Dr. Marc Bittan D.V.M. performs veterinary acupuncture treatments for pets at our office.

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What You Can Expect From Veterinary Acupuncture

Acupuncture is known to have good therapeutic effect in a wide variety of animal diseases. Although pain moderation is an important application in veterinary acupuncture, it has much wider applications. It is generally considered to be beneficial for most functional disorders. It is also efficacious for numerous structural disorders as well.

Besides therapy, acupuncture is useful in clinical practice as a diagnostic aid. Many clinical conditions can be differentiated and localized with the use of manual examinations or instruments. Even when acupuncture is indicated, it must be weighed in context with alternatives. In addition, the owner’s objectives, preferences and personal values must be carefully considered.

It is interesting to note that not all conditions respond equally well when compared between species of domestic animals. For example, in cattle it is particularly useful for endocrine. reproductive and metabolic disorders; in horses, locomotor and musculoskeletal problems. In dogs and cats it can be especially useful for many neurologic and gastrointestinal conditions.

Generally speaking, indications for acupuncture therapy fall into three categories. First, it may be a primary therapy. In this instance, acupuncture is considered to be the method of choice or is selected as the principal modality of therapy. Second, it may be more appropriate to utilize acupuncture as supportive of adjunctive therapy. Third, acupuncture may be viewed as a backup or alternative therapy when standard treatments are inadequate.

It is not unusual to use acupuncture in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities and methods of supportive care. It can be used simultaneously with many traditional Western therapies. It is especially useful in bridging the gap between medicine and surgery. In addition, it is compatible with many non-traditional and holistic approaches to veterinary care such as homeopathy and chiropractic.

There are clearly circumstances where acupuncture wiould be useless or even contradicted (see Limitations and Contradictions of Acupuncture). It is not intended to replace other modalities when they are appropriate. Knowing when and how to integrate acupuncture with the overail management of an animal’s injury or illness requires considerable clinical skill and discretion. if your animal has a compound leg fracture, he/she needs orthopedic surgery. Nonetheless, post operative acupuncture minimizes post operative pain, facilitates a quicker return to function, as well as lessens post operative arthritis.

The following are examples of some of the clinical conditions where veterinary acupuncture may be appropriate.

A. Gastrointestinal disorders, esophageal hypomotility, gastritis, rumen atony, gastroenteritis, colitis, megacolon, rectal prolapse, chronic idiopathic diarrhea or vomiting.

B. Respiratory problems: rhinitis, sinusitis, laryngitis epistaxis, bronchial asthma, chronic coughing, pneumonia.

C. Neurological disorders: trigeminal neuralgia, peripheral nerveparalysis, nystagmus, vestibular syndrome, torticollis, nondegenerative myclopathies, epilepsy, stroke, deafness, coma.

D. Musculoskeletal disorders: chronic degenerative joint disease, intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis, spondylothesis, hip dysplasia, disunited anconeal process, tendonitis, sprains, muscle spasms e.g. trapezius spasm.

E. Reproductive, endocrine, and metabolic disorders: ovarian cysts, dystocia, retained placenta, uterine prolapse, mastitis, udder edema, milk fever, hepatitis, jaundice.

F. Immunosuppressive and allergic disorders.

G Dermatologic disorders: lick granulomas, sensory nervodermatitis, allergic dermatitis.

H. Urinary disorders: incontinence, cystitis, urine retention.

I. Emergencies: cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest.

Is Acupuncture For Your Animal?

If you are considering acupuncture for your animal, what would you expect when you consult with a veterinary acupuncturist?

1. A careful history of the sequence of signs and symptoms your animals condition will be obtained. In some cases, previous xrays and laboratory data may be important if not essential.

2. Your animal will be examined and physical findings recorded.

3. A diagnosis should be established, or a plan outlined to confirm a tentative diagnosis.

4. The veterinarian will discuss with you your animal’s candidacy for acupuncture. If it is indicated, the following topics should be included: a proposed schedule of treatments or plan of therapy, an explanation of the prognosis, possible sequelea, estimated fees and a review of the alternatives. He/she will also indicate any preliminary steps or supportive care that may be indicated in conjunction with acupuncture therapy.

5. If you have been referred to a veterinary acupuncturist by another veterinarian, you should expect that your regular veterinarian will be kept informed by the acupuncturist.

For some conditions, one treatment is all that is necessary. This is not usually the case. Typically acupuncture therapy requires multiple treatment. Five to six is common, and for some long-standing problems, sometimes up to ten or twelve treatments. Often convincing signs of improvement will be observed after the second or third treatment. However, it is important to know that how completely an animal recovers does not necessarily correspond to how fast improvement is noted. Many kinds of illness require persistence in order for acupuncture to work.

