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Acupuncture and my pet

What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Acupuncture is a form of treatment that has been used in different forms and in different cultures for hundreds, even thousands of years, and is currently used alongside standard medical practice in people and in animals. The principles of acupuncture involve using fine, sterile needles placed in various parts of the body to affect amongst other things the way the body feels and controls pain, the blood supply to the area where the needles are placed, the healing of wounds and immune system function by modulating the messages the nervous system sends around the body.

Different practitioners of acupuncture use different techniques to achieve results in their patients. Acupuncture in animals in this country can only be legally carried out by a veterinary surgeon, and at ARC, vet Rhona Warnock, who is a member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture (ABVA) uses a Western Scientific Approach to treat patients who would benefit from this therapy. Orthodox medical methods are used to establish a diagnosis, and if appropriate, acupuncture is used alongside conventional medicines and surgery to give a complete portfolio of methods available to treat many different conditions. Patients can continue to take other medicines where necessary as the different aspects of their medical care work together.

Could acupuncture help my pet?

One of the most effective uses of acupuncture is in treating pain. Some patients with myofascial problems (where there is a type of injury to the muscles and connective tissues of the body) can be cured with acupuncture needling. Other pets with acute or chronic painful conditions can have their pain relieved and cope with it better. Painful conditions for which acupuncture should be considered include arthritis, back and neck problems, pain from tumours and stiffness form old or new injuries. Acupuncture can also be used for some other problems such as certain skin diseases and stress-related problems. If you are not certain whether your pet’s condition might be suitable for acupuncture therapy, ask your vet or feel free to give us a ring!

Is acupuncture safe?

When carried out by a trained veterinary surgeon, yes! It is quite easy to see that needles cannot be put in animal just anywhere, and the vet uses their extensive training and familiarity with your pet’s anatomy to make sure there is no risk of damage to vital organs, blood vessels or nerves. At the Animal Rehabilitation Centre, we use only high-quality sterile disposable needles and take great care to keep you and your pet safe.

There are a few situations where there is slightly more risk to your pet, and in these cases the decision to use acupuncture will be carefully considered. Possible contra-indications include treatment of pets which have bleeding disorders (where the blood does not clot properly), immunosuppression (where other factors may prevent the immune system from working normally) and skin diseases where there is infection. The vet may also advise a bath first if your pet has managed to get very dirty!

What will happen when my pet is treated?

If your pet is coming to ARC to have acupuncture treatment, his or her first appointment is likely to take 45 minutes or more while Rhona discusses all of your pet’s medical history with you and gathers a lot of information about the current problem and how it is affecting him/her. She will need to palpate (feel the shape and texture) of your pet’s muscles and joints in and around the affected area(s) and locate any tender places. Once your pet has been examined in this way to find appropriate places, the vet will put in several small flexible needles. The exact number will vary depending on the type of condition, and often Rhona will choose to use slightly fewer needles on a pet’s first visit and assess their individual response before progressing from this point. Most people are more nervous than their pets about needling on the first occasion, but actually this is usually quick, straightforward and causes very little reaction from the patient!

The needles may be left in for between 5 and 20 minutes for some patients, and even manipulated a little if a specific response is needed in a particular patient or specific area. Areas called ‘Trigger Points’ or ‘Ah-Shi’ points where there is a ‘knot’ in the muscle might even be stimulated briefly but quite intensively, and Rhona will of course tell you what is happening and answer any questions you have. The patient may well be free to move around while the needles are in place and appear not bothered at all. Occasionally, one may be dislodged, which is not a problem, and Rhona will take whatever action is appropriate to replace it with a new one if necessary and to safely dispose of the used one. There will be no need for you even to watch if you prefer not to; we quite understand that many people find needles an uncomfortable subject.

A reasonable number of pets become quite relaxed and even a little sleepy or sedate after their first few treatments, which is quite pleasant for them, but it does mean that dogs should not be expected to walk home from the clinic afterwards, and that transporting horses for treatment is unlikely to be a good option. A response like this is often a sign of a good response to the treatment, but you should not worry that nothing is happening if your pet stays alert. There can sometimes be a very little spot of blood after a needle, which is not at all serious, and easily stopped. The sensation of the needle going in is an unusual one, which may make your pet react slightly at least to start with, but is very short-lived. Acupuncture needles are not hollow like injection needles, so they are much thinner and very bendy; it does not feel the same as having an injection squirted into the tissue. Pain is not expected, and if a needle appears sore it will be removed right away. One thing that is quite important is that some patients, especially if they have had a painful condition such as for example arthritis for a long time may actually feel a bit more stiff and achy in the first few days before going on to settle down well. In general, where conditions are longer standing, effects may take longer to show and need ‘topping-up’ more often. It is usual for a patient to need between 4 and 6 sessions to see the full benefit, although you may see some signs of improvement before this. Just like in human medicine, there are unfortunately some patients who do not respond strongly to this type of treatment, and it is not currently possible to predict in advance which pets these are. If acupuncture treatment is not giving the best results for your pet, Rhona will discuss with what else may be done: in this day and age there are a growing number of ways of managing pain in particular and new treatments are being developed all the time.

How do I book an appointment for my pet?

All treatment is by veterinary referral to ensure complete communication between the professionals who treat your pet, so that his or her safety is paramount. Ask your vet to contact us by faxing a completed referral form (available to download here), or by telephoning the centre on 01484 450022. We are always delighted to discuss individual cases or specific concerns in person in advance, or provide printed literature if preferred. Your own vet will receive regular correspondence regarding your pet’s treatment, and will remain solely in charge of all other aspects of your pet’s care, including supply of any medicines, vaccinations and food your pet requires.

We will contact you within one working day of receiving referral information from your veterinary practice to arrange a convenient appointment for your pet.

When carried out by a trained veterinary surgeon after an appropriate veterinary diagnosis, acupuncture is usually covered by pet health insurance. We do not make a charge for completing pet insurance paperwork, accept direct claims from many companies, and are happy to submit pre-authorisation forms should an insurance company request one.