In the UK acupuncture for animals is an act of veterinary surgery and can only legally be performed by a Veterinary Surgeon. We have several Vets within the practice who have undertaken courses on acupuncture and are happy to provide this form of therapy.
The use of acupuncture in China dates back some 3000 years, however, it is apparent that similar techniques developed independently in many communities around the world- but as it was the Chinese that recorded their findings, it is associated in many people’s minds purely with Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The mammalian nervous system has a complex means of modulating sensation. In childhood, we all learn to ‘rub it better’. As adults, suffering more chronic muscular aches and pains, we often massage deep into our muscles to relieve symptoms, sometimes applying direct pressure to ‘knotted’ muscles that appear related to the pain. It is easy to see how in some communities these behaviours could have progressed until the skin was pierced at sites of tender muscle. This was observed to help, and so maps describing the common sites of tenderness, and treatment points would have been produced, largely by trial and error.
Contemporary practice of acupuncture is generally divided into ‘Western Medical Acupuncture’ -where acupuncture is used as therapy following orthodox clinical diagnosis, and the points are chosen according to neurophysiological principles; and ‘Traditional Chinese Acupuncture’ - where diagnosis is made using traditional ideologies involving detailed examination of the tongue and peripheral pulses, and the points are selected on traditional concepts involving energy flow, time of day and the way the needles are stimulated.
Western scientific basis:
Acupuncture needles stimulate peripheral nerves, which then modify the transmission of signals within the spinal cord and brain. The effects produced can be :
- within the immediate vicinity of the needle- creating improved blood flow (and so aiding healing) as well as pain relief.
- segmentally i.e. within the area of the body supplied by nerves which enter the spine at the same level, providing pain relief.
- generally by triggering the release of various hormones e.g. endorphins, which will produce a feeling of well being as well as pain relief, and can be mildly sedating.
Chronic pain can also be generated by the muscles knotting into Trigger Points, these are normally treated by pressure or stretch. The acupuncture needles seem to work on these by applying pressure to a very discrete area of muscle.
Uses of acupuncture
There is considerable variation in each individual’s response to acupuncture, but it is effective in approximately 1 in 3 people, we find it helps 1 in 2 dogs and most cats and rabbits. We find it especially useful in animals suffering from chronic muscular pain, chronic arthritis and irritating skin lesions such as lick granulomas.
Other conditions do respond so please do feel free to discuss with the Veterinary Surgeon whether or not it would be appropriate for your pet.
The needles are sterile, and very fine so are generally very safe, although there have been reports in people of serious adverse reactions, particularly following the Korean practice of using very long, big needles.
The following side effects may occur:
Pain - there is a minimal sharpness on piercing the skin, which is ignored by most of our patients, there may be pain on needling a Trigger Point (knotted muscle), and occasionally pain may be worse for 24-48hrs before improving. Please discuss with the Vet your pet’s medication, particularly during this initial period.
Bleeding - minor bleeding can occur after a needle is removed, this is dealt with by brief compression.
Sedation - this can occur in about 10% of people and animals, often only after the first few sessions.
Frequency of treatment:
This will vary from case to case depending on the severity and duration of the condition being treated. Generally, however, we would start on weekly sessions for 6 weeks. The interval between treatments then being increased according to the animal’s needs.
Most insurance companies are happy to pay for acupuncture treatments.