Veterinary Acupuncture – What’s the Point?

The word acupuncture comes from the Latin “acus” which means needle and “punctura” which means to puncture. So acupuncture involves the use of needles which are inserted into specific points on the body in order to affect a cure.

In order to understand acupuncture it is necessary to recognize that the ancient Chinese had a much different way of looking at the body than we currently do in the West. For the ancient Chinese, health care was a way of life. Diet, exercise, massage, meditation, sleep patterns, work patterns, herbs and acupuncture were all integrated to maintain balance within the body. At the heart of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”).

It’s All About the Energy

Qi is regarded as the life force energy. It is what differentiates the living from the dead and has both structural and functional qualities. Qi is that substance from which all physical form is composed. It is also the energy that flows in a cyclic, orderly course throughout the channels of the body allowing for the normal functioning of organs and tissues.

In TCM, health is the state of harmonious flow of Qi and disease is caused by an interruption in this flow. Any time an organ is not functioning properly – as in kidney failure, or a limb is not moving freely – as with arthritis, we can say there is a disturbance of Qi.

The Channels and Points

There are 14 main acupuncture channels which act as pathways for the flow of Qi along which lie the acupuncture points. I prefer the word “channel” to the more commonly used term “meridian” because a meridian is an imaginary line, and the Chinese in no way considered the channels of energy to be imaginary.

Acupuncture points are discrete areas on the surface of the body that have unique features. Biopsies have shown that these points have higher than normal numbers of nerve endings, blood vessels and inflammatory cells. They are also areas of lower electrical resistance, meaning that electricity flows more readily at these spots. All of these features combine to amplify the effect of any stimulation of these points. The Chinese consider the acupuncture points as inlets to the channels. Through these inlets, the flow of Qi can be manipulated and re-balanced, allowing the body to heal itself.

How Does it Work?

From the Western standpoint, acupuncture stimulates nerves that can block pain perception. Studies have also shown that acupuncture can be used to cause the release of hormones including cortisone as well as endorphins, which are the body’s own morphine compounds. Acupuncture can also reduce muscle spasms, increase blood circulation, improve athletic performance and strengthen the immune system.

What Problems Can it Help With?

Acupuncture can help in the treatment of any medical condition including arthritis, kidney failure, liver failure, thyroid disease, asthma, back and joint injuries, vomiting, diarrhea and reproductive problems. It can be used as an adjunct treatment for seizures and can even improve the quality of life for cancer patients. When applied properly, this holistic approach does not cause side effects as drugs often do. Acupuncture can be used alone or in conjunction with conventional therapies.

Acupuncture Treatments

The biggest apprehension that most people have about acupuncture is that the needles will cause pain. In my experience, the patient rarely objects to the prick of the needles. As a matter of fact, some animals fall asleep during the treatment which may last from five to forty-five minutes depending on the problem being addressed. I’m more concerned about the remote possibility that the pet may decide to remove a needle with his mouth and then swallow it. In reality, the biggest obstacle to an acupuncture treatment is keeping the pet still while the needles work their magic. If the animal fidgets needles may fall out which is not harmful but just not very helpful.

Acupuncture is not a panacea. Even in China it is only part of the medical system.  If after eight to ten weekly treatments there is no improvement in the patient, then acupuncture is probably not going to help. On the other hand, I have many patients who have given it two paws up.

Have you or your pet ever had acupuncture? What did you think?

1 reply
  1. Micki Handte
    Micki Handte says:

    Acupuncture absolutely helped my 10 year old Aussie who had his leg amputated due to osteosarcoma. Dr. Doug was the only vet that Solar never tried to hide from. I could see a marked difference after his acupuncture treatments. I would do it again in a heartbeat if it was recommended for any of my other dogs.


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