More and more pet parents are exploring the benefits of acupuncture for dogs to see if their furry friend might benefit from this form of ancient medicine. But does acupuncture actually work on dogs, and if so, what conditions can it treat?
In today's post, we'll dive into those questions and describe the common technigues veterinary acupuncturists use during treatment. We'll also go over what you can expect before and after a dog acupuncture appointment, as well as how to find a certified specialist in your area.
Click on a link below to jump straight to the information you’re looking for, or read end-to-end to ensure you don’t miss any key details.
Table of Contents
- What is veterinary acupuncture?
- What are the benefits of acupuncture for dogs?
- How does acupuncture work on dogs?
- What can you treat with dog acupuncture?
- Is animal acupuncture safe?
- How much is acupuncture for a dog?
- Does acupuncture for dogs really work?
- How to find acupuncture for dogs near me?
- Key Takeaways
What is veterinary acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used in Eastern cultures for over 5,000 years. The practice focuses on promoting healing and restoring the energy balance in the body for both physiological and psychological benefits. It can be used as a form of preventive medicine or as an ongoing treatment to manage chronic conditions.
Today, the ancient technique is used on animals in conjunction with Western treatment methods, offering a form of holistic pet care that integrates with veterinary medicine.
What is holistic pet care?
Simply put, viewing pet health from a holistic perspective means taking the whole body into account and considering all possible treatment options instead of just treating symptoms.
Holistic veterinarians look to strengthen and protect the mind and body at the same time. They also blend traditional healthcare methods and medicines with alternative options such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic treatment, massage therapy, sound therapy, and nutrition.
What are the benefits of acupuncture for dogs?
One of the greatest benefits of acupuncture for dogs is the relief of pain. It’s non-invasive with no side effects, which makes it a great choice for owners who are looking to minimize their dogs' discomfort. It’s also a great choice for dogs with comorbidities (or the presence of two diseases simultaneously) who cannot tolerate non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
In addition to pain relief, veterinary acupuncture may benefit dogs by:
- Increasing blood flow
- Relaxing muscles
- Accelerating healing
- Alleviating pain
- Facilitating removal of waste
- Reducing inflammation
- Stimulating appetite
- Improving nausea
- Calming nerves
How does animal acupuncture work?
Veterinary acupuncture involves the gentle insertion of extremely thin needles (about the width of a hair) into specific pressure points on an animal’s body to achieve corresponding benefits.
Do dogs have pressure points?
Just like humans, dogs have pressure points located where blood vessels and nerves converge in the canine’s body. Meridians are considered invisible strings that connect different points and act as channels through which energy flows. The inserted acupuncture needle is said to guide vital energy (sometimes called "chi") along these planes or fields to promote optimal well-being in the body and mind.
Dogs have over 170 pressure points all over the body. Here’s a look at five of the most popular ones you can target with acupressure at home, illustrated in the image below:
- GV-20 is located in the midline of the top of the head. It is used to treat sleep issues, psychological disturbances, shock, and seizures.
- GV-26 is located where the upper lip meets the nose. Stimulating this point can help calm your dog but it is also a key point for emergency resuscitation in response to seizure or collapse.
- GV-4 is located on the midline of the back. Applying pressure to this area promotes relaxation, helps manage pain in the back area, supports the kidneys, and brings energy.
- LI-11 is located on the outside of the upper part of the front leg. Stimulating the LI-11 point can help with digestive problems, allergies, arthritic pain, and infections.
- ST-36 is located on the outside rear leg, just above the knee joint. Applying pressure to this point increases blood circulation and oxygen supply to organs and tissues. It’s also good for muscle problems, as well as for lower back and hind limb issues.
What's the difference between dog acupuncture vs. acupressure?
Acupressure is a technique similar to acupuncture, but involves the application of pressure to acupuncture points using the practitioner's fingertips, rather than needles. Both techniques can be equally effective, but acupressure is less invasive and is preferred for locations that are difficult to reach with needles, or for pets that might not tolerate them.
Veterinary acupuncture techniques
There are several different acupuncture techniques to practice on dogs, depending on your pet and the condition being treated:
- Dry needle acupuncture is the most common method using fine needles inserted into the dog’s acupuncture points. With traditional treatment, the needles usually stay in for about 20 minutes.
- Electroacupuncture for dogs gently stimulates the acupuncture points by sending an electrical current through needles inserted beneath the canine's skin.
- Aquapuncture for dogs involves an injection of vitamin B12 or sterile saline into the animal’s acupuncture points to strengthen the treatment and lengthen its effects. It can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional dry needles.
What can you treat with acupuncture for dogs?
Acupuncture may prove to be beneficial for pets with many different medical conditions, including:
- Degenerative joint disease (arthritis)
- Musculoskeletal issues (hip dysplasia)
- Respiratory problems (asthma)
- Superficial nerve damage (hot spots)
- Gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea)
- Symptoms associated with endocrine disorders (Addison's disease, Cushing's disease)
- Metabolic diseases (diabetes, pancreatitis, kidney failure)
- Side effects of cancer treatment (nausea, lack of appetite)
- Skin issues (dermatitis)
Additional services offered by vet acupuncturists
- Acupuncture for dogs with back problems and dogs with IVDD. A 2007 report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association demonstrated that electroacupuncture combined with steroids helped dogs with IVDD recover more quickly than treatments that used only steroids.
