Getting to the point – Acupuncture for your Pet

What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting solid needles into the body for the treatment of disease, or the relief of suffering. In the UK, it must be performed by a veterinary surgeon. At Davies Veterinary Specialists, acupuncture is provided by our pain clinic team who all have further training in veterinary acupuncture.

Which animals will acupuncture benefit?
Acupuncture has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, and more recently in Western medicine. It has good evidence in people for pain relief in diseases of the musculoskeletal system, and in particular for management of chronic pain due to osteoarthritis. In our experience many animals with similar problems will also benefit from acupuncture, but only as part of a multi-modal management plan. Your pain clinician will be able to discuss other conditions which may respond to treatment with acupuncture.

How does acupuncture provide pain relief?
Acupuncture acts by stimulating the sharp-pain receptors in the nervous system. This has several consequences; firstly it can enhance the body’s own pain control systems, by causing release of the body’s own pain-relieving hormones and by promoting the suppression of pain by the brain. This is a natural survival pathway that is activated when you are injured, but need to ignore the pain in order to run away from the source of danger. Secondly, it can enhance healing and blood supply to an area.

What happens during an acupuncture session?
An acupuncture session will start with your vet assessing your pet. We are examining any tenderness, tension or tight spots in muscles, restrictions or imbalances in movement and pre-existing problems. We will usually put needles into the middle of muscles, which feels like a short, sharp sensation, sometimes followed by a warmth or ache in the muscle. This sensation is described as ‘de Qi’ in traditional Chinese medicine. The needles usually stay in for 20 minutes, although they may fall out if your pet moves around. Most animals tolerate acupuncture very well. It is unusual to need any sedation for an acupuncture treatment. In fact, it can make some animals very sleepy, even for hours after the treatment.

How are the acupuncture treatments given?
We usually treat animals every week for four to six weeks, and it may take this long for an improvement to be seen. At this point, it is usually possible to tailor the acupuncture treatments to effect by increasing the interval between sessions. It is important to remember that if the disease is progressive, such as osteoarthritis, our plan for pain management is likely to change and develop.

Can acupuncture cause harm?
Careful insertion of acupuncture needles by a veterinary surgeon with training in acupuncture is unlikely to cause harm. There may be some spots of blood after needles are removed. It is important not to ‘over-treat’ animals with many needles, or re-insertion of needles, for long times; this may cause more pain in a sensitive individual. Some animals (and people) will not respond to acupuncture, in which case there may be other therapies which can be used.