It works for arthritis, diabetes, incontinence, more

The acupuncture treatments that millions of Americans depend on for pain relief also can help the four-legged members of your family.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture as an important option. It’s commonly used for arthritis and other painful conditions, but it also can help wound healing, bowel incontinence and diabetes. A key advantage is that it’s unlikely to cause any side effects—many pets don’t even notice when the needles are inserted.


In Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is said to restore the natural flow of energy through the body. In Western terms, this can mean improved circulation…an increase in oxygen to injured areas…higher levels of immune cells…and an increase in the body’s natural painkillers.

During treatments, hair-thin needles are inserted into areas where blood vessels and nerve bundles come together. Dogs and cats have about 365 main acupuncture points, roughly the same number that people have. Stimulating these areas with needles causes immediate changes, although most pets (and people) do best with a series of three or more treatments.

Depending on the part of the country where you live, the cost of veterinary acupuncture can range from $25 per session to more than $100.


Acupuncture can be a primary treatment for any condition that involves pain and inflammation. More often, it’s used in combination with conventional care.

The number of needles that are used and the areas where they’re inserted will vary depending on your pet’s symptoms or other health conditions. Some treatments involve only a few needles…others will require 20 or more.

Pet acupuncture can help with…


Acupuncture is one of the most powerful tools for treating joint pain caused by arthritis and hip dysplasia (an abnormal formation of the hip socket). It’s particularly helpful for older pets, which tend to suffer more ulcers and other side effects when they’re given anti-inflammatory medications.

If your pet has severe pain and stiffness, the veterinarian might use acupuncture-with-moxa (the application of a heated Chinese herbal medicine to the needle). Or he/she might recommend electrostimulation, in which the needles are supplied with a very mild electrical current. These “extras” increase the treatment’s painkilling power.

A pet with severe arthritis might need a treatment every three weeks. Pets with mild-to-moderate discomfort might be given an initial series of two to four treatments followed by maintenance treatments twice a year.


This is a dog-only condition that’s hard to treat with conventional medicine. The granulomas (areas of tissue damage) are literally caused by licking. For reasons that still aren’t clear, some dogs will persistently lick the same area. First, they will lick off the fur. With continued licking, the area will become red and inflamed. Some dogs even develop deep—and serious—open wounds.

The standard treatments alone, such as bandaging or the use of topical steroids, aren’t very effective. Acupuncture, which often is combined with these other treatments, can make a difference.

The needles typically are arranged around the wound, an approach that the Chinese call “surrounding the dragon.” The itch response usually diminishes, so the animal is less inclined to lick. And the increase in circulation to the area can shorten the healing time by anywhere from 10% to 50%.

You might notice an improvement in the area after a single treatment, but most dogs will need a series of treatments until the sore is healed.


An occasional “accident” is inevitable if you have pets. But as dogs and cats age, “occasional” can become “every day.”

A loss of bowel and/or bladder control always should be checked by a veterinarian. Your pet might need supplemental hormones or other medications that increase muscle tone and give more control. But acupuncture may be able to help without the risk for side effects.

The needles can be used to stimulate the muscles that control urination and bowel movements. They cause the muscles to contract, much like the squeeze-and-relax Kegel exercises that are recommended for people with incontinence.

The acupuncture itself doesn’t stop incontinence. It’s thought that pets that feel the acupuncture-induced contractions become aware of the muscles and relearn how to use them naturally.


Dogs and cats suffer from the same allergies that people do, but they have different symptoms. You probably won’t see your pet sneezing or wiping its eyes. You will see it scratching because the allergies usually affect the skin.

Prevention is always easier than treatment. Depending on the cause, you might need to switch foods, rigorously control fleas (a flea bite can trigger allergic dermatitis) or give your pet weekly baths to remove pollen or other irritating allergens. In the meantime, you can reduce symptoms with acupuncture.

The increase in serotonin triggered by acupuncture helps the immune system work more efficiently. Studies at the National Institutes of Health have shown that acupuncture helps regulate the balance of different types of immune cells.

Your pet might be given a series of three or four weekly treatments followed by monthly or every-other- month treatments for maintenance.


A dog or cat with diabetes might have excessive thirst, frequent urination, appetite changes, general weakness and sometimes a history of urinary tract infections—the same symptoms that affect people.

The treatments, including dietary changes and sometimes insulin and/or other medications, also are similar. Acupuncture isn’t a substitute for conventional diabetes care, but it can help regulate blood sugar.

The veterinarian will insert needles into areas that stimulate the adrenal glands. This increases the body’s production of cortisol, a hormone that affects blood sugar. Acupuncture also has been used for diabetic neuropathy, nerve pain caused by high blood sugar.

Your pet might be given weekly treatments until its blood sugar is under better control. Then the treatments might be repeated several times a year as a maintenance therapy.

It’s common for cats to have what’s known as transient diabetes. Their need for insulin comes and goes. About 20% of diabetic cats will go through periods in which they don’t require insulin. Regular acupuncture treatments can potentially extend these periods.

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