Modern acupuncture has evolved from the ancient art of placing needles into special locations on the body to alleviate pain and increase the recovery rate from, and resistance to, disease. It is a system of healing which has been practised by the Chinese and other Eastern cultures for thousands of years and may be used to treat a wide variety of illnesses.
The Chinese approach to disease is holistic; emotional, hereditary and environmental factors are considered important in disease patterns. The philosophy and aim of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to restore equilibrium between physical, emotional and spiritual factors, thus restoring and maintaining health. Treatment involves using needles in specific acupuncture points to achieve this balance by addressing imbalances in Yin and Yang, and also in the flows of Ch’i and of blood.
Western Medical Acupuncture is used after an orthodox medical diagnosis has been made and is just one method of treatment used alongside others such as drugs and surgery. It fits perfectly into Marshall and Till’s wider approach to treatment, which has always considered both the physical and psychological wellbeing of the patient.
Acupuncture stimulates the release of pain-relieving chemicals in the brain and spinal cord (such as endorphins, serotonin and noradrenalin) which produce exceptional relief from pain. However, it does much more than reduce pain, it also has other beneficial effects on health. Patients often notice an improved sense of wellbeing after treatment.
Which conditions can benefit from acupuncture?
Acupuncture is best used to treat functional problems especially those involving pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, arthritis or paralysis.
In dogs, cats and rabbits these conditions include:
arthritis, hip dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis, cruciate (knee) ligament injury, muscle sprains and myofascial (muscle) pain.
chronic ear infections, allergic dermatitis, urticaria, atopy, lick granulomas and overgrooming.
open wounds, ulcers and general wound healing.
feline asthma and chronic viral infections.
traumatic nerve injury.
chronic diarrhoea, constipation and megacolon.
chronic urinary infections, incontinence, urinary retention, idiopathic cystitis and urine spraying.
Post-operative pain control
Which conditions are unlikely to benefit ?
There is little or no evidence that acupuncture is of benefit in the treatment of the following conditions: heart disease, cancer, liver disorders, kidney disease, reproductive diseases, mouth problems, epilepsy (though some would disagree), alopecia and psoriasis
Although the conditions themselves may not respond to acupuncture pain relief for these conditions can be provided by acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a treatment which involves the stimulation of specific points in the body, usually by the insertion of very fine, sterile, stainless steel needles which are left in place for 10-20 minutes. This stimulation causes reactions within the nervous and hormone systems. It can affect muscles; the circulatory, reproductive, digestive and urinary systems; as well as antibody production and hormone output.
Acupuncture increases the body’s release of natural painkillers such as endorphin and serotonin and modifies pain pathways in the brain and spinal cord.
In conditions which are not painful acupuncture can still be used to help reset the body’s normal functioning.
Sometimes electro-acupuncture is used. This involves passing a tiny electric current between pairs of needles in order to stimulate the chosen point.
Often after treatment animals exhibit behavioural changes, improved appetite and demeanour, as well as obvious pain relief. Some individuals are very responsive to acupuncture and will show dramatic improvement after one treatment. The vast majority however will respond gradually over a period of time. On average 4-8 treatments are required. Initially these are given weekly, then at gradually increasing intervals until the desired effect is achieved. The frequency of follow-up treatments depends on your pet’s individual needs, but regular top-ups are usually required to maintain the therapeutic effect. As each treatment is specifically tailored to an individual the details will vary from pet to pet.
Some patients, along with some diseases, do not respond to acupuncture.
Will it hurt my pet?
Acupuncture needles stimulate different nerves from those which carry pain signals. They stimulate other nerves which send a more important message to the brain; this is how they block pain. Sometimes animals may react to the needles as though they are expecting pain, but then relax because it does not happen. Most of the time they accept the fine needles very well and often become sleepy during treatment. In fact in many cases they are happy to come back for the next session.
Will my pet need to be sedated for this treatment?
It is uncommon for animals to need to be sedated. This would only happen if they were in so much pain that any touch or stimulus was unbearably painful. Dogs, cats and rabbits often accept acupuncture treatment very well.
How often will my pet be treated?
The usual course is once a week for 4 weeks, after 4 weeks we will know whether acupuncture is working for your pet. Then, depending on how they have responded, we will either stop treatment or work out a plan for gradually stopping treatment so that the positive effect is maintained for as long as possible.
Is veterinary acupuncture safe?
Veterinary acupuncture is very safe, in the right hands. Legally it must be performed by a veterinary surgeon and there have been no official reports of problems in animals. There are a very few cases in which we would have to be cautious about using acupuncture, but we will tell you about these.
There have been some problems in human acupuncture but these can usually be avoided with care and a good knowledge of anatomy.
Which conditions are treated with acupuncture?
Treating pain is the most common reason for using acupuncture. Often this is pain associated with arthritis, muscle strains, pain secondary to disc disease and bony changes of the spine. Other kinds of pain may also respond. Functional conditions such as bladder problems and constipation in cats and irritable bowel type problems in dogs may also respond.
What can I expect during treatment?
After examination, needles will be put into various parts of the body and moved or stimulated a few times. There is not a set “dose” of acupuncture as there is for medication, so we will judge how much to do based on your pet’s response both at the time and after the treatment. They may become sleepy and relaxed during the treatment.
And after the treatment?
It is not uncommon for pets to go home and sleep very soundly for a long time. This is a good sign and shows that your pet will probably respond well to acupuncture. But do not worry if they are not sleepy as this does not mean that they will not respond. Sometimes your pet may seem more energetic than usual; this is also a good sign, but try to keep them quiet for the rest of the day or they may overdo things. Otherwise treat your pet normally after acupuncture. Do not change exercise, diet or medication unless we say to do so.
Over the next few days your pet may show one of three responses to treatment.
1.They may seem a little stiffer or less comfortable. This shows that they should respond but means that the starting dose was a bit too much . After a day or two they will improve again and ought to be better than before we started treatment. However, you must tell us if they seemed uncomfortable so that we can adjust the treatment next time.
2.They may show no change. This is disappointing but does not mean your pet will not respond; it may just be that they will take a little longer. We cannot definitely say that they will not respond until after the fourth treatment. Not all animals or humans are acupuncture “responders”, but about 80% are.
3.They may show an improvement. The symptoms that we are trying to treat may then return before the next treatment, but this is not unusual. After each subsequent treatment the effects should last for longer, so that your pet may eventually not need any more treatments for some time.