Acupuncture for Dogs: What is it, and Does it Work?

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that has been used to treat ailments in people for over two thousand years. This treatment method uses very fine needles to stimulate specific points in the body known as acupuncture points. The result is a free flow of energy through the body, which leads to recovery. As with many human therapies, acupuncture is now available to our pet dogs, and many veterinarians are able to offer this service to their canine patients. The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society offers accreditation courses to veterinarians who want to learn more about this alternative therapy.

Acupuncture is commonly used to treat musculoskeletal problems in dogs such as arthritis and joint sprains.  It is particularly popular with those whose dogs are active in dog sports such as agility. It can also play a role in managing chronic skin allergies, as well as gastrointestinal disease.

The main advantage of acupuncture as a treatment is that it is safe. There are no side effects, such as those that may occur with medication. Dogs don’t seem to object to the needles being inserted, and they’ll often lie still and relax for the time it takes to treat them.

There are some disadvantages to keep in mind. Acupuncture often needs to be repeated reasonably often in the early stages of treatment, up to three times a week, and it may need to be continued for several months.  The cost can add up, and you may need to rearrange your weekly schedule to make sure your dog gets his treatments at the right time. Also, the response to therapy may not be immediate. In fact, there may not be any obvious response at all, as some dogs don’t appear to benefit from this type of treatment.

A 2006 review of the evidence that acupuncture works in animals suggested that it does appear to have an effect, and it is worth further investigation. However, the review concluded that there was no compelling evidence to either recommend or reject acupuncture as a treatment option for our dogs.

What does this mean for you, the dog owner? If you prefer to use alternative therapies to treat your dog, then acupuncture is worth a try. It is safe, and your dog may benefit from it. However, he may not respond at all and you will then need to look at other treatment options, either natural or conventional. You also have the option to use acupuncture as just one part of your dog’s treatment. It can be safely used in combination with drug therapy or surgery, depending on your dog’s condition.

I have had acupuncture on two of my dogs with mixed experience.  My first dog Molly was about 13 when she started getting stiff from arthritis.  So she went through some acupuncture treatments and I really felt the sessions made her feel better.  She certainly walked better for weeks after her treatment.  So years later, when my wild puppy Sophy has some incontinence problems, my vet said I could do nothing and hope for the best, put her on meds for her entire life or try acupuncture.  So I figured I’d give it a try since it worked so well with Molly.  At her first (and last) treatment, Sophy was unnaturally calm allowing the vet to put all the pins in her.  Felling pretty proud of my little girl, I was hoping for the absolute best results.  Well, when the last pin was in, Sophy looked at me, then she looked at the vet and shook every pin out of her with one massive body shake.  To this day the vet and I have a good laugh about it!  So for me, I will keep an open mind and will certainly try it again.

If you decide that acupuncture treatment is something you want to try for your dog, make sure you visit a veterinarian who is properly trained in this procedure. The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society ( can recommend a veterinarian who is certified in veterinary acupuncture. This way you can have confidence that the person treating your beloved companion knows what they are doing, and will provide the best treatment for him.


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