I’d heard about people utilizing alternative healing methods to help their pets — doggy massages, doggy yoga — but doggy acupuncture? It wasn’t something I’d ever considered for my dogs.
Personally, I’ve had back pain for years and years, ever since I was in a car accident when I was 22. I’ve tried physical therapy, yoga, and massage. They all help relieve the pain, but I’d heard so many good things about acupuncture, I decided to try that, too. I was a little nervous to go, but the acupuncturist told me that the needles are completely sterile and that there are no herbs or other medication on them. Although it’s probably obvious to others, learning that made me more relaxed. She also explained how acupuncture works from a Western medicine standpoint. Its effects vary, depending on the condition you are treating — i.e., where the needles are placed. Acupuncture can increase circulation; cause a release of certain neurochemicals, including endorphins; relieve muscle spasms; stimulate nerves; stimulate the body’s defense systems; and more. I decided to give it a try.
I was amazed at how loose the knots in my back were after acupuncture.
As I sat on my couch that night, relaxed, feeling no pulsing pain in my back . . . and listening to my ever-hungry beagle try to break into the trash for the umpteenth time, I thought back to something that the acupuncturist had told me: Acupuncture works for physical and emotional distress, like stress or depression. And because I work at an animal hospital association, I also knew that many veterinarians offered acupuncture services. Could acupuncture lessen little Jacque’s need to eat constantly? I decided to do some research.
I spoke with my acupuncturist and two veterinarians who practice acupuncture, Christopher Blum, DVM, in Golden, Colo., and Toni Barnes, DVM, in Flagstaff, Ariz., and all three practitioners immediately confirmed that acupuncture can work well on pets. Acupuncture is best at treating conditions in pets such as arthritis, chronic pain, wounds, muscular-skeletal disorders and, to some degree, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).
Barnes states that she has had “extremely good luck” in treating arthritis and muscular-skeletal disorders. Blum said that most of his patients suffer from osteoarthritis. Their owners are looking for a way to treat their pet’s pain without using non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs, which can cause upset stomachs.
“Acupuncture provides some pain relief without the side effects,” Blum explains.
Blum volunteered that acupuncture works with some behavioral cases, and my ears immediately perked up. When I asked him for more information, he said that he successfully treated a cat for inappropriate elimination.
Hearing this, I asked if acupuncture could help treat anxiety in pets.
“Yes,” he says. “In fact, if I have a pet coming to me for the first time, I’ll add some points to reduce stress. A lot of times, animals fall asleep.”
I can confirm that firsthand, because I fell asleep the second time I had acupuncture.
“I always treat behavioral cases medically first,” he continues. “If the animal comes clean with that, I try behavioral modification drugs for advanced cases, and I try acupuncture along with that. Then, I wean them off of the medication when I can.”
Barnes has had “variable” success treating pets with behavior-related issues. “There are a lot of factors with that. It has to be a combination approach,” she says.
Hearing this, I’m ready to schedule a visit. I’d like to see if the veterinarian thinks that my beagle’s case needs some kind of combination approach, or if we can try acupuncture to relieve some of his anxiety. From what I’ve heard and read, I think he’ll really find some relief.
If you are interested in researching acupuncture for a pet, you can start by talking with your veterinarian. To become certified acupuncturists, veterinarians attend one of a few schools in the country that have certification programs. If your veterinarian isn’t qualified to practice acupuncture, he or she can likely refer you to another veterinarian in the area who is.
Bess Vanrenen is a Denver-based writer.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter July / August 2010, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2010 AAHA. Find out more.