- Acupuncture for laryngeal paralysis in dogs. Acupuncture can help slow down nerve degeneration, reactivate the nerves of the larynx, and restore normal function.
- Acupuncture for dog allergies. For dogs with seasonal or food allergies, acupuncture can help alleviate skin irritations and body pain after the allergen has been removed from the pet's environment.
- Acupuncture for dog anxiety. Acupuncture and behavior modification techniques may help treat mild anxiety cases where medications are not indicated or reduce the number of medications needed to control anxiety in more severe cases.
- Acupuncture for senior dogs. While acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of health conditions in dogs of all ages, some of the most common applications for senior pets are related to nerve and organ issues, arthritis, loss of appetite, immune-mediated disease, skin problems, chronic ear infections, behavioral issues, post-operative healing, and even cancer.
Is animal acupuncture safe?
Yes. When administered by a properly trained veterinarian, acupuncture is one of the safest forms of treatment for animals. Adverse reactions are rare, but they can occur. Such reactions can include:
- Mild swelling or bruising at the needle site
- Mild worsening of the condition for 24 to 48 hours
- Muscle spasms that make it difficult to remove the needles
- Infection at the needle insertion site
- Injury to an underlying organ or tissue
Acupuncture should be used with caution if the animal has a clotting disorder, is taking certain medications, or is pregnant.
Does dog acupuncture require sedation?
No, veterinary acupuncture doesn’t require sedation. This, along with the fact that it is less invasive, makes it especially useful for dogs who have medical conditions that prohibit conventional invasive procedures.
How much is acupuncture for a dog?
Dog acupuncture costs typically range from $25 to $300 per session. The price will depend on multiple factors, including:
- The dog’s temperament
- The condition being treated
- The equipment used
- The practitioner’s experience
- The patient’s response
The average dog will need about eight acupuncture sessions, and each session can generally last anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour.
Will pet insurance cover dog acupuncture costs?
Some pet insurance companies — including Embrace, Nationwide, and Spot — incldue alternative treatments like acupuncture within their standard policy coverage or supplemental wellness plans. This allows you to offset costs by getting reimbursed for up to 100% of expenses paid out-of-pocket.
Does acupuncture for dogs really work?
Yes, the American Veterinary Medical Association considers veterinary acupuncture a valid modality within the practice of veterinary medicine and surgery.
VCA reports about “¼ of patients show major improvement, ½ show significant improvement but still have some symptoms, and ¼ show little or no benefit.”
However, IVAS notes that in order for the treatment to be effective, acupuncture “should be practiced only by doctors with extensive training and should never be administered without a proper veterinary medical diagnosis and an ongoing assessment of the patient’s condition by a licensed veterinarian.”
How long does it take for conditions to improve?
The result of acupuncture treatment will depend on several factors, including the condition being treated, the practitioner’s skill, as well as the number and frequency of acupuncture sessions. In general, the response is better if acupuncture is started earlier in the course of the disease and if the animal gets a greater number of treatments.
Acupuncture can be effectively combined with most traditional and alternative treatments but should always be applied by a certified veterinary acupuncturist who has the necessary knowledge and training to understand and combine different forms of therapy and interpret the animal’s response to the treatment.
How to find acupuncture for dogs near me?
Several thousand veterinarians in the U.S. are certified to perform acupuncture. When finding one for your pet, be sure the practitioner is a licensed veterinarian, meaning they are trained and qualified to perform conventional veterinary medicine.
If you already have a primary care veterinarian, but they aren't certified in dog acupuncture, they might be able to recommend a specialist in the area.
Otherwise, you can search for "vets near me" using Pawlicy Advisor's online directory.
Pro Tip: Pawlicy Advisor's directory allows you to find the location of veterinary practices by city, state, or zip code. You can filter your search for a wide range of services, whether you need a neighborhood dog groomer or local pet boarding.
For more information about veterinary acupuncture and how it may be able to help your specific pet, consult your veterinarian. Or, visit the resources below to learn more:
- International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, www.ivas.org
- American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, www.aava.org
- Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, www.csuvets.colostate.edu/pain/CCIPM.htm
- American Medical Veterinary Association, www.avma.org
- Acupuncture has been used for centuries in Eastern cultures to restore the energy balance in the body and promote healing. An increasing number of vets are adding this alternative treatment method to their therapeutic toolbox, combining it with traditional medical therapy.
- Acupuncture might benefit pets with many different medical conditions, including musculoskeletal problems, traumatic injuries, post-surgical pain, skin problems, and nerve conditions.
- Acupuncture must always be performed by a licensed vet trained as a certified veterinary acupuncturist.
- Acupuncture might be able to improve (not replace) traditional Western veterinary medicine. Traditional medicine should always be used first to treat infection or disease; alternative therapies can be used safely in conjunction.