As our animals live longer, joint pain and reduced mobility is increasingly common. Joint pain can be caused by osteoarthritis, Lyme disease, inherited problems such as hip dysplasia, or after injury. It is generally treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), but these are often not 100% effective and also cause side effects such as liver and kidney damage, which can even be fatal. Cats and horses are particularly sensitive to the side effects of these drugs. Fortunately, a holistic approach utilizing acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and rehabilitation techniques can be used to relieve pain and improve mobility safely and without side effects.

In dogs, arthritis generally arises from prior orthopedic issues, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, and not the wear and tear of aging that is the major cause of arthritis in people. This means that arthritis can develop even in young dogs. Research has shown that maintenance of a healthy body weight is key to delaying development of arthritis for as long as possible. Dogs that are overweight develop arthritis earlier and require more drug treatment to manage their arthritis. For dogs that need to shed a few pounds, NYVAS uses an individualized program of rehabilitation techniques to reduce weight safely and effectively, while strengthening core muscles and improving cardiovascular fitness. But what can you do for your pet once arthritis develops?

Acupuncture for Arthritis

Many scientific studies have proved that acupuncture has genuine pain-relieving effects, through release of pain-relieving neurotransmitters in the brain. Clinical studies have also shown that acupuncture can effectively treat canine arthritis. For example, one study involved 65 dogs with arthritis so severe that despite conventional medical treatment, they were in so much pain that euthanasia was considered the only option. After acupuncture treatment, there was reduced pain and improved mobility of greater than 50% in 70% of these dogs, so much so that euthanasia was no longer an ethical option. This shows just how effective acupuncture can be for treatment of arthritis.

The vast majority of patients find acupuncture a relaxing experience. Although there may be an initial 'pinch' as the needle is inserted, there is no further pain and many animals even fall asleep due to the relaxing and pain-relieving endorphins that are released by acupuncture treatment.

Dogs, cats and horses with arthritis generally require weekly acupuncture treatment for 6-8 weeks as an initial course of treatment. The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, so an effect may not be seen until the patient has received 2-3 treatments. However, most patients then experience a reduction in pain and improved mobility. Owners often notice improved alertness and interest in life and playing as their animal's pain reduces. After the initial course, the improvement can be maintained by acupuncture treatments at 1-4 month intervals, depending on the individual and their response.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Arthritis

Chinese herbal medicine acts synergistically with acupuncture to restore balance to the body, and can be thought of as "Acupuncture from the inside." From a Western point of view, herbs have been shown to relieve pain and inflammation, making them very useful in the treatment of arthritis. Most Chinese herbs can safely be used long-term and so herbs for treatment of arthritis may be given for 3-6 months or longer to maintain the animal's condition.

Rehabilitation for Arthritis

While acupuncture, herbal medicine and drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can help relieve pain pain, rehabilitation techniques can help preserve and improve mobility, strengthen core and limb muscles, achieve or maintain a healthy weight and improve cardiovascular fitness.

Rehabilitation for arthritic dogs primarily involves specific therapeutic exercises to improve muscle strength, balance and fitness, together with techniques such as therapeutic ultrasound and/or laser therapy to reduce pain and inflammation. Integrating exercise with acupuncture, herbal medicines and if necessary, conventional medications, can help improve and prolong quality of life.

Tui-na for Arthritis

Tui-na is a form of Chinese medical massage, which uses similar techniques to Western massage and chiropractic applied along the acupuncture channels and at acupuncture points to help rebalance the body. Tui-na can be very beneficial for painful musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis. Dr. Harris can teach you a simple Tui-na routine to be done daily in between acupuncture treatments to help relieve pain and improve joint mobility. Most animals really enjoy the massage and attention and it allows you to take an active role in your pet's healthcare.

Food Therapy for Arthritis

In Chinese medicine, diet is an integral part of health. Nutrition is an extremely important part of healing. Different foods of have different properties in Chinese medicine and so specific foods are prescribed according to your pet's specific Chinese medical diagnosis. Whether you'd like to cook a complete diet for your pet or simply chose a commercial food based on the foods recommended, food therapy can be integrated into your pet's treatment.

Our Approach to Arthritis

Development of a successful treatment plan for arthritis depends on thorough examination of your dog's joints and assessment of his or her lifestyle.

First, we will observe your dog at the walk, trot and standing, and take photos/video for future reference and to help in assessment of improvement. Through measurement of joint angles and muscle circumferences, together with gentle palpation, we can determine precisely which joints are affected by arthritis and the severity. We assess the body condition of your dog (would it help to lose a few pounds?) and whether or not he or she has other medical conditions. We will discuss how your dog is doing with his or her daily activities - are they having trouble with stairs or no longer keen to go on walks?

Your dog's activity level and your goals for him or her are also important; would you like your dog to be able to take part in sports such as nosework, or is he or she a therapy dog?

We will then develop an individualized plan for your dog, involving a combination of the following therapies.

Measurement of joint angles in a patient with mobility problems

Top 10 Benefits of Rehabilitation for Arthritis

1. Preservation or improvement of mobility
2. Maintenance or improvement of muscle strength
3. Maintenance or improvement of balance
4. Maintenance of a healthy body weight: lifetime studies show that obese animals develop arthritis sooner and more severely
5. Reduced pain and inflammation through laser therapy that does not have negative side effects
6. Improved cardiovascular fitness benefits whole body health
7. Mental stimulation: using the brain keeps it sharp
8. Improved quality of life: endorphins produced by exercise are 'feel-good factor'
9. Exercise in a safe, controlled environment even when the weather is too bad to walk outside
10. FUN! Dogs generally love the positive interaction and cookies!


New York Veterinary Acupuncture Service provides acupuncture, herbal medicine, Tui-na and Chinese food therapy on either a house call basis or at several area clinics. House calls are offered in New York's Orange County (Newburgh, Middletown, Beacon, Warwick, Goshen, Washingtonville, Florida, Chester, Monroe, Harriman, Tuxedo and surrounding areas). Thursday house calls are available in Manhattan. Fees vary by location; for more information, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Office visits are available as follows:

High Point K9 Center
2224 Mt. Hope Rd., Middletown, NY
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for appointments

Compassion Veterinary Health Center
235 South Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
Contact CVHC on 845-473-0358 for appointments

Contact NYVAS