As a pet owner, you probably don’t want to see another sharp needle anywhere near your beloved companion—and your pet is likely thinking the same thing. But, needles don’t always cause pain. Sometimes they’re used to actually relieve pain and discomfort. Here’s a look at how acupuncture—with it’s tiny needles—can help alleviate pain in arthritic pets.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient technique that has been practiced in China for thousands of years to treat many different ailments. Veterinarians sometimes combine this traditional Chinese therapy with Western medicine to treat a variety of conditions. During an acupuncture session, needles are inserted into the pet’s body at specific points where nerve bundles and blood vessels join, to stimulate different responses and allow energy to flow correctly through the body again. Further studies are needed, but acupuncture treatment is becoming more widespread in veterinary medicine.

How is acupuncture used for osteoarthritis pain in pets?

Like many people, older pets wake up to a chorus of groans, creaking bones, and popping joints. We all miss the good old days when we could leap from our cosy covers without a complaining body part. Fortunately for pets, our veterinary team can alleviate their arthritis pain. Unfortunately, their owners will need to find their own acupuncturist, because we work only on achy pets.

Acupuncture has several applications in veterinary medicine, but is commonly used for osteoarthritis pain and stiffness. We frequently hear that a senior pet is playing and running like a puppy or kitten again after undergoing acupuncture. And no, acupuncture may appear to have magical powers, but it’s not voodoo medicine. Acupuncture works to alleviate your pet’s arthritis pain by:

  • Improving oxygenation, tissue blood flow, and full-body circulation, which carries away metabolic wastes and toxins
  • Relaxing muscles at the site of needle insertion, relaxing the more-distant body tissues, and relieving pain
  • Stimulating the release of pain-relieving hormones and anti-inflammatory agents, such as endorphins and cortisol

We want to keep your loyal companion comfortably strolling at your side for many years. Even if she has an organ dysfunction and can’t tolerate pain medications, acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine therapies may ease her discomfort.

What happens to your pet during an acupuncture session?

Most pets tolerate acupuncture treatments well. Unfortunately, veterinary clinics are scary places for some pets, who arrive  an anxious ball of nerves, anticipating the worst—such as needles. Nervous pets are not always ideal acupuncture candidates, but we can provide mild sedatives to ease their stress and ensure their needles stay put. Your pet’s first session will be the most time-consuming as we go through the following steps and formulate an acupuncture plan:

  • Perform a thorough physical exam. We will first examine your pet to find weak or stagnated areas that would benefit from increased energy flow. Arthritic pets commonly suffer from painful elbows, hips, knees, and spine.
  • Link the appropriate acupuncture points with your pet’s condition. Each acupuncture point has a specific purpose—some improve appetite, some reduce nausea, and some alleviate pain. We link the treatable ailment to the correct point.
  • Locate the acupuncture points on your pet and insert the needles. Unfortunately, arthritic pets are often chubby, and locating the correct points may not be easy. Finding acupuncture points is usually more difficult than inserting the needles, which have a faint prick that most pets do not feel. Occasionally, a pet will react during needle placement, but that reinforces we are using the correct point. Most pets relax after that initial reaction.
  • Relax. While it’s next to impossible to keep a pet still, especially for 15 to 30 minutes, we will help your furry friend find a comfortable position while the needles are in place. Many pets relax, and may even take a nap, as endorphins are released.

Your pet may seem sleepy after an acupuncture session, and her condition may appear worse at first, but then will suddenly improve. Usually you’ll notice some improvement by the second day, and continued improvement with each session.

If you think your pet may be an acupuncture therapy candidate, schedule a visit to see if she could benefit from this prickly treatment.