This ancient Chinese technique is based on the theory that the body contains channels, known as meridians, through which energy flows. As long as the channels remain open, the body is healthy. If they become blocked, the flow of energy becomes unbalanced, causing illness. To correct the imbalance, an acupuncturist stimulates certain acupuncture points (acupoints) on the body. Each acupoint is associated with different internal organs, joints, and regions of the body.
Laser acupuncture is painless and takes less time than traditional acupuncture, although its effects may not be as long-lasting. It's often used to treat spondylosis (spinal arthritis) in dogs and to speed wound healing after injury or surgery.
Acupuncture points are richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels, which is perhaps why stimulating them is so effective. Needles are traditionally used to stimulate these points, but modern veterinary acupuncturists may also use lasers, finger pressure (acupressure), injections of liquid solutions like drugs or vitamins, heat (moxibustion), or even surgical implantation of gold or stainless steel beads at pressure points. Acupuncture is believed to improve the normal flow of blood, energy, and nutrients by releasing constrictions of muscles and the surrounding tissue.
Conditions That Respond to Acupuncture
Acupuncture is perhaps best known for treating musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis or mild cases of hip dysplasia, but practitioners have used it to soothe a number of other conditions. These include hormonal disorders, neurological problems such as anxiety or epilepsy, allergies, digestive problems, and skin disease. In conjunction with pain-relief medications, acupuncture helps speed recovery after surgery.
What to Expect
If you decide to take your dog to a veterinary acupuncturist, expect the first visit to take thirty minutes to an hour. As with traditional medicine, the first goal is to determine the source of the problem. The veterinarian will need to take a full medical history and examine your dog. Once he knows what the problem is, he can discuss treatment options with you before performing the acupuncture itself.
How does the veterinarian know where the acupoints are?
Dogs and humans have similar skeletal structures and organ placement, so canine acupressurists determine their procedures and positions based on those used for people.
The actual acupuncture is done by inserting thin, flexible needles at the appropriate acupoints. If a dog has a painful shoulder joint, the acupuncturist might stimulate acupuncture points that pass through the shoulder joint as well as points that affect joints in general. For an organ problem, the practitioner might stimulate points that are connected to that organ as well as points that influence infection or inflammation.
Acupuncture needles may be a half-inch to two and a half inches long and are left in place for fifteen to thirty minutes. Depending on the problem, the veterinarian may recommend a series of four to eight weekly treatments. After that, your dog may need only an occasional tune-up. Expect each treatment to cost $40 to $60 or more, depending on where you live.
Doesn't It Hurt?
Certainly your dog will feel some kind of sensation when acupuncture needles are placed. That sensation may or may not be painful, but it can be startling the first time it happens. An acupuncturist would suggest that the discomfort is related to the amount of blockage in the area. Most dogs, once they've been through an acupuncture treatment or two, relax for the treatment because they've learned that they feel better afterward. When a dog simply won't have anything to do with acupuncture, the veterinarian may substitute laser acupuncture or acupressure.