Holistic medicine – treating the whole body instead of just the injured or diseased portion – has been around for centuries. Whether or not it works continues to be a hotly debated topic in both human and veterinary medicine. Most veterinary clinicians agree, however, that holistic medicine can be helpful when paired with Western medicine in the treatment of inflammatory, neurological and painful conditions.
Acupuncture is one of the most well-known holistic treatments, even for cats and dogs, and some Pets Best Insurance plans include limited coverage for acupuncture treatment. Here’s what you need to know about acupuncture and whether it’s right for your pet.
What Does it Treat?
Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. It gained awareness in United States in the 1970s, and around this same time, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society was founded. In veterinary medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used for lameness, sports medicine and geriatric medicine. It has also been touted as useful in diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, megacolon in cats, intervertebral disc disease, reproductive medicine and even heart disease. Overall, the most common reason for veterinary acupuncture is pain relief.
How Does it Work?
Acupuncture works by stimulating specific points on the body, known as acupoints, by pressure, heat, electrical current or injection. Just as in human acupuncture, needles are used at specific points. The needles are very small and most dogs and cats don’t seem to mind them or feel them.
Each acupoint is linked to a specific physiologic response in the body, such as decreased pain sensation and decreased inflammation. The mechanisms for pain relief and decreased inflammation with acupuncture have been widely researched and are quite well understood, despite the continued skepticism by the mainstream public.1
Certain personality types tend to benefit most from acupuncture, but some acupuncturists claim that fearful and aggressive dogs at the start of the treatment will be more docile and friendly by the end.2 Even cats can tolerate acupuncture readily and benefit from its use. Acupuncture can be a useful way to decrease the amount of oral medication needed to control chronic conditions in pets, and increase the efficacy of the drugs they are currently using to treat various ailments.
Always consider pet health insurance, especially in older pets that typically require more veterinary care. And talk to your veterinarian about whether or not acupuncture might be a useful adjunct to help keep your pet as healthy and pain-free as possible.
Marsden, Steve, DVM, ND, MSOM LAc, Dipl. CH CVA AHG. Evidence-Based Acupuncture. 62nd Convention of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, 2010
Scanlan, Nancy. DVM, MSFP, CVA (IVIS). Acupuncture for Non-Acupuncturists. Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club Symposium 2011