William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

Photo: Acupuncture Image
A tortoise receives acupuncture treatment at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is acupuncture?

When is acupuncture indicated?

What acupuncture methods are used?

How long does a treatment session last and how many sessions will my pet need?

Is acupuncture safe and does it hurt?

What is acupuncture?

Veterinary acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) and has been practiced in China for over 2,000 years and in Korea and Japan for over 1,500 years. In the past 25-30 years there has been a significant increase in the use of acupuncture in animals in Europe and the United States.
Ancient acupuncture identified 361 acupuncture points in humans and 173 in animals. Modern research reveals that acupuncture points are located in areas of the body with a high density of nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles and lymphatic vessels. Stimulation of acupuncture points results in the body’s release of endorphins, serotonins, and other transmitters. Current research offers strong support of acupuncture’s role in pain relief. Acupuncture’s role in “balancing” the body as a whole and its effects on internal organs is less understood, but continues to be an area of active human and veterinary research.
Acupuncture and TCVM consider the patient as a whole, and approach treatment by caring for all aspects of the individual and not just the diseased or damaged part; hence this theory is often referred to as “holistic”.


When is acupuncture indicated?

Clinical evidence indicates that acupuncture therapy can be effective as an adjunctive treatment in a variety of clinical conditions in animals, especially chronic diseases. Acupuncture is most commonly used in pain management, geriatric medicine (or chronic medical conditions),  sports medicine (exercise related conditions) and discomfort associated with cancer.

  • Pain Management
    Acupuncture can be effective in reducing or relieving pain associated with osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, intervertebral disc disease and abdominal pain.
  • Geriatric or Chronic Conditions
    Geriatric patients may suffer from a variety of chronic conditions that hinder their quality of life. Some of these patients are too weak or compromised to tolerate conventional therapy and acupuncture can provide safe and effective alternative treatment. Acupuncture may be indicated for vestibular diseases, generalized weakness, degenerative joint disease and other chronic musculo-skeletal conditions, skin allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, diarrhea, asthma, seizure disorders, chronic renal failure and behavioral problems.
  • Sports Medicine
    High performance animals can suffer exercise related diseases that may benefit from acupuncture therapy. Acupuncture can be used to reduce pain associated with arthritis, tendon/ligament injuries, and muscle soreness.
  • Cancer Patients
    Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments may experience digestive upset, extreme fatigue or general discomfort. Acupuncture can often relieve or lessen some of these side effects and improve a patient’s quality of life.
  • Hospice Care
    Patients experiencing terminal illnesses, or struggling with multiple pain issues toward the end of life may find great comfort with acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture can provide relaxation, better quality sleep, improved appetite and decreased pain and anxiety.

What acupuncture methods are used?

Treatment involves the placement in the skin of very fine, flexible, sterile, stainless steel needles that measure from 0.5 to 1.5 inches long (some even smaller needles are used for  exotic animal pets). Depending on the condition that is being treated, needles will remain in for 10 to 30 minutes. Stimulation of the acupuncture points by needles can be enhanced by rotating the needles, or by attaching electrodes to deliver a very weak current (electroacupuncture). Heating needles with a burning herb (moxabustion) or injecting tiny amounts of vitamin B12 into acupuncture points may be used to treat some conditions.


How long does a treatment session last and how many sessions will my pet need?

Each session will last between 30 and 45 minutes. The number of sessions needed depends on the condition being treated. An acute problem may require 1-2 treatments within a week or two, while more chronic conditions may require 4-10 treatments spread over weeks to months. Some patients may be treated at regular intervals to prevent recurrence of degenerative conditions.


Is acupuncture safe and does it hurt?

Acupuncture is a very safe procedure when performed by a veterinarian who is certified in acupuncture. The reports of negative side effects are rare in clinical cases. 
Acupuncture performed in humans has been described as initially feeling prickly, followed by tingling, warmth or a feeling of heaviness. As with humans, many of our animal patients progressively relax through the session and some even fall asleep.

Acupuncture is contraindicated, or used with caution, with some medical conditions, such as pregnancy, open wounds or severe infection.

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