What is acupuncture?

From Latin Acus – needle and punctura – puncture

Acupuncture is a unique therapeutic treatment which has been around at least since 3200 BC and became widely recognised in western cultures in the the1970s. Acupuncture is effective on animals and humans and involves the insertion of fine solid needles into specific points in the body to alleviate pain and modify disease.


How does it work?

There are two ways to understand acupuncture, which is either the Western or Eastern explanation. It has been found acupuncture points have a close connection to nerves and the vast amount of research shows acupuncture works by stimulating the central nervous system. This stimulation leads to the release of many chemicals and hormones which effect a vast number of biochemical and physiological changes in the body. As a result there are a synergistic spectrum of effects on the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems as well as psychological effects.

The traditional approach involves diagnosis based on tongue examination and palpation of peripheral pulses. Point are selected based on traditional concepts, time of day and how the points re stimulated.

The Western approach to acupuncture involves using acupuncture as part of a therapeutic regimen following an orthodox clinical diagnosis. Acupuncture points are chosen based on neurophysiological principles using local needling of classical acupuncture points, trigger points and tender spots. Segmental needling is used to enhance the effect and for treatment of visceral conditions. Acupuncture is widely used on people in the UK and USA by medics, physiotherapists, anaesthetists and rheumatologists and is recognised as a safe and useful adjunctive therapy. Only veterinary surgeons can legally administer acupuncture to an animal in the UK. This is due to the in-depth anatomical knowledge required to avoid injury and to understand the conditions being treated.

NB: Acupuncture is not a panacea and not all conditions or patients are suitable for treatment with acupuncture, which is often used alongside other treatments rather than instead of medication/surgery.

Some of the conditions which respond well to acupuncture treatment:

Acupuncture can be particularly helpful in providing relief from conditions as an adjunct to conventional medicine and alongside other physical therapy techniques. Acupuncture has vital role to play in pain management and works by ‘fooling’ the brain into releasing very potent pain relieving chemicals. As such it is “natural”, but not mystical. As we discover more about how the brain and body work, the more we understand about  how acupuncture has its effects.The American Animal Hospital Association endorses the use of acupuncture for pain management in animals.

I mainly use the technique for the treatment of pain in joints and muscles, but it can be used for a wide variety of problems, apparently (because currently there is little hard proof of effect) with success.

Most animals accept the needles readily , many becoming so relaxed they look sedated during the sessions. It is also great that most patients enthusiastically greet me when coming for treatment sessions.

I am happy to discuss the potential usefulness of acupuncture for your pet’s condition with your veterinary surgeon.

It is fantastic for geriatric patients and has been widely used in palliative care in people although there is less data in animals. In many older animals that have acupuncture for arthritis owners report an increased energy level and that treated animals become much more engaged with life!

Musculoskeletal – Many indications mainly based on analgesic and anti-inflammatory response.

Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins which are the body’s potent pain relief system and may also have a negative feedback effect on pain receptors.

  • Arthritis
  • Muscle spasm
  • CDRM – does not alter the underlying disease but appears to give dogs significantly improved mobility probably due to treatment of concurrent arthritis and muscle spasms from altered loading.
  • Conservative (non-surgical or post-operative) treatment for disc prolapse

Dermatological (Skin)

  • Atopy – can work very well or not at all
  • Pruritis – Must make a diagnosis first
  • Open/non-healing wounds
  • Acral lick dermatitis

Acute injury – ‘Fencing the Dragon’

Treatment after an injury often reduces swelling, bruising and pain.

The pain associated with other conditions, e.g. ear pain, whilst the specific treatment works

Other described effects with less vigourous data

Visceral via somatovisceral or autonomic nerves

  • Urinary incontinence
  • Urinary retention
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Diahorrea
    • Constipation
    • Nausea

Stimulation of the body’s immune system may occur certain antibody levels and white blood cells have been shown to increase with stimulation of certain points. Psychological effects include the release of endorphins, serotonin and other transmitters in the brain lead to a calmer patient.

Depending on points used there can be further effects on respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. These effects all occur simultaneously and are complimentary to one another and return the body to homeostasis (balance in the body) and health.

Acupuncture may aid motor recovery in some paralysed animals as the nerves regrow.

When should acupuncture be used?

Acupuncture can be used to help with many conditions both chronic and acute. It should always be combined with conventional medicine and surgery as a means to potentiate the chances for a positive outcome. Acupuncture can be used alone or in combination with prescribed drugs and other therapies Acupuncture can often be useful where an animal has responded poorly to conventional medicine or where the side effects of conventional medicine outweigh the benefits and so cannot be used. For example geriatric dogs are more prone to suffer from arthritis and unfortunately many may have overt or underlying kidney and liver disease which may mean pain relieving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment cannot be used.  Acupuncture may then be used to provide pain relief and anti-inflammatory action.


Companion Animals

Initial Consultation $95.00 (inc GST)
Follow-up Consultation $70.00 (inc GST)

Horse and Farm Animals

Initial Consultation $150.00 inc GST
Follow-up Consultation $100.00 inc GST


Companion animals seen at Cahill’s Animal Hospital or within Palmerston North additional $25.00 (inc GST).  Call for a quote for out of town travel.

Four sessions ideally a week apart will be required to determine if your pet will respond to acupuncture. If they are good responders we can usually then begin to spread the sessions out. To maintain pain relief for chronic conditions a session is required at least once every 8 weeks.