Acupuncture for Pets

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Published: August 30, 2012
Acupuncture for Pets

Should you pursue acupuncture for your pet? This is a prickly question that should be answered by a veterinarian having been trained in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM).

The appropriate application of TCVM treatments, including acupressure, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and food energy therapy can be integrated into western (conventional) treatments as there are aspects of both perspectives that can work synergistically. Additionally, by integrating western and TCVM approaches, a veterinarian can achieve a thorough evaluation of a pet’s entire body to appropriately suggestion a combination of prevention and treatment.

Acupuncture and TCVM can benefit all life stages (juvenile, adult and senior) and a variety of conditions. Determining and resolving the underlying reasons illness are occurring is one of the aspects of TCVM’s approach that can reduce the cumulative effect of chronic illness. Since most pets’ health problems are diagnosed once illness has become very advanced, it’s vital to strive to prevent disease from occurring.

What Can Veterinary Acupuncture Do for My Dog or Cat?

  1. Veterinary acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s own pain relieving and anti-inflammatory substances. 
  2. Relaxation of muscles at the site of needle insertion and more distant locations body is achieved with veterinary acupuncture treatment, creating both a local and generalized pain relieving effect.
  3. Veterinary acupuncture improves tissue blood flow, oxygenation and removal of metabolic wastes and toxins.
  4. Unlike prescription and over the counter pain medications, veterinary acupuncture lacks potential adverse side effects for your pet’s internal organs.
  5. Your pet’s medications or supplements will not adversely interact with veterinary acupuncture treatment; therefore it can safely be used to treat a variety of illnesses.


How Does Veterinary Acupuncture Work?

The goal of acupuncture is to promote the body to heal itself. From a Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) perspective, veterinary acupuncture encourages healing by correcting energy imbalances in the body. Acupuncture enhances blood circulation, nervous system stimulation, and the release of anti-inflammatory and pain relieving hormones.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into body tissue where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together. These collections of nervous and vascular tissue are termed acupuncture points, which course over all aspects of the body’s surface on meridians (energy channels). The meridians permit a cycle of energy to occur throughout the entire body over the course of the day’s 24 hours.

Besides needle insertion, other acupuncture treatments include:


Administration of pressure to acupuncture points to elect an effect comparable to needle insertion. This is great for hard to reach locations, behaviorally challenging pets, and for circumstances needle treatment may not be available.


Injection of liquids (homeopathics, diluted vitamin B12, chondroprotectant medications [Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans= PSGAG], etc). The liquid exerts an energetic change by pushing tissue out of the way.


Application of a heated Chinese herbal compound to needles. Heat is very beneficial to pets that are older or suffering from conditions involving joint stiffness and/or muscular soreness.

Electrostimulation (Estim)

Coursing electric current into the body between needles inserted into acupuncture points. Estim relaxes spasming muscles and can aid the body in reestablishing nervous impulses when nerve damage has occurred (nerve root or spinal cord damage from a ruptured intervertebral disc, etc).


Using laser energy to stimulate acupuncture points. This "hot" topic in veterinary physical rehabilitation is actually very "cool," as most lasers don’t generate significant heat that burns hair or skin. Lasers are great for providing "needle-less" acupuncture treatments especially on patients that don’t readily tolerate needle insertion.

What Conditions Can be Managed with Veterinary Acupuncture?

Veterinary acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of conditions, particularly those that involve inflammation and pain.


Arthritis, or joint inflammation, can occur at any life stage (juvenile, adult, senior) and creates a variety of physiologic changes that create pain.

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)

DJD is the progression of arthritis where joint surfaces become irregular, leading to decreased range of motion and increased pain. 


Surgery, car accidents, animal fights and falling are forms of trauma that cause inflammation and pain.


Cancer can promote tissue swelling or enlargement of organ systems leading to pain, nausea, decreased appetite and lethargy.

Metabolic Disease

Kidney and liver failure, pancreatitis, feline hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes mellitus cause nausea, appetite and energy changes.     

What Environment is Best for Veterinary Acupuncture Treatment?

House call based veterinary acupuncture alleviates the physical and behavioral stress associated with transportation to and from a veterinary facility. Additionally, as animal hospitals are traditionally places of illness, the potential for exposure infectious disease is reduced when a pet is treated at home.

How Frequently Does My Pet Need Veterinary Acupuncture Treatment?

Dogs and cats start with more frequent treatments then are tapered off to a less frequent interval for maintenance. Most patients benefit from one to three sessions per week during the initial few weeks. The goal is to achieve the greatest duration of time where a pet’s condition appears improved or has resolved.

The effects of veterinary acupuncture treatment are cumulative, so consistent treatment is more beneficial than intermittent.

Featured Image:

Read More

Slideshow: Acupuncture for Dogs and Cats

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?