What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the body for pain relief or to help the body deal with certain diseases.
How does acupuncture work?
Each needle makes a tiny hole in the tissues – skin, fascia or muscle that it is inserted into. This minute (non-painful) injury is enough to stimulate local healing, improve circulation to the area, produce chemical messengers and modulate pain via the nervous system.
Will it hurt my pet?
Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves that don’t cause the feelings of pain that we are trying to treat. Initially some animals react to this sensation as they are expecting pain, but then relax because pain does not occur. Usually the owner is more apprehensive than their pet! Most of the time animals accept the fine needles very well and often become relaxed and sleepy during the treatment. Often they appear to look forward to the next treatment when they come back to see me.
Would my pet need to be sedated for this treatment?
It is uncommon for animals to need sedation. This would only happen if they were already in such pain that any touch or stimulus would be painful. Perhaps surprisingly, cats often accept acupuncture treatment very well.
How often would my pet be treated?
The usual course is once a week for four to six weeks. After four weeks we will know whether acupuncture is working for your pet and then, depending on the condition and how they have responded, we will work out a plan that usually involves tailing off the treatment so that the effect is maintained for as long as possible.
Is acupuncture safe?
Acupuncture is very safe, in the right hands. Legally it must be performed by a veterinary surgeon in the UK. There have been no official reports of problems in animals. There are a very few cases in which we would be cautious about using acupuncture, but your veterinary acupuncturist can advise you of these. Severe skin disease may preclude treatment, as I cannot place needles through dirty or infected skin.
What about my regular vet?
Your pet remains under the care of your own vet, with whom I will liaise. Before I can see your pet, I must have your animal’s notes from your vet. I provide a written report to your vet at the end of the initial course of treatment, and periodically thereafter.
Acupuncture is not an alternative to your pet’s regular medical treatment, it is used alongside. There is no need to stop any of your pet’s medications before a course of acupuncture.
What animals can you treat?
Most pets respond to acupuncture well, but I only treat cats and dogs because sadly I am too allergic to work with rabbits and horses!
What kinds of conditions are treated with acupuncture?
Pain is the most common reason for pet owners to try acupuncture. Usually this is pain associated with arthritis, but also muscle strains, pain caused by disc disease and bony changes of the spine. Other kinds of pain may also respond. Functional conditions such as constipation in cats and bowel problems in dogs may also respond.
What can I expect during treatment?
After examination, needles will be put into various parts of the body and moved or stimulated a few times. There is not a set ‘dose’ of acupuncture as there is for medication, so your vet will judge how much to do based on your pet’s response both at the time and after the treatment.
And after the treatment?
It is not uncommon for pets to go home and sleep very soundly for a long time. This is a good sign and shows that your pet will probably respond well to acupuncture. But do not worry if they are not sleepy, this does not mean that they will not respond. Sometimes your pet may seem a little more euphoric than usual; this is also a good sign, but keep them quiet for the rest of the day or they may overdo things.
Otherwise treat your pet normally after acupuncture. Do not change exercise, diet or medication unless it has been discussed with your vet.
What about response?
Your pet may show one of three responses to treatment:
- They may seem a little stiffer or more uncomfortable. This just means that the dose was a bit too much, but also shows that they should respond to treatment. After a day or two they will improve again and should be better than before. However, you must tell your acupuncturist so that they can adjust the treatment next time.
- You may see no response. This is always disappointing but does not mean your pet will not respond; it may just be that they will take a little longer or that their improvement after the first treatment was too brief or small for you to see. We cannot say that they will not respond until after the fourth treatment. Not all animals or humans are acupuncture “responders”, but about 80% will be.
- You may see an improvement. This may occur any time in the three days after treatment. The signs that we are trying to treat may then return before the next treatment, but this is fine. After each subsequent treatment the effects should last for longer, so that your pet may eventually not need more treatments for some time.