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Acupuncture for Pets – Everything you need to know

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting fine, sterile, solid needles into the body for pain relief or to help the body deal with other diseases.


How does acupuncture work?

It works through the nervous system. The needles block the pain messages and encourage the brain and central nervous system to produce more of the body’s natural painkillers. In conditions that are not painful, acupuncture may help the body’s normal functioning.


Is it pain-free?

Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves that do not cause unpleasant feelings of pain that we are trying to treat. They stimulate other nerves that send a more important message to the brain, which is how they block pain. Sometimes animals may react to this sensation as though they are expecting pain, but then relax because it does not occur. Most of the time they accept the fine needles very well and often become relaxed and sleepy during the treatment. Often they appear to look forward to the next treatment when they come back to the practice.


Would my pet need to be sedated for this treatment?

It is uncommon for animals to need to be sedated. This would only usually happen if they were so painful that any touch or stimulus causes them distress. Perhaps surprisingly, cats and rabbits often accept acupuncture treatment very well.


How often would my pet be treated?

The frequency and duration of treatments depend on the patient. A treatment plan will be developed for the individual since each animal heals at a different rate. The usual course is once a week for four to six weeks. After four weeks we will know whether acupuncture is working for your pet and then, depending on the condition and how they have responded, we will work out a plan that usually involves tailing off the treatment so that the effect is maintained for as long as possible.


Is acupuncture safe?

Yes. Acupuncture is very safe, in the right hands. Ciara Tinkler MRCVS is a member of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists and has undertaken specialised training in Veterinary Acupuncture. Legally it must be performed by a veterinary surgeon. There have been no official reports of problems in animals, but there are some in humans and these can usually be avoided with care and a good knowledge of anatomy. There are very few cases where we would have to be cautious about using acupuncture, but we can advise you of these.


What kinds of conditions are treated with acupuncture?

Pain is the most common indication for acupuncture. Usually, this means pain associated with arthritis, but also muscle strains, pain secondary to disc disease and bony changes of the spine. Other kinds of pain may also respond to treatment.

Functional conditions such as constipation in cats and irritable bowel type problems in dogs may benefit from acupuncture.


Is acupuncture suitable for horses?

Yes. Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of equine health problems. It can be very useful for pain, lameness, reproductive and hormonal regulation and gastrointestinal disturbances among others.
Most horses don’t have any objection to the needles and it is not uncommon for our patients to fall asleep halfway through the treatment!

They should be left quietly in the stable for about half an hour following treatment and then turned out in the field. If at all possible they should not do any hard work for the following 24 hours.


What can I expect during treatment?

An acupuncture appointment usually takes 20-30 minutes. After an examination, needles will be put into various parts of the body and moved or stimulated a few times. The needles may be manipulated by hand or attached to a battery-operated electroacupuncture unit to increase the intensity of the stimulation. There is not a set “dose” of acupuncture as there is for medication, so we will judge how much to do based on your pet’s condition and response both at the time and after any previous treatments. Some animals become sleepy and relaxed during treatment.


And after treatment?

It is not uncommon for pets to go home and sleep very soundly for a long time. This is a good sign and shows that your pet will probably respond well to acupuncture. But do not worry if they are not sleepy — this does not mean that they will not respond. Sometimes your pet may seem a little euphoric; this is also a good sign, but keep them quiet for the rest of the day or they may overdo things.

Otherwise, treat your pet normally after acupuncture. Do not change exercise, diet or medication unless it has been discussed with your vet.


What about the response?

Your pet may show one to three responses to treatment:

  1. They may seem a little stiffer or more uncomfortable. This just means that the dose was a bit too much, but also shows that they should respond to treatment. After a day or two, they will improve again and should be better than before. However, you must tell us so that we can adjust the treatment for next time.
  2. You may see no response. This is always disappointing but does not mean your pet will not respond; it may just be that they will take a little longer or that their improvement after the first treatment was too brief or small for you to see. We cannot say that they will not respond until after the fourth treatment. Not all animals or humans are acupuncture “responders”, but about 80% will be.
  3. You may see an improvement. This may occur anytime in the three days after treatment. The signs that we are trying to treat may then return before the next treatment, but this is fine. After each subsequent treatment, the effects should last for longer, so that your pet may eventually not need more treatments for some time.

You can find out more about the science behind acupuncture on

If you are interested in Acupuncture for your pet, please contact the practice:

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