What is Acupuncture? (And Why Your Pets Might Need It)

acupuncture for pet horses

Acupuncture is most commonly known as a non-medical form of treatment for human adults in pain. However, the practice is also enormously beneficial for animals – and may be recommended by your vet. Acupuncture for horses, dogs, cats and more can truly make a difference in the healing process. Yet, so many pet owners dismiss this type of therapy for their beloved furry family members. So, let’s take a look at the science and why acupuncture is a great remedy for suffering animals.

What is Veterinary Acupuncture? 

Acupuncture is a procedure whereby needles are inserted into specific points on the body to stimulate nerve endings and spring them into action. These specific points trigger the release of hormones and activate the body’s natural healing responses. In other words, acupuncture assists the body in healing itself – and research shows the response is the same in both human beings and animals.

Acupuncture generally aims to:

  • Stimulate nerves
  • Increase blood circulation
  • Relieve muscle spasm 
  • Release hormones such as endorphins which reduces pain

Although it is important to note that veterinary acupuncture is not a cure for your pet’s ailments, it can be successfully used in harmony with other conventional treatments, like medicine and surgery. Indeed, the technique has been used on animals to great success for centuries in China, with research showing veterinary acupuncture can reduce inflammation and, most importantly, null pain, reduce suffering and thus improve an animal’s quality of life.

How Is Acupuncture Administered For Animals?

Veterinary acupuncture involves the insertion of fine, sterile and stainless-steel needles into muscles, tendons, fascia and nerve fibres to stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain to dull the animal’s pain. These needles work to nudge the body’s natural painkillers, such as endorphins, enkephalins and serotonin, blocking pain signals.

Horse Life
Horse Life

There are a variety of acupuncture methods including ‘dry’ needle, electroacupuncture and aquapuncture. However, it is imperative to note that a trained and certified veterinary acupuncturist should always administer the treatment.

Why Consider Veterinary Acupuncture?

The great thing about acupuncture on animals is that the pet will feel instant relief from the pain that they may be enduring all day, every day. Acupuncture is appropriate for a wide variety of common ailments found in pets and can be used to treat ongoing or severe pain as well as smaller, occasional injuries such as a sprain.

But even beyond offering your pet some relief, acupuncture can also be used regularly as a preventative form of medicine. Does your animal participate in shows or high-impact sports such as racing? In that case, acupuncture can prevent long-term damage from taking place and can help to keep the animal resistant to injury.

What Conditions Respond To Acupuncture? 

Acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of conditions that commonly affect animals. This includes:

  • Gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, a loss of appetite, IBD, diarrhoea and some types of nonsurgical colic
  • Infertility and reproductive issues
  • Respiratory problems like asthma
  • Muscular skeletal problems as well as paralysis, arthritis and general soreness
  • Skin conditions such as dermatitis, Histiocytoma and lick granulomas
  • Non-infectious inflammation
  • Ear infections 
  • Allergies
  • Traumatic nerve injuries
  • Poor immunity
  • Post viral lethargy

The practice can even be used as a tool for pain management, cancer treatment, palliative care and behavioural problems.

What Animals Can Benefit From Veterinary Acupuncture?

Almost all animals can benefit from veterinary acupuncture due its principal aim of alleviating pain in the body. However, vets most typically treat dogs, cats, horses and farm animals such as pigs, cows and chickens. But even smaller pets – rats, rabbits and ferrets – can be treated by acupuncture.

Dogs commonly suffer from musculoskeletal problems due to bad breeding, genetics, inadequate feeding or from enduring too much exercise as a puppy or small dog. Acupuncture for dogs can target and reduce a dogs’ pain and is particularly effective at nulling arthritis, spondylosis, and hernias.

Cats can similarly suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, but they are more vulnerable to skin problems and cancer, which may be due to poor breeding or simply the cat’s age. Veterinary acupuncture can offer some relief to the cat’s suffering.

Competition horses are at an increased risk of injury and will regularly accrue minor wounds. These injuries, if left untreated, can affect the horse’s flexibility and movement, which only increases its risk of serious injury. Therefore, horses can benefit the most from veterinary acupuncture and in fact the practice falls under a type of equine medicine.

Your horse may need acupuncture if it shows signs of muscle soreness, a ‘cold back’ (where it will reject saddles and mounting), stiffness in its head, shorter strides than usual, ‘bunny-hopping’ and any sudden irritability when being groomed.

Is Animal Acupuncture Safe?

Veterinary acupuncture is deemed safe and painless for animals – it is rare to see an adverse reaction to the procedure. Though some may flinch at the initial insertion of the needle as it pierces the skin, the animal should relax and may even become tired as a result of the pain relief.

That said, each and every animal is different. Your pet may be hostile to the administration of the needles in the beginning, and it may experience some cramping. The skin might also tremble at the insertion points. However, these initial responses are usually only temporary and should be comparatively pain-free to the constant torment of their ailment.

At most, your pet might feel drowsy for 24 hours. Their condition may also appear exacerbated for two days, but this is viewed as a sign the acupuncture has worked as the correct points were identified to trigger the healing process. Getting worse before it gets better is a sure sign that your pet is on the road to recovery.

Veterinary Acupuncturists

The final important thing to note is that acupuncture is deemed completely safe – but only when administered by a registered and certified veterinarian. Without constant monitoring and an assessment by your veterinarian, acupuncture may end up masking the pain and hiding the true extent of a medical problem.

Veterinary acupuncturists endure robust and comprehensive training. They are, therefore, the only professionals knowledgeable enough to determine if acupuncture is suitable for your animal.

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