Acupuncture for Your Pets

By Pacific College - May 1, 2014

By Michelle Fletcher, B.A.

New waves of veterinary medicine

Lately, veterinary acupuncture has received a great deal of attention in the medical community. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a 3,000-year-old practice has skirted the edges of mainstream in Western culture for the past 50 years. A system of medicine based on Taoist principles and texts, it views health as a state in which the mind, body, and spirit are in harmony, and there is a perfect balance of yin and yang energy. Disease is due to an imbalance of energy, blockage of energy flow, and the influence of internal or external ‘perverse energies’, which are described according to the climatic conditions that they resemble (eg. wind, heat, and damp).

Acupuncture, a technique of traditional Chinese medicine in which a number of very fine metal needles are inserted into the skin at specially designated points in order to relieve pain and other ailments, is now being applied to veterinary medicine. “Presently, acupuncture is being integrated as a valid therapeutic modality in equine, bovine, exotics, and small animal medicine as a complementary treatment to Western veterinary medicine, ” said Helaine Haltrecht, DVM, in an article printed in the Canadian Veterinary Journal.

“It is generally accepted that acupuncture has been used in animals for as long as it has been practiced in humans and that its origins and course of development closely parallel that of human acupuncture, ” said Samantha Scott in a lecture at Glasgow University Veterinary School. “Point and meridian charts are available for the veterinary species, but there is controversy about point location and the concept of meridians in animals, even from a traditional standpoint.”

Clinical applications of veterinary acupuncture have been largely borrowed from the practice of human acupuncture, and treatment responses closely parallel those of humans. “Treatments usually last from ten to twenty minutes and are carried out on a weekly or twice weekly basis for the first four to six weeks, during which time it is expected that a response to therapy will occur. Sedation is rarely needed to facilitate treatment. ”

Haltrecht, a practicing veterinarian, integrates holistic approaches into her treatments. “When making a holistic diagnosis, a veterinarian will take into consideration all aspects of the patient, including his personality, behavioral traits, the environment that the animal lives in, the time of year and or day that the problem is taking place, and how other problems that the animal is having may be impacting the presenting complaint. Then, if one is an acupuncturist, a Chinese medical diagnosis will be made, along with a western medical diagnosis. The Chinese medical diagnosis is based on the idea of an imbalance in the body that allows an illness to manifest. The goal of treatment will be to restore balance, so that healing can take place. ”

“The holistic approach means doing what is best for the total health and welfare of the pet and if that includes conventional methods that should be done also,” according to Veterinary Acupuncture in Stewartsville, New Jersey. “TCM uses acupuncture and herbs along with some other techniques to correct imbalances in the body and allow a patient to heal.”

As an alternative to traditional Western therapies and treatments for illnesses, disorders, pain, and a host of other problems, veterinarians across the United States and the world are integrating acupuncture into their practice. “Acupuncture is often used to treat chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, herniated discs, back pain, and soft tissue trauma. It can also be used, along with herbal remedies, to treat many types of chronic illnesses, such as colitis, skin problems, asthma, kidney or liver disease, and can be used as a palliative therapy in cancer cases. Acupuncture has been well recognized as a method to reduce side effects from chemotherapy, and is known to boost the immune system to help fight off tumors. Acupuncture is known to work, through the effects of nerve stimulation, which creates the release of endorphins, which are our body’s natural painkillers. Another way that acupuncture is considered to work is through dilating blood vessels, which bring nutrition to the affected area that one is trying to treat. ”

Veterinary schools across the world are beginning to include acupuncture in their undergraduate curriculum at large veterinary schools. Veterinary education is changing rapidly and the interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine is encouraging this prospect. Veterinarians and pet owners alike urge such advancements so more animals have access to veterinarians with a greater potential to relieve pain and improve welfare.
“Clients are asking for it every day, ” said Kevin Haussler, a lecturer with the department of biomedical sciences at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Ithaca, N.Y. “They are the number one reason why any of us are doing alternative therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic, because they want something more than just drugs or surgery.”

“Within the greater veterinary medical community, I would say that acupuncture is very well accepted,” says Haussler. “Because we’re always looking for the next thing that is going to make animals feel better and reduce pain.”


Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Crystal Reference Encyclopedia. Crystal Reference Systems Limited.

Haltrecht, Helaine. “Veterinary Acupuncture.” Can Vet J. 1995 October; 36(10): 646.

Scott, Samantha. “Developments in Veterinary Acupuncture.” Acupuncture in Medicine. 2001;19(1):27-31.

Scott, 28.

Haltrecht 1.

Markey, Sean. “Animal Acupuncture: More Pets Get the Point.” National Geographic. 2002 Nov 22.

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