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Vet Speak: Getting to the point when it comes to pet acupuncture

By Alison Laurie-Chalmers

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Acupuncture may help to alleviate your pet's discomfort. Picture: Rhona-Mae Arca, via Wikimedia Commons.
Acupuncture may help to alleviate your pet's discomfort. Picture: Rhona-Mae Arca, via Wikimedia Commons.

Acupuncture is an ancient form of alternative medicine. It originated in China and has been practised for thousands of years.

In recent years, acupuncture has become increasingly popular as a complementary therapy for both humans and animals. While acupuncture has traditionally been used in the treatment of chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders in humans, its proven benefits for pets, particularly dogs and cats, have gained attention. Acupuncture has become increasingly popular as a safe and effective complementary treatment option for pets suffering from a wide range of conditions.

Veterinary acupuncture involves the insertion of fine acupuncture needles into specific points on the body, known as acupuncture “points”. Acupuncture points are typically located in areas where there is a high concentration of nerve endings, blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels.

Stimulating these specific points can increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, and promote the release of natural healing substances. The therapy works through the bodies nervous system, by safely altering pain messages reaching the brain. The placement of the needles into specific points blocks pain “messages” and encourages the central nervous system to produce and release more of the body’s own “natural painkillers”endorphins.

A session of acupuncture may also stimulate the release of other substances, such as serotonin and dopamine, which can also assist in reducing pain, inflammation, and stress within the body.

Acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, musculoskeletal problems, digestive disorders, and respiratory problems.

It can also be used as a complementary pain relief treatment therapy for conditions such as cancer. Acupuncture also relaxes painful muscle spasms, and in health conditions where pain is not being treated, the function of acupuncture there is to reset the normal nerve pathways that have been altered and disrupted by those other disease processes.

The therapy may help to reduce the amount of prescription medications needed to manage a pet’s chronic pain symptoms, which can be particularly beneficial for pets who have a risk of side effects from certain medications. Additionally, acupuncture can help to speed up the healing process following some surgeries, aiding rehabilitation, and reducing the amount of time a pet needs to spend in recovery.

Before starting a veterinary acupuncture session, the veterinary acupuncturist will perform a thorough physical examination of your pet and carefully review their medical history.

They will then develop a treatment plan carefully tailored to your own pet’s specific needs. A course of acupuncture usually involves a session once a week for four to six weeks.

After four weeks the vet will know whether acupuncture is working for your pet, and a treatment plan is then worked out that usually involves tailoring off and lengthening the time between the treatments, so that the positive effect of the therapy is maintained for as long as possible.

During the session, your pet will lie comfortably on a mat or table while the acupuncturist inserts fine needles into specific acupuncture points which can be moved and stimulated a few times. The needles used in acupuncture are very thin, and pets typically do not experience any pain or discomfort during the procedure. Most pets tolerate acupuncture very well and may even become relaxed during the session. The needles are typically left in place for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the condition being treated.

If you are interested in veterinary acupuncture as a beneficial treatment option for your pet, do talk to your vet about arranging an appointment with a qualified veterinary acupuncturist.

At Crown Vets we currently have our own veterinary surgeon, Sam Smith BVMS, MRCVS, as our in-house veterinary acupuncturist.

Alison Laurie-Chalmers is a senior consultant at Crown Vets.

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