Acupuncture is one of a variety of therapies that your veterinarian may use to treat your pet. Simply stated, acupuncture (acus=needle; puncture=puncture) is the stimulation of specific points on the body that have the ability to alter various biochemical and physiologic conditions to achieve the desired effect. Acupuncture points are literally collections of specific nerve fibers and vessels. Modern research has described various physiological shifts following acupuncture, including boosting the body’s own natural painkillers, anti-inflammatory agents, immune system functions and hormonal activity.

It is a means of helping the body heal itself. Acupuncture has been used successfully for nearly 4000 years on animals, as well as human beings. As a matter of fact, it is still the treatment of choice for one quarter of the world’s population for many problems. It is now being utilized by an increasing number of veterinarians, alongside Western medicine, for various disease conditions.

Acupuncture bridges a gap between medicine and surgery. In the Western world acupuncture is used primarily when medications are not working, are contraindicated because of possible side effects, or when surgery is not feasible. In China, it is often used as the primary treatment before conventional medicines and surgery.

Acupuncture is now known to affect all major physiologic systems. It works primarily via the central nervous system, affecting the musculoskeletal, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. However, acupuncture does more than just relieve pain. Acupuncture also increases circulation, causes a release of many neurotransmitters and neurohormones (some of which are endorphins, the "natural pain-killing" hormones), relieves muscle spasms, stimulates nerves, and stimulates the body’s defense system, among many other beneficial effects. The particular method in which it works depends on the conditions being treated and the points used. Usually more than one mechanism of action is involved when each individual acupuncture point is ‘needled’.

Acupuncture is most commonly used for: musculoskeletal problems (e.g. arthritis), skin problems, nervous disorders, reproductive disorders, respiratory problems, poor immunity and internal medicine problems such as heart (cardiac) and kidney (renal) disease, etc.

Acupuncture process at Quail Corners Animal Hospital
Treatment process for acupuncture at Quail Corners Animal Hospital in Raleigh


It is not a panacea, or cure-all, but in certain disease conditions it works well. Traditional Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, herbal therapies, etc) is not exclusive of Western Medicine. For some diseases, using a combination of western medicine (drugs and/or surgery), chinese herbal medicine, dietary changes and acupuncture therapy will achieve a much better outcome than when only one of these modalities is used. According the American Veterinary Medical Association, acupuncture is “an integral part of veterinary medicine.” The National Institutes of Health declared that it is an “effective therapeutic agent for certain disease conditions.”

Depending on the medical condition under treatment and severity, most first visits last 30-45 minutes, with subsequent visits 15-20 minutes, depending on the condition treated and the method used. There are many ways of stimulating acupuncture points, including needles, electroacupuncture, aquapuncture (injecting a solution into the point), moxibustion (heating the point), and laser acupuncture. Pets may be treated as frequently as one to three times a week (depending again upon the condition treated), but typically are treated once weekly for four to six weeks. After the initial treatment period, the intervals between acupuncture treatments are then extended based upon your pet’s response to treatment and what is needed to maintain improvement. Most pets are seen once every two to six months for continued maintenance therapy, although there are some pets who no longer need acupuncture therapy once their condition has resolved.

Acupuncture is not a "one-time fix", nor is it a cure-all. Some disease conditions will not respond to acupuncture; just as there are some diseases that do not respond well to conventional Western medicine. It is not uncommon for owners to observe improvement in their pet’s condition after the first acupuncture treatment; however, three to five acupuncture treatments must be completed before accurately assessing the effectiveness of treatment. Depending upon the severity of the disease, some pets may not show any signs of improvement until the sixth or eighth treatment. Just as in Western medicine, the earlier that your pet’s disease is diagnosed and treated, the quicker and better the response to treatment.