Acupuncture: A cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, the practice of acupuncture has been performed on animals for thousands of years.
There is evidence of it being used in Ancient Egypt and India. Recently, the therapy has become much more common in the West.
What is acupuncture?
The placement of very fine sterile needles through the skin in locations on the body where they can have an effect on nerve function. The needles can go into the skin to a depth of anywhere between half a centimetre and one or two centimetres. Acupuncture is a very safe therapy and side effects are rare.
How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture stimulates certain nerve fibres that reduce the amount of pain information that's being carried back to the body. It increases the release of natural morphine-like substances in the body, and stimulates blood supply so aids in healing and acts as a pain reliever.
Each time an animal has acupuncture the effect lasts longer, as the body remembers it and builds upon it. Your Dog resident vet Roberta Baxter, who's a qualified veterinary acupuncturist, a member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists, and runs an acupuncture clinic in Norfolk, explained that she puts the needles in areas that are tight or painful. They can stay in the body for five to 20 minutes. With some dogs, the needles go in and come out straight away; others require a lot of stimulation and so the needles are twiddled to stimulate the points more.
"Some dogs are very sensitive to acupuncture, so when I first treat an animal I usually give them a short treatment without any stimulation of the needles to see how they get on," said Roberta.
"Once the needles are in the skin, the animal might feel a tingling, or maybe won't feel anything at all."
Some animals find acupuncture extremely relaxing or even mildly sedating. Sessions are normally on a weekly basis initially, before the intervals between treatment are increased as the effect becomes more long-lasting.
How does acupuncture help?
Acupuncture is often used to treat pain and relieve muscle spasms. It is particularly useful for musculoskeletal pain and conditions that cause lameness or paIn in limbs, such as arthritis, dysplasia, and ligament injuries. It can also be used in the treatment of other conditions including skin problems and bladder diseases, but some vets believe that the evidence is less compelling when it comes to how effective this is.
How can I find an acupuncturist for my dog?
Owners have to go through their vet for a referral to a veterinary acupuncturist. Dogs will only be able to undergo acupuncture if their vet agrees it might help. There should be regular communication between the vet and the acupuncturist. People might be able to claim for acupuncture sessions through pet insurance as it's a veterinary treatment.
Who can administer it?
In humans, acupuncture can be performed by people with no qualifications. However, in animals the therapy can only be done by a veterinary professional who's qualified in acupuncture. For a long time, only a vet could carry out acupuncture, but it can now be done by a veterinary nurse.
How much does it cost?
Costs for acupuncture sessions vary enormously. It can be anywhere between £35 to £70 per session.
What types are available?
There are two types of training for acupuncture: the traditional Chinese medicine approach or the Western scientific approach. Traditional Chinese acupuncture sees acupuncture needles as releasing energy that flows in meridians or channels through the body to restore health and balance.
Western scientific acupuncture sees the needles as stimulating the release of neurotransmitters in the body that have pain-relieving effects and can release muscle spasms, stimulate blood flow, and aid healing. The acupuncture points used by different practitioners may be the same, and the names of the points are all in the Chinese nomenclature.