Acupuncture for pets? Some vets using method to treat pain


URBANA, Ill. — Acupuncture is one of the oldest methods available to treat disease. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions including neurologic, endocrine and fertility disorders, as well as for pain management.

Recently faculty and students from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana spent 10 days learning to perform veterinary acupuncture at the China Agricultural University in Beijing, China, where they took courses on “yin-yang theory,” “five elements,” “qi, blood and body fluid,” and the acupuncture points of the horse and dog.”

What it is

Acupuncture consists of the strategic placement of needles to stimulate certain acupoints,” explains Stuart Clark-Price, who is board certified in both internal medicine and anesthesia. He has been using acupuncture for pain management in his patients for several years.

How exactly does acupuncture work?

Clark-Price says there are many theories. “The Eastern philosophy is that acupuncture can bring the body back to harmony, as the health of the body is often seen as a balancing act in Chinese culture. Western philosophy centers on manipulating the electrical current in the body — which travels in the nervous system.”

He and another faculty member at the college, Margarethe Hoenig, led the trip to Beijing in June. The 17 students that went along were enrolled at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and other veterinary schools.


Acupuncture is performed using various techniques, but most involve placing needles in the acupoints. The needles can be heated or cooled. Aqua acupuncture is a technique in which a substance is injected into the acupoints.

Hemoacupunture is an Eastern practice in which the acupoint site is bled, but this is rarely practiced in the U.S.

Other methods include acupressure and the use of a cold laser.

According to Clark-Price, acupuncture can be used on any species at any age. Dogs are his most common acupuncture patients, followed by horses and the occasional cow.

“Cats can be more difficult because they tend to want to move around more,” he says. “Acupuncture is an effective therapy for pain management in dogs with chronic pain, such as arthritis, and can be used in combination with Western medicine,” says Clark-Price.

Health issues

Conditions for which acupuncture is commonly practiced in dogs include hip dysplasia (bad hips) and intervertebral disk disease. In addition, acupuncture is used for pain management after orthopedic surgery.

Related: Pets need pain management too

Clark-Price recommends acupuncture treatments two to three times a week for a couple weeks, followed by an assessment to see whether the patient is benefitting.

“After one owner saw the major improvement in his dog from the therapy, he himself started getting acupuncture since nothing else seemed to be working,” reports Clark-Price.

“If owners are considering acupuncture for their pets, it’s important to find a veterinarian who is trained in this specialty,” Clark-Price stresses. “Most veterinarians will need training beyond veterinary school to be able perform acupuncture.”

Side effects

When done correctly, acupuncture therapy produces little to no adverse side effects, according to Clark-Price.

“Your pet’s condition or disease will not be made any worse by trying this ancient Eastern approach,” he says. “Acupuncture therapy under the supervision of a veterinarian may provide significant results without the use of pharmaceuticals.”
For more information on acupuncture, speak with a veterinarian familiar with its practice.


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