Acupuncture is one of the oldest and best-known treatment modalities. Acupuncture is the insertion of small, sterile, stainless steel needles into a patient at precise locations and depths, on various “points” of the body. It affects all major physiological systems and works primarily through the central nervous system. Acupuncture does more than just relieve pain. It increases circulation, releases neurotransmitters and neurohormones (including endorphins), relaxes muscle spasms and stimulates nerves and immune system.

According to Chinese philosophy a body’s health depends on the body’s life energy also called Qi. Qi flows through the body in an interconnected system of channels. If the flow of Qi is smooth, body and mind are optimally nourished and healthy. Stress, poor nutrition, emotional imbalance, trauma, overwork, weather and environmental conditions, genetic factors or disease pathogens can disturb the harmonious flow of Qi and cause disease.

Acupuncture has its roots in veterinary practice going back well over 3000 years, mostly in livestock and large animal care. In modern small animal practice, acupuncture can be used alone, as a primary modality for treating a variety of veterinary medical conditions. But it is also often used in combination with other holistic and traditional treatment modalities and also as an effective preventive measure.

All animals can benefit from acupuncture.


The physiological mechanism of acupuncture is not fully understood, but basically, acupuncture represents a form of local irritation, which leads to microtrauma of the tissues. What follows is a complex, yet integrated series of reactions that lead to stimulation of the nervous system.
These changes ultimately lead to altered blood flow, altered biochemical responses and effects within the immune system.


Acupuncture is effective for many of the conditions that we come across:
*Musculoskeletal disorders – arthritis, IVDD, hip dysplasia, back pain, tendon injuries, etc.
*Gastrointestinal disorders – diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, reflux, nausea, decreased appetite,
*IBD, rectal prolapse, stomatitis, etc
*Skin disorders – allergies, wound healing, granulomas, hot spots, coat quality, etc.
*Neurologic disorders – seizures, nerve dysfunction/damage, paralysis, etc.
*Respiratory disorders – inflammatory airway disease, asthma, collapsing trachea, etc.
*Ocular disorders – KCS, uveitis, glaucoma, corneal ulcers, allergic eyes, weepy eyes, etc.
*Reproductive disorders – dystocia, retained placenta, breeding problems, vaginal prolapse, urogenital disease, poor milk production, mastitis, etc.
*Post operative healing & pain support
*Geriatric support
*Many other diseases respond well to the addition of acupuncture to our western approach – diabetes, hyper/hypothyroidism, Cushing’s/Addison’s disease, cardiac disease, immune mediated diseases…even cancer treatment can be augmented with cautious use of acupuncture.

The insertion of acupuncture needles is almost painless. Because the needles used in small animal acupuncture are tiny, treatment is well tolerated by most animals. Many animals even fall asleep during a treatment session.
Acupuncture is quite safe, side effects and complications are rare.
The length of each treatment and the number of treatments necessary will depend on each animal, the disease being treated, and the response to each treatment. Most treatments take about 20 minutes.
Most treatments will consist of just “dry needling” (the quantity of needles used will vary based on practitioner and condition), but some will include aquapuncture (injection of a therapeutic drug at the site of the point, usually Vitamin B12), some will include electroacupuncture (electrical stimulation of the needles in the points), Laser Acupuncture (stimulation of the points with a laser – either Class II or Class IV) and some will include moxibustion (heat applied to the needles in the points).
Acute and severe cases may need daily or weekly treatment for several weeks. When patients become stable, they are tapered down to the most infrequent, yet still effective treatment protocol.
Often we will combine Acupuncture with Chinese Herbs and food therapy according to Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).
There are many ways to approach the TVCM evaluation and diagnosis of our patients. After a full western examination, we begin with a thorough history, which is both similar and different from the history we take in our western approach. These are some of the questions I might ask:
How is your pet’s appetite?
How is your pet’s stool?
Is there gas or vomiting?
Does your pet cough?
Is your pet thirsty?
If so, does he drink a large volume at once, or take small sips?
How is your pet’s energy?
Does your pet prefer warm or cool?
Does your pet have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
What is your pet’s overall emotional state and personality type?
If there are clinical signs, what time of day or night do they occur?

The physical exam consists of tongue and pulse evaluation. We also look at coat & pads, trigger points and evaluate any lesions present.

“Personality type”: In TCVM, animals have certain characteristics which can be explained by their elemental constitution. The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. This is the basis for the Five Element approach.
Wood animals are leaders. They are the alpha dogs. They want to be in control and to be around other animals. They are pushy and may need to be muzzled. They are often represented by the aggressive, barking dog. Terriers are typical of the Wood type.
Fire animals are exuberant. They are also leader types. They are bouncy, joyful and never run out of energy. They are happy when people are around and tend to be anxious when left alone. Companion dog breeds are typical of the Fire type.
Earth animals are laid back and easy going. They need constant companionship and seek to please. They worry too much about pleasing others. Labs are typical of the Earth type.
Metal animals are aloof loners. They are introverted, yet competent when called on to perform. They adhere to rules & patterns. They are upset by changes in routine. Many cats are typical of the Metal type, as are Herding dogs.
Water animals are unusual. They are fearful and hide around strangers. Or, they are somewhat inactive, with much potential, but little action. “Scaredy cats” are typical of the Water type, as are some of the giant breed dogs.
The Five Elements are directly related to the Chinese Organ & Meridian theory, as well as the Circadian Clock theory.
*Wood belongs to Liver & Gall Bladder
*Fire belongs to Heart & Small Intestine, as well as Pericardium & Triple Heater
*Earth belongs to Spleen & Stomach
*Metal belongs to Lung & Large Intestine
*Water belongs to Kidney & Bladder

Each pairing has its energy and activity peak at a certain time of the day or night, on the Circadian Clock. Each organ has a Meridian which travels in a specific place on cats, dogs, horses, humans, etc. Qi (the body’s energy) flows along these meridians.
The history can divulge a lot of information about which organ/organs are affected in a patient, based on clinical signs, time of day/night of clinical signs, personality type of animal, etc. This is fleshed out and further pinpointed by the TCVM physical exam.
Once the organ system & pathology is determined, the Eight Principle theory can be applied. Is it a Yin problem or a Yang problem? Is it an Interior problem or an Exterior problem (the location of the disease)? Is it a Deficiency or an Excess (the strength of the pathogen)? Is it Cold or Hot (the nature of the pathogen)? Based on this, combinations of acupuncture points can be chosen, and a treatment plan can be developed.

Well, that is a brief & ever so simple introduction to TCVM, a very complex & complicated approach to medicine. We look forward to introducing you and our patients to the practice of this wonderful medicine.