Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine, solid needles into the body for pain relief or, in some cases, to help the body deal with other diseases. It originated in ancient China, but since then the methods have been updated and tailored to animals. It can be performed in all animals, from dogs and cats to rabbits and guinea pigs.
How does it work?
It works through the nervous system. The needles block the pain messages and encourage the brain and central nervous system to produce more of the body’s natural painkillers, as well as encouraging muscle relaxation. In conditions that are not painful, acupuncture may help to reset the body’s normal functioning.
Does it hurt?
Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves that do not cause the unpleasant feelings of pain that we are trying to treat. They stimulate other nerves that send a more important message to the brain, which is how they block pain. Sometimes animals may react to this sensation as though they are expecting pain, but then relax because it does not occur. Most of the time they accept the fine needles very well and often become relaxed and sleepy during the treatment. Often they appear to look forward to the next treatment when they come back to the practice.
Is it safe?
Acupuncture is very safe, in the right hands. Legally it must be performed by a veterinary surgeon, or registered veterinary nurse working under the direction of a veterinary surgeon. There have been no official reports of problems in animals, but there are some in humans and these can usually be avoided with care and a good knowledge of anatomy.
What conditions can be treated by acupuncture?
Pain is the most common indication for acupuncture, particularly chronic pain. Usually this means pain associated with arthritis, but also muscle strains, nerve pain and bony changes of the spine. Other kinds of pain may also respond.
Functional conditions such as constipation in cats and irritable bowel type problems in dogs may also respond.
What should I expect?
Acupuncture is performed in the clinic in a normal appointment slot, on conscious animals. Needles will be placed in certain areas of the body, depending on what is being treated, and will be left in place for between 10-30 minutes. Your pet may become sleepy and relaxed during treatment, and will sometimes be sleepy for the rest of the day. After treatment it is normal for a patient to be stiff or sore for 24-48h, this will wear off and the improvement should be noticeable. After each subsequent treatment the benefits should last longer, so we may be able to reduce the frequency of visits after a while. Acupuncture therapy is tailored to the specific needs of your pet, but often we begin treatment on animals once weekly for 4-6 weeks, then every 4 weeks and adjust as required.