Canine Acupuncture

Dogs can get needled back to good health


Thousands of years before Western ships opened trade with the Far East, Chinese civilization established a system of medicine that used herbs, diet, exercise, massage, animal parts, and a treatment technique known as acupuncture to maintain or restore a balance between mind, body, and spirit.

Today, traditional Chinese medicine has been rediscovered by pet owners and veterinarians as adjuncts to Western medicine. The American Veterinarian Medical Association recently recognized acupuncture as a valid veterinary alternative, and the World Health Organization considers acupuncture as an effective medical treatment. Veterinarians have formed the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncturists, an organization that hosted its annual meeting at the annual conference of the Ohio Veterinary Medicine Association in February.

Acupuncture involves the use of fine needles to stimulate the body to good health. It is based on the principle that the life energy that flows from the body organs can be disturbed by injury or disease. Known as Qi or Chi, this energy stream can be restored by the insertion of thin needles at certain points along the meridian or energy path. The needles are sterilized before use.

Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of conditions and disorders, including muscle and skeletal abnormalities, male and female reproductive problems, and neurological illness, and skin disease and has been effective in improving athletic performance.

“Veterinary acupuncture helps strengthen the animal’s immune system, relieve pain, and improve the function of organ systems,” Dr. Brian T. Voynick told attendees at the OVMA conference. A veterinarian, Voynick is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist and includes acupuncture in his clinic practice in New Jersey.

“Acupuncture can help such fundamental problems as paralysis, arthritis, feline asthma, gastrointestinal problems, certain reproductive problems, and pain,” he continued. “Treatments stimulate nerves, increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasms, and cause the release of such hormones as endorphins and cortisol.”

The treatment

Insertion of the needles is virtually painless as long as the animal is not extremely tense or struggling. Many animals relax during treatment that lasts anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 minutes and remain calm for a day or two, and some animals may seem worse for up to 48 hours after treatment. Voynick said that the average acupuncture treatment at his clinic is about 12 minutes.

Some simple ailments or injuries can be treated once, but more complex problems take longer to resolve. Weekly treatments are not unusual, and acute cases can take up to three treatments per week. Once improvement is shown, treatments can taper off.

Physical examination is as critical to acupuncture as it is to modern veterinary medicine. Practitioners observe the animal for external signs of illness such as dull eyes and coat, uncharacteristic body odor, elevated or depressed temperature or respiratory rate, and discharges. They also check pulse rate, palpate the abdomen, manipulate joints do x-rays, and question the owner about changes in daily behavior patterns, food and water intake, defecation, urination, breeding history, vaccinations, and history of medications and reactions.

Much of the examination may be done by the dog’s regular doctor, who then sends the information to the acupuncturist.

In the paper they present to the OVMA conference, Priscilla Taylor Limehouse DVM and John Limehouse DVM noted six methods by which traditional Chinese medicine practitioners diagnose disease and develop treatment plans. Of these, two are preferred by small animal practitioners – Eight Principles and Zang Fu pathology. Under the Eight Principles, disorders are divided into Yin or Yang, hot or cold, interior or exterior, and deficiency or excess. The Zang Fu pathology involves a dozen organs, the functions they control or perform, and the signs of dysfunction. For example,

There are many acupuncture points along the meridian pathway. Just as the regular veterinarian chooses specific medications or treatments for specific illnesses or injuries, so acupuncturists choose the treatment points based on the diagnosis. Once inserted in the appropriate points, the needles can be rotated clockwise or counterclockwise, lifted up and thrust down, or simply retained in place, depending on the treatment plan.

In some cases, electric current is used to shorten treatment time or provide more stimulation than can be given by manually manipulating the needles.

More about acupuncture

For more information about acupuncture as a treatment for canine ailments and injuries, contact AAVA at or one of these area veterinary acupuncture practitioners:

Norma Bennett Woolf

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