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Dog Acupuncture - How Acupuncture May Be Able to Help Your Dog

What exactly is dog acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a type of medicine that has been around for thousands of years. It's first described in the area of ancient China, and it refers to the insertion of a tiny needle or thin piece of metal into pre-established points in the body.

Acupuncture points correlate with areas where we have a bundle of vessels and nerves, and insertion of the needle often causes an increase in blood flow and the release of some anti-inflammatory mediators.

Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

Is there more than one type of dog acupuncture?

There are. There are many different ways that we can use acupuncture. The typical way people think about acupuncture is the needles sticking out everywhere, and that's what we call dry needle acupuncture. There's also electrical acupuncture, which uses those needles, and I attach a small electrode to them. I connect these needles to the dogs at different points on the body to send a mild electrical current to stimulate things and wake up those nerves.

There's also something called moxibustion, where we put a small, incense-like piece on the needle to bring about different effects through heat. And then there's something called aquapuncture, where we inject a small amount of saline or vitamin B12 at the acupuncture points to have a more prolonged effect.

How does the use of acupuncture impact the health and wellbeing of my dog?

I like to think of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture as just another tool in my toolbox. It's a different type of tool, though, than our standard Western medicine. Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine treat the body as a whole unit, an interconnected unit. So if we have a lameness problem, we're not just treating the sore leg; we're often treating those points and thinking about the organ systems in the body that may support the bone system or the hind end. So we're looking at a whole body and a balance of that energy and health to correct problems and maintain health long term.

How old does my dog need to be to receive acupuncture?

Acupuncture is good at any age. We certainly change the way that we use acupuncture in younger animals versus older animals. Every animal is treated as an individual. There are no cookbook recipes for acupuncture or acupuncture points, as it's a very individualized plan.

Sometimes, in younger animals, we'll use acupressure, which is gentle pressure at the points versus needles. And often, we won't leave needles in as long with younger pets. I see mostly older animals for acupuncture because acupuncture is often used as the second or third or fourth, or last-ditch option. After all, it's not at the forefront of a lot of people's minds. I’m often treating an animal with chronic conditions that have not been managed or cured with traditional Western medicine. In those situations, I'm usually trying to manage chronic conditions. Still, we can also use acupuncture to maintain health, and so we can use it as a preventative care mechanism in younger dogs or even puppies.

What are some conditions that can be treated with acupuncture?

I primarily use acupuncture for mobility issues—osteoarthritis, back problems, neck pain, and sometimes with ACL injuries. But traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture apply to any organ system. What's important is people's experience and their interests. I have not had the opportunity to treat, say, dermatology cases or things like that, but acupuncture is out there for those situations; it’s a matter of finding the right practitioner for your pet's condition.

Would acupuncture complement my dog's current treatments?

Absolutely. I like to think of acupuncture as one of the arms of integrative medicine to use our standard Western medicine for a lot of conditions. Still, acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine - like food therapy and massage - can help Western medicine bring about results more quickly and help with maintenance.

How do I know if acupuncture is right for my dog?

Ask. I am always happy to chat by phone in a consultation and review records to determine if I feel like I can make a difference with your pet with acupuncture. I’m also not shy about telling you that I may not be able to do this, but I know a doctor that can, and I can send you to the right person. Never hesitate to reach out if you have questions or think acupuncture might be a good fit for your pet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Acupuncture - FAQs

Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

What do I need to do to prepare my dog for acupuncture treatments?

Acupuncture preparation is a super simple thing. You don't need to do anything except perhaps skip half their breakfast or their morning snack so that they're just a little bit hungry, and then bring their favorite blankie, stuffy, or comfort item. Acupuncture is about chilling out and letting the needles do their work. As part of our fear-free practices, I love having snacks involved. Everybody likes a good snack. By bringing them hungry, we can motivate them to stay in one place, whether with a bowl of peanut butter or a Kong full of baby food. Then they can snuggle up with you and let those needles do their work.

What will an acupuncture session be like for my dog, and how long will it take?

Our first session takes a little longer because it's getting down to the nitty-gritty details of the condition we're trying to treat. I will often ask different sorts of questions than if we were doing a standard Western medicine workup. I want to know more about your dog's habits, personality, about how their lifestyles have changed, which is why these initial appointments can take a little bit longer.

I also do a complete physical exam to look for underlying problems that may contribute to the main issue. Those sessions can take 45 minutes to an hour. We spend most of the time talking, and then we do acupuncture at the end. Follow-up sessions are much quicker. It's a brief check-in. I still do a complete physical exam to make sure nothing's changed, and then we do our acupuncture. The length of time that the needles are in varies depending on the dog or condition, but it's generally anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes that they're hanging out with those needles in place.

How soon will my dog experience results from acupuncture?

That's another thing that can be variable. The more chronic a condition is, or the longer it's been going on, acupuncture can take longer in those situations to see results because it takes a while to grease the gears, if you will. Sometimes, though, we will see results the same day. Acupuncture can release endorphins in the body and make animals feel better and more relaxed. We may even start to see results from that, even if we haven't helped the primary condition yet.

How effective is veterinary acupuncture?

It depends on the condition and the experience and comfort level of the practitioner. For many conditions, such as arthritis, back pain, and neck pain, acupuncture can be a miracle worker. We can see dramatic results within a day or more. It's also nice because it's not very invasive, it's not painful, and it's something that we can maintain long-term.

Are they any risks associated with acupuncture?

It's pretty minimal when you think about the risks. Whenever we stick anything in your dog, there's always the risk of a little bit of bleeding, or a bruise, or those sorts of things, but in general, it's a low-risk procedure with excellent results. There's always the risk that your dog snacks on a needle, but I've, knock on wood, never had that happen. We usually try to keep them distracted with food or love.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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