Questions & Answers about Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a part of TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine).  TCVM incorporates not only acupuncture, but Chinese herbs, food therapy (based on Chinese modalities) and Tui-na, which is Chinese massage.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture consists of a family of procedures used as therapeutic intervention.  The general the Chinese theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow.  Disruptions in the body’s energy flow cause health imbalances and disease. 

Acupuncture involves strategic selection of points along the body which are physically manipulated, stimulated by fine needle skin penetration and/or by electrical activation and/or fluid injection. 

How Acupuncture needles work

Acupuncture has been practiced on humans, horses, cows and swine for 2,000 years.  The use of this modality in dogs, cats and exotics has only been over the past 50-60 years.

Is there more than one type of acupuncture?

Yes, there are many different acupuncture techniques.  The most common techniques of acupuncture used in small animals are dry needles, acupressure, aqua-puncture and electro-acupuncture. 

The dry needle technique is what most people think when they think of acupuncture.  Thin, solid, metallic needles are used to penetrate the skin at specific points for a pre-determined period of time in order to stimulate vessels, nerves and/or lymphatics.  Because the body is made up of a complex network of interconnecting nerve fibers, placing a very fine needle into a particular location on the toe of a hind leg can cause stimulation to nerves on the head.  Biologically, the activation of the acupuncture sites will release endorphins, anti-inflammatory mediators and hormones.

Cat with Dry needle

Acupressure is the stimulation of acupuncture points using pressure and massage.

Aqua-puncture involves fluid injection; generally B12 and saline are injected at the stimulation points.  The purpose of these fluid injections is to prolong the effects of acupuncture.

Electro-acupuncture occurs when an electrical current is sent through specific pairs of points.  The needles are first placed, and then the electrical current is attached.  The current provides the strongest activation possible to the acupuncture sites.

What conditions can be treated with acupuncture?

The most common conditions treated with acupuncture are disc disease and arthritis.  However, acupuncture and TCVM can be applied to treat many conditions.  Acupuncture can treat seizures and other neurological conditions for which there is no response to traditional treatments available in western medicine and can be used to help patients recover after surgeries. 

Prevention, maintenance and intervention are key elements to promoting overall wellness.  Chinese and western medicine are not substitutes for one another, but they are complimentary.  As an integrative approach to medicine, acupuncture can be used in conjunction with traditional western medicine.

 How many acupuncture treatments are required and how often does my pet need treatment?

The number of treatments required depends on the condition being treated as well as the patient’s response to said treatment.  For acute cases, only one or two treatment sessions may be necessary.  For chronic conditions, patients may require life-long treatment. 

For chronic cases, I generally recommend three-five treatments a week apart.  As the patient improves, treatments can be spaced farther apart.  Patients with seizures and other conditions affected by moon phases need treatment before the new and/or full moon.  Patients with disc disease may need frequent treatments during flare ups, but once a patient is comfortable, stable and doing well, treatment can be spread out to one treatment every one-three months for prevention and maintenance. 

 What can I expect from an acupuncture visit with my pet?

During a TCVM/acupuncture physical, the doctor will listen to the heart and palpate (feel) the abdomen, examine gum color, eyes, ears, nose and teeth; however this type of examination is much more involved than a regular veterinary physical.  During the TCVM/acupuncture assessment, the doctor will also make note of how the pulse feels, color of the tongue and the temperature of the nose and ears.  The doctor will ask specific questions about eating and drinking habits, sleeping patterns as well as temperature and surface preferences of the patient.  Information that may not hold much significance to a western veterinarian, or details that the veterinarian may not know how to classify can be very telling for a veterinarian working in Chinese modalities.

This more complete physical accompanied by an in-depth questionnaire are repeated at each visit.  The information gathered during the TCVM/acupuncture appointment allows the doctor to determine what is known is Chinese medicine as a pattern.  Patterns are what all treatments in Chinese medicine are based upon.  When the patient’s pattern changes the treatment is modified.

Once the patient’s pattern is determined, the veterinarian will treat the patient with the acupuncture technique(s) best suited for that patient and the pattern presented.  Treatment may involve one or all of the treatments listed above.

With TCVM visits the veterinarian may advise dietary restrictions or changes, exercise and massage may be recommended and herbal formulas could also be part of the treatment plan.  These additional therapies ultimately aid in helping space out the acupuncture treatments.

How long are the acupuncture treatments?

Each acupuncture appointment is generally at least an hour in duration.  The actual acupuncture treatment with the needles inserted ranges from ten to twenty minutes depending on the patient and the condition being treated.

Why are acupuncture visits so much more expensive than regular veterinary visits?

The cost of an acupuncture/TCVM visit is to pay for the doctor’s time and expertise.  The acupuncture/TCVM examination is much more involved than a regular physical.  The patient’s pattern must be determined in order to treat the patient effectively.

To learn more I recommend Four Paws, Five Directions by Cheryl Schwartz, DVM

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