Guess what day today is Molly? Today you get to go to the vet and get some needles!” Molly wags her tail... huh?
Most people imagine their dog shrinking away from veterinary visits or the sight of a needle, but it is just the opposite for the many patients of veterinary acupuncturists. That’s right, acupuncture, for animals.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of treatment developed in China many thousands of years ago. Initially used for people, it was eventually used to treat livestock and pets. The underlying principle of acupuncture is to restore harmony to the body and lift obstructions. This may sound a little lyrical, but scientific studies have now unlocked some of the ways that acupuncture works. In effect, it is a way to help the animal heal itself by stimulating specific points on the body to improve local blood flow, promote muscle relaxation, cause the release of endorphins and modulate the body’s response to pain.
Acupuncture is commonly used for treating back problems, muscle pain and arthritis in both horses and dogs, but many types of animals can be treated. Horses generally make great acupuncture patients and tend to respond really well, often feeling better after one treatment.
Acupuncture can also be used to help animals in athletic disciplines stay in top form or to help older animals deal with problems associated with aging. Even cats can be good acupuncture patients.
It may surprise some to learn that most patients enjoy their treatments. Some are apprehensive at first of course, but most quickly realize that this is not a typical visit with the vet.
Acupuncture consultations are generally longer than regular visits and include a physical examination. Most patients will stand or lie quietly while the acupuncture needles are placed. Small and more flexible than those used for regular vet work, these are much more comfortable for animals. Some patients will get a few treats for encouragement. Once the needles are in place, the animal with rest with them for 5 to 20 minutes and will be re-evaluated at the end of the treatment. In some patients an improvement will be visible right away, but others will need a day or two to really show the effects of the treatment.
Acupuncture is different from conventional therapy in that the effect is cumulative, so sometimes more than one treatment will be needed to see the full effect. This is especially true if the problem has been around for a long time. The most obvious change is often visible in patients with painful conditions. Acupuncture has proven very successful for treating back pain and pain from osteoarthritis. It can be used for many other conditions such as traumatic nerve injury, immune disorders, allergies, and some digestive and respiratory problems as well.
As animals continue to become more like family members, acupuncture is another tool for improving quality of life and mobility. As we move more towards the goal of promoting wellness, it is an integral part of treatment for many.
In Quebec, acupuncture is a service offered exclusively by veterinarians who have the knowledge and expertise to diagnose their patients and ensure that they get appropriate treatment. Veterinarians can become Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists by attending one of three North American programs specialized in veterinary acupuncture, passing examinations, doing an internship, and completing case reports.