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Can Acupuncture Help Pets with Painful Conditions?

This article describes how acupuncture treatments helped my dog and horse, each of whom had arthritis. It also describes the calming effect of acupuncture. The end of the article contains links to two acupuncture organizations, to help pet stewards find a certified veterinary acupuncture professional in their area.

Yellow Lab licking a man's face
Charlie and Dan (©D. Antolec)

Long ago we adopted Charlie, a two-year old yellow Labrador. Charlie was athletic and playful, enjoying chasing balls and Frisbees and playing tug with me. By his 10th birthday he began slowing down and we adopted Jake, an adolescent black Labrador. They bonded and played together, but Charlie slowed down again as arthritis developed in all four legs.

Our veterinarian prescribed pain medication which initially helped, but as the arthritis developed we had to keep increasing the dosage. We did not know of any other option and kept medicating him until he was 13 years and nine months old. I feel bad that the last six months of his life must have been too painful, but he hid it well.

Acupuncture for Dogs

photo (head shot) of a black Lab
Jake (©D. Antolec)

We adopted Buddha and Gandhi, both young black Labs and Jake had playful companions again. When Jake was about 11 years old, he had trouble standing up, releasing urine as he struggled. Our veterinarian discovered arthritis at two spots on the base of his spine. We worried that his days were short and did not want to repeat the mistakes we made with Charlie.

Our veterinarian recommended that we work with a colleague who practiced acupuncture for dogs. Jake was terribly stressed during veterinary visits, pacing, drooling, trembling and shedding his coat. I wondered how he would accept the acupuncture needles.

Dr. Andrea Lanphear began each of Jake’s treatments with a calming massage along his spine, and a single needle placed at the top of his skull. Jake immediately calmed down and fell asleep on the floor for the entire hour. In just a couple of hours after his treatment, Jake was romping and playing with Buddha and Gandhi in the horse paddock. Thanks to a schedule of acupuncture treatments every eight weeks, Jake enjoyed a happy and comfortable life until the age of 15 years and nine months. The average lifespan of black Labradors is 12 and one-half years and I credit acupuncture with the bonus that he enjoyed.

Equine Acupuncture

A man kissing a horse's face
Fancy and Dan (©D. Antolec)

Fancy, our American Paint horse, was a companion to Jake when we brought her into our life at 12 years of age. Now she is 30 years old and has arthritis in one knee. Our equine veterinarian prescribed a daily pain medication, which has helped. She is on the minimum dosage but may require a higher dosage as the arthritis progresses, and that poses a health risk.

Recently I learned of a veterinarian who is providing acupuncture treatments to the program horses at Three Gaits therapeutic riding center where my wife and I volunteered for many years. I reached out to Dr. Laurie Peek and a few days later Fancy received her first treatment.

As with Jake, Fancy immediately relaxed and showed increased function within an hour or so. In the days that followed she knickered when I visited the barn and came trotting across the pasture to greet me. With additional acupuncture treatments, her mobility has improved and she no longer limps, as our farrier and equine veterinarian have noted. I even watched her joyfully rolling on her back like a dog on several occasions, showing no difficulty in rising to her feet. Weighing 1,100 pounds, that is an impressive sight to behold!

The Benefits of Acupuncture

In the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat and prevent all manner of health issues. It is particularly beneficial in reducing pain.

In her Whole Dog Journal article, “Acupuncture for Dogs” Dr. Jennifer Bailey explains…

“There is ample evidence, however, that the body responds in observable ways to the stimulation of acupoints; there is a release of endorphins and endogenous opioids that can have an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect. Blood flow to the area around the acupoints increases, bringing anti-inflammatory mediators (known as cytokines) to the region. This reduces inflammation and promotes healing.”

What I observed with Jake and Fancy is the calming effect of acupuncture, especially considering Jake’s high anxiety at veterinary clinics. This makes me wonder if it could be a viable treatment for anxiety conditions in pets as well. You may ask a certified veterinary acupuncturist whether acupuncture can help with these conditions, in conjunction with behavior modification.

How to Find a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA)

You may ask your family veterinarian for a referral, and these are two additional resources:

  • International Veterinary Acupuncture Society maintains a directory of certified veterinary acupuncturists here.
  • American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture maintains a directory here.

About the Author

Dan during a training session with his canine student Jackson (a large black, white and brown dog)Daniel H. Antolec, PCT-A, CCBC-KA, CPDT-KA began teaching dogs in 2011 and founded Happy Buddha Dog Training. He teaches dogs in a way that makes it fun for pet stewards and pets alike.


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