Acupuncture can be used in dogs to help treat disease and illness and also as a preventative treatment, strengthening the body's resistance to disease and enhancing energy and vitality. Dr. Lindsey Harris is an experienced veterinary acupuncturist (certified in 2005) who lectures and instructs in canine acupuncture at the Chi Institute of Chinese Veterinary Medicine, which is widely known as the leading institute training veterinarians in acupuncture.
How is acupuncture done on dogs?
Many owners do not think their dog will stay still for acupuncture; "I hope you're good at darts!" has often been said to Dr. Harris when she arrives for the first acupuncture treatment. However, the vast majority of these clients are then surprised when their dog lies calmly for the acupuncture treatment, relaxing and even falling asleep while the needles are in position!
Acupuncture on dogs is generally done with very fine, sterile metal needles, which are much, much smaller than regular hypodermic injection needles. These needles are 0.25" to 1.5" long (depending on the size of the dog) and are inserted at specific acupuncture points, depending on the dog's medical problem. The acupuncture needles affect the nervous system, causing release of pain-relieving endorphins and other neurotransmitters. These cause relaxation and often rapid relief of pain.
Acupuncture can also be performed using a laser, therefore totally avoiding use of needles. Laser acupuncture is completely pain-free and non-invasive, and is as effective as needle acupuncture. Each acupuncture point is stimulated using the laser for 2-5 seconds, so treatment can be completed much more quickly than when needles are used.
Is canine acupuncture a valid therapy?
The benefits of acupuncture are recognized by the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, and the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture as a valid therapy when performed by trained veterinarians.
We've tried everything to help our dog and it hasn't worked; is it worth trying acupuncture?
Yes, many of Dr. Harris's clients are those who have tried every possible conventional medical treatment to help their dog, without success. Although it is better if acupuncture is used earlier in the course of a disease rather than as a last resort, even these dogs often respond dramatically to veterinary acupuncture. Use of acupuncture can often help stave off the difficult decision to put a much loved dog to sleep. In several studies, elderly dogs with arthritis so bad that euthanasia was considered the only humane answer were successfully treated with acupuncture. Their quality of life increased so much (through relief of pain and increased mobility) that euthanasia was no longer an option. Although acupuncture is obviously not a miracle cure and a small percentage of dogs will not respond, it often produces dramatic results and in many cases has extended a dog's life by months if not years.
How will acupuncture affect my dog's regular medications?
Acupuncture does not interfere with the action of drugs; your dog's regular medications do not need to be stopped when you start acupuncture treatment. However, once your dog begins to respond to acupuncture, the dose of common drugs (such as anti-inflammatories for arthritis) can often be reduced due to the improvement in your dog's condition. This is very beneficial as it reduces the chance that your dog will suffer side effects from these medications. These side effects, which can include loss of appetite, nausea and damage to liver and kidneys, can even sometimes be fatal, so being able to reduce the dose of conventional medications is of great benefit. Dr. Harris can help you taper your dog's regular medications as appropriate.
How should I prepare my dog for an acupuncture house call treatment, and is there any aftercare required?
There is very little preparation required before Dr. Harris arrives to treat your dog. The only thing you need to do is make sure your dog is in a room with a calm atmosphere, away from other pets, and with their favorite bed so they can be comfortable during the treatment. In wet weather, please be sure that your dog is dry in time for your appointment. There are no aftercare requirements; just remember that your dog may be drowsy for the 24 hours following acupuncture treatment, so don't be worried if he or she doesn't want to play or exercise as much as normal during this time. There can also sometimes be a temporary deterioration in your dog's condition before a benefit is seen; for example, an arthritic dog may initially appear more stiff the day after acupuncture. Again, this shows a response and is not something to worry about.