Veterinary acupuncture is used for many reasons but is primarily indicated to help relieve pain and improve function in various locations. Acupuncture is a form of therapy in which fine needles are inserted into specific points on the body, most commonly, in the superficial skin and muscles. Points are chosen based on exam findings and observation of the animal, in addition to knowledge of the underlying neurovascular anatomy (this is referred to as Western Based Acupuncture). These needles stimulate the local tissues and nerves to reorganize, causing increased blood flow to the area and endogenous endorphin release, working in conjunction with the body’s natural healing process.
Animals tolerate acupuncture very well. Many patients will relax and lay quietly during the treatment with very minimal restraint needed (if any at all). They may feel either nothing or slight pinch as the needle passes through the skin. As physiological changes occur, the animal may feel localized changes in temperature, numbness or a slight tingling sensation. Overall mood and sleep patterns may change after acupuncture visits. The sessions can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Often times, because the therapeutic effect is cumulative, 4-6 sessions will be needed (sometimes sooner) before a positive response is noticed. It is very important that the animal isn’t stressed during the sessions, because stress hormones will interfere with the body’s natural healing process. Because of this, the first visit or two will be primarily used to help calm the animal down and establish a positive association with the therapy.
Acupuncture will very rarely be used as sole form of therapy and is not a substitute for routine medical treatment. It is part of a larger comprehensive protocol and is used primarily as an adjunctive source of therapy to help offer symptom relief and decrease inflammation. Various conditions and disease processes might respond better to either acupuncture or traditional western-based medicine, but many times a combination of both is most useful.