Ancient Chinese practitioners identified 361 acupuncture points in humans, and 173 in animals – yes, there is evidence that acupuncture was used on horses and other animals thousands of years ago!
From a physical standpoint, acupuncture points correspond to places on the body where small bundles of nerves run close to the skin. The acupuncturist stimulates the point by inserting a small needle, which activates neurons within the nerves to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters in the spinal cord and brainstem. These neurotransmitters inhibit the transmission of pain.
Another effect of acupuncture is an initial local blood vessel constriction, which happens within the first few seconds of the needle being inserted. The blood vessels then dilate, and blood flow to the area increases for a period of up to two weeks!
Acupuncture also contributes to the health of the immune system by increasing infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. In addition, acupuncture stimulates the release of hormones, such as endorphins (to control pain) and cortisol.
Acupuncture is commonly used for many conditions, including:
- Musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis and intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- Traumatic injuries
- Muscle soreness
- Skin diseases such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
- Gastrointestinal diseases such as diarrhea, constipation and gastric ulcers
- Reproductive problems
Significant side effects of acupuncture are extremely rare, and the success rate of this type of treatment is very high. While having needles stuck into your pet’s (much less your own!) body may sound tortuous, inserting the tiny needles is virtually painless, and once they are in place, there should be no pain at all. In fact, most animals receiving acupuncture become very relaxed, and some even fall asleep!
Initially, acupuncture is given weekly or biweekly for about six treatments, after which time the therapy can be spread out if the patient is responding (and thankfully, it can be covered by your Petplan pet insurance policy). Patients with conditions known to respond to acupuncture can show minor to dramatic response to therapy. Patients who fail to respond within three to four treatments should be reevaluated.
As with other alternative therapies, the use of acupuncture should be in combination with other conventional therapies. Veterinary acupuncture should only be performed by a certified veterinary acupuncturist, and as always, make sure your regular vet knows about any treatment your pet is receiving.