FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
Acupuncture is one of a variety of therapies that your veterinarian may use to treat your pet. Simply stated, acupuncture is the
stimulation of specific points on the body that have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiologic conditions to achieve the
desired effect. It is a means of helping the body heal itself. Acupuncture has been used successfully for nearly 4000 years on
animals, as well as human beings. As a matter of fact, it is still the treatment of choice for one quarter of the world’s population for
many problems. It is now being utilized by an increasing number of veterinarians, alongside Western medicine, for various disease
conditions. It is not a panacea, or cure-all, but in certain disease conditions it works well.
What conditions respond to acupuncture?
Acupuncture bridges the gap between medicine and surgery. In the Western world acupuncture is used primarily when medications
are not working, are contraindicated because of possible side effects, or when surgery is not feasible. In China, it is often used as
the primary treatment before conventional medicines and surgery.
In small animals, including exotics, and large animals, primarily horses, acupuncture is most commonly used for musculoskeletal
problems such as arthritis, skin problems, nervous disorders, reproductive disorders, respiratory problems, poor immunity and
internal medicine problems such as heart and kidney disease, etc.
How does it work?
Acupuncture is now known to affect all major physiologic systems. It works primarily via the central nervous system, affecting the
musculoskeletal, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. However, acupuncture does more than just relieve pain. Acupuncture also
increases circulation, causes a release of many neurotransmitters and neurohormones (some of which are endorphins, the natural
“pain-killing” hormones), relieves muscle spasms, stimulates nerves, and stimulates the body’s defense system, among many other
beneficial effects. The particular method in which it works depends on the conditions being treated and the points used. Usually
more than one mechanism of action is involved when each individual acupuncture point is “needled”.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, disease is an imbalance of energy in the body. Acupuncture therapy is based on balancing
the energy, correcting the flow of energy, and thereby healing your pet.
Is it painful? How will my pet react?
Acupuncture is often performed with sterilized thin, filamentous stainless steel needles. Occasionally your pet will experience a brief
moment of sensitivity as the needle penetrates the skin in certain areas. Once the needles are in place, most pets relax, often
falling asleep during treatment. For some nervous pets, it may take several treatments before they feel comfortable enough with
your veterinarian to fully relax.
Is it safe?
Acupuncture is one of the safest therapies available if practiced by a competent acupuncturist. Side effects are rare. Occasionally
an animal’s condition may deteriorate temporarily before positive results can be seen. However, if the body’s own system of healing
is allowed to work and no chemicals are administered, complications rarely, if ever, develop. If your pet is extremely weak due to
advanced disease, your veterinarian may choose only a small number of acupuncture points in the beginning and gradually increase
the number of points, if needed, as your pet improves and gains strength.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a natural form of treatment that enlists your pet’s inflammatory and healing mechanisms to maintain homeostasis and
manage disease processes. Unlike with some pharmaceutical treatments, there is no masking of a serious problem. Acupuncture
techniques can be used for diagnosis as well as treatment.
The main disadvantage of acupuncture is the owner’s misunderstanding of what to expect from its use: the belief that the pet will
miraculously improve, that all conditions can be treated with acupuncture, and that the animal will only need one treatment when
several treatments are usually necessary to achieve (and sometimes maintain) the desired result. Other potential disadvantages
include the chance that the pet will overuse an injured limb because of decreased pain as a result of acupuncture, resulting in a more
serious injury, and misapplication of acupuncture needles can result in eye injuries, pneumothorax, infectious arthritis, and broken
The chances of these negative effects occurring in clinical practice are extremely remote. They are included here for the sake of
completeness and to impress upon the pet owner that no treatment modality is completely risk free.
How often and for how long will your veterinarian treat your pet?
Treatments may last from 10 seconds to 30 minutes depending on the condition treated and the method used. There are many
ways of stimulating acupuncture points, including needles, electroacupuncture, aquapuncture (injecting a solution into the point),
moxibustion (heating the point), and laser acupuncture. Pets may be treated as frequently as one to three times a week (depending
again upon the condition treated), but typically are treated once weekly for four to six weeks. After the initial treatment period, the
intervals between acupuncture treatments are then extended based upon your pet’s response to treatment and what is needed to
maintain improvement. Most pets are seen once every two to six months for continued maintenance therapy, although there are
some pets who no longer need acupuncture therapy once their condition has resolved.
Acupuncture is not a “one-time fix”, nor is it a cure-all. Some disease conditions will not respond to acupuncture; just as there are
some diseases that do not respond well to conventional Western medicine. It is not uncommon for owners to observe improvement
in their pet’s condition after the first acupuncture treatment; however, three to four acupuncture treatments must be completed
before accurately assessing the effectiveness of treatment. Depending upon the severity of the disease, some pets may not show
any signs of improvement until the sixth or eighth treatment. Just as in Western medicine, the earlier that your pet’s disease is
diagnosed and treated, the quicker and better the response to treatment.
If I choose acupuncture as a form of treatment for my pet, does that mean that I will not need any medications?
The nature and purpose of the disease condition, recommended procedures, possible alternative methods of treatment, risks
involved and possibility of complications will be fully explained prior to beginning acupuncture treatment on your pet.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is not exclusive of Western medicine. For some diseases, using a combination of Western medicine
(drugs and/or surgery), Chinese Herbal Medicine, dietary changes and acupuncture therapy will achieve a much better outcome than
when only one of these modalities is used.
What does my veterinarian need to know about my pet?
Before acupuncture treatment is performed on your pet, your veterinarian will perform a comprehensive physical medical and
acupuncture examination. During this time it is important for you to inform your veterinarian with pertinent husbandry details such
A complete dietary history: regular food, amount consumed, any people food, treats, etc.
Usual activity level and accommodations during the daytime and night time.
A complete medical history of allergies, major surgeries, illnesses requiring hospitalization, traumatic incidents, etc.
If your pet has had cancer, let the veterinarian know this BEFORE treatment is begun. There is a concern that improving the
blood flow and flow of energy in the body may help the cancer grow instead of reducing it. Whether or not to treat your pet
with acupuncture when it has or has had cancer needs to be a decision made by you and your veterinarian. However,
acupuncture has been used to help with the nausea and diarrhea that usually occurs when pets are treated with radiation and
It is also important for you to let your veterinarian know about any physical changes that occur in your pet’s health during and after
all acupuncture treatments.