The science of acupuncture therapy in dogs


Acupuncture is an ancient branch of traditional Chinese medicine. In ancient times of around 6000 BCE, instead of needles sharpened stones were used for acupuncture. Acupuncture theory believes that energy flows within the body and illness is caused by an imbalance of vital energies in the body, this energy can be channelized to create balance and health.  –by Dr Aeknath Virendra, Dr Rajiv V Gaikwad, Dr Gajendra S Khandekar and Dr Dhananjay G Dighe

Dr Aeknath Virendra

Dr Rajiv V Gaikwad

Dr GS Khandekar

Dr Dhananjay G Dighe

Tracing the roots to China

Shi Xue Min is known as the ‘Father of Acupuncture’. The first medical description of acupuncture was given by a European physician Ten Rhijne. It is said that acupuncture utilizes the body’s own ability to heal itself, this is mediated through the stimulation of various body systems including the nervous system, endocrine system, circulatory system and lymphatic system.

In 17th century the interest of people in acupuncture started dwindling. It was considered irrational and was laced with superstitions; the emperor decree also excluded the acupuncture from Imperial Medical Institute in 1822. But later the Communist Government in 1949 revised the traditional forms of medicine including the acupuncture and not only that various acupuncture research institutes were also established in the 1950s throughout China and the practice become available and popular in several hospitals. After that the practice got spread to several other countries like Korea, Japan, some European countries and also India.

Nowadays, acupuncture is gaining more popularity and acceptance in small animal practice, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) also acknowledged that ‘acupuncture will not cure every condition, but it can work very well when it is indicated’.

A paper by Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS states that, “Rigorous scientific research has shown that acupuncture can both safely and effectively reduce physical and psychological problems related to cancer and its treatment.”

Myriad uses of acupuncture in dogs

There are various uses of acupuncture; pain management is one of the most common uses for acupuncture. Strong medical treatments like chemo, which can cause discomfort, are often paired with acupuncture to help make a pet more comfortable and able to fight the illness. Acupuncture is also useful in many other aspects of body system like musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or nerve injuries, skin problems like allergic dermatitis, granulomas, or hot spots. It leads to increased circulation, which improves the chances of healing.

In case of gastrointestinal problems like nausea and diarrhoea acupuncture can aid by increasing blood flow. Dogs suffering from respiratory problems like asthma and allergies can benefit from the immune-calming, anti-inflammatory capabilities of acupuncture. There are also some reports which indicate that the acupuncture at certain sites can also help in the stimulation of the immune system by increasing the number of white blood corpuscles circulating in the bloodstream.

Intricacies of the procedure

The procedure of acupuncture involves the insertion of various fine needles (as thin as human hair) into the skin on specific locations of body. These locations are called as meridians. After insertion of the needle they are left at that place for sometime or the acupuncturist may manipulate them with his hands or may give electrical stimulation. The animal may feel slight discomfort during needle insertion. Most reports say that there is no discomfort during needle insertion while some says that there is slight pain. So, it totally varies from animal to animal. The follow up treatments can continue from weeks to months depending upon the condition and amount of therapy required by the animal.

A big question can comes to pet owners mind is whether to get acupuncture therapy at home or at a hospital?
House call based veterinary acupuncture alleviates the physical and behavioural stress associated with transportation to and from a veterinary facility. Additionally, as animal hospitals are traditionally places of illness, the potential for exposure infectious disease is reduced when a pet is treated at home.
There are different sites of acupuncture on the body of dog as you can see in the figure below.
BL (bladder), GB (gallbladder), GV (governing vessel), HT (heart), KID (kidney), LI (large intestine), LIV (liver), LU (lung), PC (pericardium), SI (small intestine), SP (spleen), ST (stomach), TH (triple heater)

A bane for pain

The advantage for going to acupuncture is that you can avoid undergoing surgeries or even completing drug regimen. It is a non-invasive treatment with no side effects and no recovery time is required. It is suitable for everyone regardless of age and physical condition. One of the major advantages of acupuncture is that it deals with treating the root cause of disease rather than treating the animal symptomatically.

Considering that acupuncture has so many merits, as a pet parent you need to be aware that there are certain disadvantages as well. In some cases minor soreness for a period of time immediately following the treatment is seen. There might be chance of infection if unsterilised needles are used. Unlike other treatments it requires regular visit to the acupuncturist which can be hassle for some. The treatment can be costly.

But we would say that where there is a hope there is a way and if you are visiting a well trained and certified acupuncturist the chances of getting positive results are more.

Other traditional treatment methods

Beside acupuncture there are various other traditional methods like acupressure, moxibustion which can be applied in small animal practice for the treatment of various disorders. Acupressure is the administration of pressure to acupuncture points. On the other hand the aquapuncture deals with the injection of liquid medications that exerts an energetic change by pushing tissue out of the way. Moxibustion is the application of a heated Chinese herbal compound to needles and inserting them to acupuncture sites. Heat has proven to be very beneficial especially to older pets or those suffering from conditions like joint stiffness and/or muscle soreness.

Over time the crude stone lancets were replaced by fine metal needles, and acupuncture points and channels are codified, leading to a new age of medical sophistication. So, in nutshell we can say that acupuncture in veterinary medicine can be used safely as any of the medication or supplements will not adversely interact with it and therefore it can be used safely without any side effects to treat a variety of illness.

(Dr Aeknath Virendra, PhD Research Scholar, Department of Animal Reproduction, Gynaecology and Obstetrics; Dr Rajiv V Gaikwad, Professor & Head, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine; Dr Gajendra S Khandekar, Professor, Department of Veterinary Surgery and Radiology, Mumbai Veterinary College, Parel, Mumbai; Dr Dhananjay G Dighe, Associate Dean, Shirwal Veterinary College, Shirwal)