What is Acupuncture and How Does it Work?

The acupuncture that we use in animals today has been developed over thousands of years. One theory of the origin of acupuncture postulates that when ancient people accidentally punctured themselves at certain points, they noticed relief of discomfort and pain. Archaeologists have actually identified a tool, known at the bian-shi, that could have been used for early acupuncture. The ban-shi is a pointed stone, approximately 4.5cm in length, that dates back about 8,000 years! From that point of early discovery, Chinese practitioners have developed acupuncture into an intricate form of treatment that can address a wide array of physical and mental ailments. Acupuncture along with herbal therapies, diet, Tui-na (therapeutic massage), and Qi Gong (a form of moving meditation) form the basis of what we commonly refer to as Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).

Acupuncture works by stimulating or sedating points on specific energetic pathways in the body called meridians. Meridians can be viewed as pathways (like telephone lines or highways) through which Qi (energy) and blood circulate. They are on the exterior of the body, but they connect to internal organs. This network of pathways links all of the different parts of the body - skin, muscles, joints, internal organs, and mind - into an organic whole. Using the meridian pathways, we can manipulate an acupuncture point on the back to affect change in the kidney, or a point on the paw to calm the mind.

People generally think of acupuncture as involving just needles, but there are actually several additional forms of acupuncture. In some cases, we attach wires to the needles and apply a very small electrical current. This strengthens and alters the needle stimulation to increase the effects of acupuncture. Another alternative form of acupuncture is Moxibustion. This involves applying heat from an herbal stick above and around acupuncture points. This is used in cold conditions. Finally, we can use aqua-puncture. For this procedure, we inject a small amount of vitamin B12 at specific acupuncture points. The liquid stays at each location until it is naturally absorbed by the body; this can make the effects of acupuncture last longer.

Modern science is still investigating exactly how acupuncture works, but there is evidence that traditional acupuncture points correspond to clusters of nerve endings, blood vessels, and inflammatory mediators in the body.

Can I Combine Acupuncture with the Treatment My Pet is Already Receiving?

Yes. At Meridian Mobile Veterinary Care, we believe that the best medicine combines traditional eastern modalities with conventional western diagnostics and treatments.  Western medicine focuses on the mechanism of disease and controlling the disease itself. Western medicine is ideal for acute conditions, especially emergencies. Eastern medicine, by contrast, looks more at the energetic causes of disease and focuses on bringing the patient as a whole back into balance. Eastern medicine is often better suited for chronic conditions. One way to look at this is that western medicine targets the disease process and eastern medicine looks at correcting imbalances in the individual that allowed the disease to manifest.

If possible, we will coordinate with your primary veterinarian to ensure that we are offering the best complimentary care. If you do not have a primary veterinarian, and additional diagnostics and/or treatment are recommended, we can refer you to our partner clinic, Atrium Animal Hospital.

What Happens at an Acupuncture Appointment?

We will begin by meeting your pet, reviewing your pet’s medical history, getting a detailed history from you, and doing a thorough physical examination. The examination will include everything that your regular veterinarian does, but we will also check things that are specific to Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. These parameters include tongue shape and color, pulse quality, and acupuncture point sensitivities. We will also discuss what your expectations are for treatment.

If we determine that acupuncture is a good option for your pet, and you decide to pursue this treatment, we will place the acupuncture needles. This is usually best done in a quiet part of the house where there are not a lot of distractions.  Some owners choose a comfortable dog bed in a quiet room or even a walk-in closet. Having a treat or toy (like a treat-filled kong) that can keep your pet’s attention can be helpful. That being said, many patients become so relaxed during treatment that they fall asleep.

Needles are typically left in place for 20 minutes. It takes a few minutes to set and then remove needles, so most treatments take 30-45 minutes. For the initial visit, which includes the full history and examination, we suggest scheduling one and a half hours. For most conditions, we recommend 1 treatment a week for 4-6 weeks. This will allow time to fully evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture. After that, the frequency of treatments can be reduced to whatever is needed to help maintain results.

Why Should I Consider Having Acupuncture Done in My Home?

Although you can go to a veterinary clinic for acupuncture, some pets benefit more fully from treatments that are done at home. Getting into the car, riding to the veterinarian’s office, getting out of the car, waiting in a lobby that maybe crowded with other pets, then traveling home again can, unfortunately, mitigate some of the benefits of acupuncture - especially for bigger dogs with limited mobility or cats that dislike the veterinary office.

When acupuncture is done at home, pets can be comfortable in their own environments. When the session is over, they can rest, relax, and experience the full benefit of treatment.