Acupuncture for Dogs by Nomi Berger
What precisely is acupuncture and how does it work?
According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, illness is caused by an imbalance of vital energies in the body. Acupuncture, an important aspect of this philosophy, focuses on restoring the body’s energy balance, thereby promoting healing.
Just as with people, acupuncture involves inserting very fine, filament-like needles into your affected dog’s body at points where the nerves and blood vessels converge. Called meridian sites, they’re believed to be energy channels responsible for transmitting energy throughout your dog’s body. Once these needles are properly placed, they enhance blood circulation, stimulate the nervous system and increase the release of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving substances in order to reduce your dog’s discomfort.
Research has shown that acupuncture works through modulating the nerve pathways by interacting with nerve fibers in both the skin and its underlying tissues. This leads to the release of beneficial chemicals, including opioid-like neurochemicals, from the brain and spinal cord. Close to the needles themselves, substances that encourage blood flow to the area are released, interrupting pain signals and releasing the trigger points that cause painful spasms.
By increasing the tissues’ oxygenation, acupuncture reduces the amount of waste products produced and enables the body to remove them more efficiently. By relaxing the muscles, it relieves pain locally and generally. By stimulating the release of naturally occurring pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory substances, it may also decrease the dosage of any pain medication or anti-inflammatory drug your dog currently takes. And since it has no systemic side effects, it’s especially beneficial for a dog in poor health.
Among the assorted ailments aided by acupuncture are arthritis and joint inflammation, chronic back pain and degenerative joint disease, hip dysplasia and serious spinal cord conditions. It can also alleviate some of the issues associated with either cancer or the side effects of cancer treatments (radiation and/or chemotherapy) such as decreased appetite, nausea and tissue inflammation. Specially trained veterinary acupuncturists even treat dogs suffering from Addison’s disease, Cushing’s disease, diabetes, kidney or liver failure and pancreatitis. The results: a decrease in nausea and an increase in their appetite following a session.
Before your first appointment with a veterinary acupuncturist, your vet will have already sent ahead your dog’s medical records outlining a history of his condition as well as all lab results, x-rays and his present medical treatment(s). The acupuncturist will perform their own physical examination of your dog, discuss various treatment options, and explain precisely what happens during an acupuncture session.
Although your dog may be understandably nervous, especially in a new clinical setting, he should relax once the first needle or two has been strategically inserted. The session itself typically lasts between 20 and 30 minutes depending on the condition(s) being addressed, after which the acupuncturist will outline a treatment plan for your dog involving one to three sessions weekly for several weeks. While there are few side effects with acupuncture, your dog may be stiff, sore or seem tired after a session, but these symptoms usually resolve themselves within 24 to 48 hours.
As your dog improves, the number of sessions will be reduced accordingly. And although acupuncture’s beneficial effects are cumulative, the aim is to achieve and maintain the highest level of improvement with the fewest possible sessions.
Written by Nomi Berger. Nomi is the bestselling author of seven novels, one work of nonfiction, two volumes of poetry, and hundreds of articles. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and has been writing as a volunteer for animal rescue groups in Canada and the U.S.A. since 2013.