Perhaps even more than with traditional veterinary care, you should recognize that the veterinary care is very personal as are your priorities, values and philosophy. Therefore, you should feel comfortable in being very direct in asking questions or discussing the rational of any proposed treatment. Be certain that acupuncture is not a panacea. Becoming informed about veterinary acupuncture and selecting a veterinarian in whose skill and judgement you can have confidence are prerequisites.

What to expect at the time of treatment

Ordinarily, pain and discomfort associated with acupuncture treatment is conspicuously absent or minimal. In fact, there is typically far less discomfort associated with an acupuncture treatment than with an ordinary vaccination or hypodermic injection.

Occasionally, there is a brief moment of sensitivity as an acupuncture needle penetrates the skin in certain sensitive areas. Once the needles are in place, most animals relax. Some will even fall asleep during treatment.

The duration of a treatment may vary from ten seconds to 30 minutes. For many conditions, patients are treated one to three times a week for four to six weeks. A positive response may be noticed after one or two treatments. In some cases, improvement may not be observed until the fifth or sixth treatment.

Owners are often requested, or at least invited, to be present. Exceptions may be procedures that are particularly time consuming or that require special scheduling.

Some Limitations & Contraindications

A. Pregnant animals not ready for labor are ordinarily not candidates for acupuncture.

B. Certain drugs can significantly alter the effects of acupuncture treatment, such as tranquilizers, narcotics, steroids or anticonvulsant drugs. You need to carefully review with your veterinarian all prescription and non-prescription medications your animal may currently or recently be taking.

C. Animals with high fevers may not be candidates for acupuncture treatment. Bacterial infections should ordinarily be treated with an appropriate antibiotic. Concomitant acupuncture, however, can often shorten discomfort and accelerate the resolution process.

D. There are limits on how far a degenerative disease process can progress and still be able to be arrested or reversed by acupuncture. Some diseases should not be treated by acupuncture except for supportive therapy and symptomatic relief.

Acupuncture is not considered to be a primary therapy for cancer or malignancies. It is not considered efficacious as a cancer cure.

Before & After Treatment

To enhance the benefit of therapy, the following are important:

1. Avoid feeding, unusual exertion, heavy exercise, or bathing immediately before and after your animal’s treatment.

2. Plan your schedule so your animal can get some rest following a treatment so that hisiher body can obtain the maximum benefit of treatment.

3. Continue taking any prescription medicines exactly as directed by your veterinarian.

4. Carefully observe your animal after each treatment. It is possible for a wide variety of changes to occur. Some may be transient and others sustained – some rather subtle and others quite obvious. For example, there may be a period of change in alertness or emotions – changes such as tranquility, relaxation, modified sleep patterns, increased sociability, eagerness or simply “feeling more like his/her usual self”. Other change may include differences in activity, appearance, appetite, as well as bowel and urinary habits.

Do not be concerned if you recognize such events. They are important in the healing process and you should allow time for them to run their course. If you feel there is deterioration in your animal’s condition, or if you have a question, you should contact the veterinarian who is managing your animal’s acupuncture care. Such details are valuable in evaluation and planning the course of treatment.

5. The principles underlying veterinary acupuncture ultimately rely upon the patient’s own energies. Nothing can replace appropriate nutrition, regular and prudent exercise (except when contradicted), and adequate rest. in addition, the owners own positive attitude toward wellness is very important in supporting the healing process.

Possible Side Effects & Complications

Acupuncture is one of the safest veterinary therapies when practiced by a competent acupuncturist. Compared to most other modalities, adverse effects are rare. The following side effects, however, could occur:

I. Rebound Effect: This is the worsening of symptoms for up to 72 hours following a treatment, followed by improvement. This is unusual and probably occurs in less than 5% of all patients. This usually is taken to be a good sign, however, because these individuals often do very well following the rebound.

2. Depending upon the treatment, an animal can experience either excess energy or fatigue for up to 48 hours.

3. Rarely, a needle can break while in the skin and subcutaneous tissue. This could require minor surgery to remove it if other methods fail.

4. Needle injuries to underlying organs can occur, but these are rare. Sometimes a hematoma can occur if a blood vessel is punctured. It is always conceivable that a nerve could be inadvertently struck by a needle.


Acupuncture is a welcome addition – or more accurately, a restoration – to modern veterinary medicine. Veterinary acupuncturists are often reminded that they are wording with the profound. Animals get well because acupuncture, when properly applied, works in harmony wiLh the laws of nature. The future study of acupuncture promises to lead to considerable enlightenment about the fundamental processes of biology and life itself. In the meantime, it is a valuable heritage that deserves to be prudently used to benefit and bless the lives of animals and their owners.