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Acupuncture is the ancient technique of inserting of needles into specific points on the body to produce a healing response. Each acupuncture point has specific actions when stimulated. This technique has been used in China for thousands of years to treat many ailments, and as preventative medicine. Acupuncture can be used (either alone or in conjunction with Western medicine) to treat a wide variety of conditions in every species of animal.

acupuncture needles and ancient medicine illustration showing acupuncture points on human

How Does It Work?

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) believes that living beings have channels or “meridians” of energy running throughout the bodies. In order to maintain proper health, the body's energy must be balanced and continually flowing. Acupuncture is one means of reestablishing balance, by inserting slender needles into certain points in the body to help maintain the proper flow of energy along the meridians. It has been a favored modality for over 4000 years.

In western terms, acupuncture can assist the body to heal itself by affecting certain physiological changes such as stimulating nerves, increasing circulation, relieving muscle spasm, and releasing of hormones (such as endorphins and cortisol).

The most common acupuncture technique involves inserting very thin needles into acupuncture points. Laser therapy can also be used to stimulate acupuncture points. Aqua-acupuncture and hemo-acupuncture involve injecting small amounts of liquid such as saline, vitamins, or the patient's own blood into the acupuncture points, which often provides a longer effect. Moxibustion is a special warming technique which involves burning a cigar-like stick of herbs over acupuncture points. Electro-acupuncture involves low-level electricity traveling into the regular acupuncture needles.

Treatment success varies according to the condition being treated and the number/frequency of acupuncture treatments. The length and frequency of treatments depends on the condition and the method of stimulation used by the veterinary acupuncturist. A simple acute problem, such as a sprain, may require only one treatment, whereas more severe or chronic ailments may need several treatments.

What Can It Do?

Acupuncture is indicated for functional problems such as paralysis, noninfectious inflammation (such as allergies), and pain.

For small animals, the following are a few of the general conditions are treated with acupuncture:


  • Musculoskeletal problems (arthritis, sprains)

  • Neurologic issues (seizures, disk disease, neuropathy)

  • Respiratory problems

  • Skin problems (lick granulomas, allergic dermatitis)

  • Gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, vomiting)

  • Reproductive problems

  • Behavioral issues (anxiety, phobias)

For large animals, the following are a few of the general conditions are treated with acupuncture:

  • Musculoskeletal problems (sore backs, kissing spines)

  • Neurological problems (EPM, facial paralysis)

  • Skin problems (allergic dermatitis)

  • Respiratory problems (heaves, thumps and EIPH)

  • Gastrointestinal problems (nonsurgical colic)

  • Reproductive problems

  • Behavioral issues

For animal athletes, regular acupuncture treatment can treat minor sports injuries as they occur, and keep muscles and tendons resistant to injury. World-class professional and amateur athletes often use acupuncture as a routine part of their training. If your animals are involved in any athletic endeavor, such as racing, jumping, or showing, acupuncture can help them keep in top physical condition.

Acupuncture in an animal, horse.jpg

Is It Safe? Does It Hurt?

Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when it is administered by a properly trained veterinarian. Side effects of acupuncture are rare, but they do exist. An animal’s condition may seem worse for up to 48 hours after a treatment. Other animals become lethargic or sleepy for 24 hours. These effects are an indication that some physiological changes are developing, and they are most often followed by an improvement in the animal’s condition.

The insertion of acupuncture needles is virtually painless. The larger needles necessary for large animals may cause some discomfort as the needle passes through the skin. Once the needles are in place, there should be no pain. Most animals become very relaxed and may even become sleepy. Nevertheless, acupuncture treatment may cause some sensation, presumed to be those such as tingles, cramps, or numbness which can occur in humans and which may be uncomfortable to some animals.

In general, acupuncture can be effectively combined with most conventional and alternative therapies. Certified Veterinary Acupuncturists have the comprehensive training, knowledge and skill to understand the interactions between different forms of treatment and to interpret the patient’s response to therapy.


The American Veterinary Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery.

Information/text courtesy of IVAS

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