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Should Your Dog Have Acupuncture?

Written by: Scott H
Scott Haiduc is the Director of Publishing for iHeartDogs, iHeartCats and The Hero Company. When not working, Scott spends his time on the farm, taking care of his animals and crops.Read more
| Published on July 19, 2014

Alternative medicine in the pet industry is rapidly growing and acupuncture is no exception. If you have not experienced acupuncture yourself, you may wonder what it is, if it’s right for your dog, any possible risks, and finally where to find a good one should you choose to try it on your dog.

Questions Answered

Dr. Brittney Barton is the founder of HEAL Veterinary Hospital, a state-of-the-art facility that provides general pet care and focuses on hard-to-find services that include acupuncture, underwater and land treadmill rehabilitation, physical therapy, behavior consultation, training classes, nutritional counseling and advanced dental services. She answered the important questions regarding dogs and acupuncture.

Dogs seem to get used to the procedure fairly quickly and easily. Source: HEAL
Dogs seem to get used to the procedure fairly quickly and easily. Source: HEAL Veterinary Hospital

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture works by stimulating the body’s own natural anti-inflammatory and pain inhibiting processes.  Acupuncture is utilizing a small needle to incite microtrauma at select points (acupuncture points) that are in areas of dense nerve, blood vessel, and lymphatic bundles.  This stimulation creates a local effect, a spinal segmental effect, and a systemic effect to improve blood flow, release pain-fighting enkephalins, and to reduce inflammation.

Does Acupuncture Work For Every Dog? 

​How well acupuncture works depends on what you are treating, how often you are treating, and amenability of the patient to treatment.  For instance, sudden onset problems will likely need to be treated more often initially and then taper off treatments completely.  Other issues that are more chronic, like osteoarthritis, require a long-term treatment approach.  Acupuncture does not make the arthritis go away.  It helps to additionally manage inflammation and compensatory pain the pet develops associated with the arthritis.

Dogs that are aggressive and excessively stressed with handling may not be the best candidates for acupuncture treatment.  We don’t want to cause more stress by attempting treatments the pet doesn’t want and the response to treatment can be blunted due to adrenaline release.  Thankfully though, most pets, even when nervous at first, settle into acupuncture treatments very well and begin to enjoy the sessions after a few visits.

It is important to know what you are treating.  If you are unsure and are approaching things from an empirical stand-point, you may not understand why acupuncture treatments don’t seem to be helping.  It could be that cancer is present or that you have multiple issues that are not all being addressed adequately.

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Who Will Benefit The Most From It?

Acupuncture is a great complimentary therapy to add to any on-going treatment plan.  It does not interact with commonly prescribed treatment protocols or medications and can be readily added to help manage chronic pain, chronic inflammation, neurologic conditions, and even metabolic disorders.

Is it Expensive?

The price of acupuncture varies according to geographic location and added treatments or therapies.  The general cost ranges from $65 to 85 per treatment.

When should you ask your vet about it?

​Acupuncture should be considered as an addition to any treatment protocol, but is commonly over-looked until traditional medical approaches are not adequately addressing a pet’s pain or medical condition.  Thankfully, acupuncture is becoming more commonplace and veterinary practitioners are familiarizing themselves with the uses of acupuncture, but don’t assume your vet knows about it.

Do You Believe Acupuncture Works Best When Done Alongside Traditional Medicine Or In Place Of?

​Acupuncture can help to manage chronic conditions, thus avoiding overuse of prescription pharmaceuticals.  I find that acupuncture works the very best when used WITH traditional medicine.


So what do dog owners who use acupuncture have to say? Nothing but the best.

Ellie Lak, Founder of The Gentle Barn animal rescue in Santa Barbara, Calif, uses acupuncture on several species of animals.

“I have seen fantastic results with acupuncture! We have had many animals who have inflammation and pain in their joints and there is nothing the vet can do, other than prescribe pain meds, and acupuncture will get the animal walking again pain free,” Lak says.

They have a dog named Dylan who was rescued with a torn knee and only using three legs. Due to his age, the vet said surgery was not an option, so they tried acupuncture. After several months of treatment, Lak says Dylan was running, jumping, and playing like a “normal” dog. Another one of their charges, Cybil, was an 11 year old shepherd who could not walk. The vet suggested euthanasia, Lak tried acupuncture instead. Again, after a few month, the dog was able to walk. Cybil continued to walk normally for another 7 years before she passed away.

“I highly recommend using acupuncture for any animal that has mobility challenges, inflammation, pain, or any situation that western medicine cannot help. At The Gentle a Barn we swear by it! There are no side effects and dogs usually love it. Dylan starts drooling and snoring as soon as the first needle goes in,” Lak adds.

Teresa Rhyne, author of The Dog Lived, (and So Will I), has two rescued beagles that get acupuncture regularly.

“We turned to acupuncture and herbal supplements to give them as much healing help as we can and both are thriving,” Rhyne explains. “For Percival we focused on liver and kidney ‘detox’ in addition to his skin/allergy issues. For Daphne we focused on anti-inflammatory and cooling her body temperature. She seems more agile, and more relaxed.”

Rhyne said that her dogs did not have a hard time at all adjusting to the feeling of acupuncture. “The first treatment takes longer and the dogs were curious about what was poking them, but eventually calmed way, way down. Now they’re old pros and they love it. Percival was a little hesitant at first but now falls asleep in the vets lap he’s so relaxed about it.”

Finding an Acupuncturist

If your vet cannot refer you to a doggy acupuncturist, but you would like to try it for your furry friend, there are some resources you can use. Of course, you can always contact The Gentle Barn if you are in the area, they are happy to refer you to their wonderful vet.

American Veterinary Medical Association

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

Don’t forget to ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers, and well as reading online reviews before going to the vet. Also, be sure to go and meet the vets and their staff prior to making an appointment.

About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles


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