Acupuncture is growing in popularity, and is an accepted form of complementary, holistic medicine for people throughout Eastern and Western medicine. Research on conditions such as arthritis in people has shown that acupuncture has definite pain-relieving effects, improves circulation and aids healing.

Acupuncture is also being used by more and more vets and trained Animal Physiotherapists to treat a whole range of problems in pets, and especially dogs, just as in the human world. It is vital that acupuncture is only performed by a trained acupuncturist and therefore safe and effective.

Read my article in the North Coast Veterinary Specialists (NCVS) newsletter, below:

NCVS Newsletter (172 KB)

What is Canine Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the insertion of extremely fine needles into specific points on the body, and is part of one of the world’s most ancient systems of medicine – Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture was developed in China over 4000 years ago and is still one of most commonly used medical systems in the world- across Eastern and Western medicine.

How does it work?

Traditional Chinese Acupuncture (TCM) techniques are believed to produce an abundance of good health effects by enhancing or restoring the natural flow of energy (qi) in the body. According to acupuncture theory, qi circulates along meridians, or pathways. Each of these meridians links to internal organs and organ systems. Acupoints are the hundreds of spots along the meridians where needles can be inserted to stimulate the flow of qi, primarily affecting the muscular, skeletal, hormonal and cardiovascular systems.

Medical research has demonstrated that it can elicit a strong multi-system physiological response. Modern practice often uses a modified or Western approach to acupuncture, which is based on modern physiology and anatomy instead of the ancient ‘point’ system. Brooke has been trained in both concepts and applies the knowledge of the traditional practice, with the evidence base and clinical applications of the Western approach.

Today, acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular as its effectiveness in dogs in a variety of conditions has been demonstrated, especially of the musculoskeletal system.

Acupuncture for chronic pain (2)

Isn’t Acupuncture Painful?

The joy of treating dogs is that they do not have needle phobias like people! The needles used for acupuncture are tiny, a fraction of the size of a normal hypodermic needle. Over 95% of patients are comfortable with acupuncture, including most of those whose owners do not initially believe they will tolerate it, as it is not generally painful and actually has a great sedatory effect. Simply put, acupuncture makes a dog relax and feel good.

What Evidence is there that Acupuncture on Dogs Works?

There has been much research on acupuncture in humans, and studies have proved its pain-relieving effects and benefits in many various conditions. There is much less research on acupuncture in dogs, however this is building.

Here is a review article of literature over the last 2 decades:

Acupuncture for canine ARTHRITIS

Acupuncture Management of Musculoskeletal Pain

  • Arthritis in stifle (knee) joint of dogs – a study demonstrated a superior effect of acupuncture over non- treatment (Um et al. 2005)
  • A study of acupuncture was performed with 65 arthritic dogs who were no longer responding to conventional medicine to control their pain. The only options left for these dogs using conventional medicine were a life of pain or euthanasia
    After acupuncture treatment, 70% of these dogs had an improvement of greater than 50% in mobility and gait (Schoen 1986).

Acupuncture for spinal DISC disease

The usual treatment for spinal disc herniations (‘slipped discs’) is medications with or without surgery. Acupuncture has been found to be beneficial in the great majority of cases, and its effect is comparable to that of surgery (Janssens 1992; Hayashi 2007). If surgery is not recommended by your Veterinary Surgeon, Physiotherapy and Acupuncture may prove extremely beneficial.

Acupuncture for TL and Cervical Disc Disease
Recent Research has shown the benefits of Acupuncture in treating Intervertebral Disc disease:

Acupuncture, surgery thoracolumbar disc disease

  • Electroacupuncture was effective for treatment of chronic thoracolumbar pain in horses and the analgesic effect induced by this can last at least 2 weeks (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005; 227:281-286)
  • Efficacy of Warm Needle Moxibustion on Lumbar Disc Herniation: A Meta-Analysis – Warm needle moxibustion is superior to acupuncture and manipulation in terms of efficiency rate, excellent rate, and controlling of pain for lumbar disc herniation, but it is similar when compared with NSAIDs and Chinese medicine.
  • Electroacupuncture combined with standard Western medical treatment was effective and resulted in shorted time to recover ambulation and deep pain perception than just Western treatment alone in dogs with signs of thoracolumbar intervertebral disc disease (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2007; 231 (6): 913-918)
  • The combination of electroacupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine was found to be responsible for motor rehabilitation in non-ambulatory dogs with tetra paresis (4 limb paralysis) with cervical intervertebral disc disease in dogs (Disc disease in the neck of dogs)
  • Acupuncture has shown significant improvements in mobility, proprioception and spinal posture in cats with multifocal intervertebral disc disease (J Feline Med Surg. 2009)

Acupuncture for PAIN RELIEF:

The scientific basis of acupuncture for veterinary pain management: A review based on relevant literature from the last two decades.

Over the past twenty years, the study explores relevant literature to establish the scientific foundation of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. The review highlights the increasing interest in acupuncture as a viable alternative for managing pain in animals. The article discusses the physiological mechanisms underlying acupuncture’s effectiveness in pain relief. It also looks into the modulation of neurotransmitters, anti-inflammatory effects, and the impact on the autonomic nervous system.

Electroacupuncture was considered the most effective type of acupuncture delivery, allowing for more potent and long-lasting pain relief than is achieved via other methods (e.g., dry needling).

Acupuncture was found to be beneficial in cases in which analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications have been ineffective or have demonstrated side effects, and surgery not recommended. It provides long-term pain relief and also increases circulation to the affected areas and decreases inflammation (Schoen 1992).

Acupuncture for MS Disorders


Trigger points are areas of increased sensitivity within a muscle which may be related to joint pathology, visceral pathology and nervous system pathology. There are local tender spots located in a band of skeletal muscle that produce pain on compression, felt locally but can also evoke pain in a referred pattern (Travell and Simons 1993). They may be associated with pain or lameness.

Factors such as arthritis, trauma, stress, postoperative status and infection may predispose to the development of trigger points in animals (Schoen 2001). They may cause a reduction in range of motion and as in humans, may be co-localised with acupuncture points (Janssens 1992). The use of an acupuncture needle (dry needling) to release trigger points may be used rather than a massage technique. Excellent results and complete recovery were observed in 34 lame dogs (60%) with trigger point therapy (Janssens 1991).

Trigger points are often more easily treated with the use of a needle with more comfort.

I feel the best approach is a combination of the best aspects of both Eastern and Western medicine – an approach now known as ‘integrative’ medicine.

Providing Physiotherapy for animals - all creatures great and small