When to Seek Acupuncture or Chiropractic Care for Pets

pet acupuncture treatment

Story at-a-glance -

  • Research has shown acupuncture in pets can lead to the release of hormones, increase blood circulation, stimulate nerves, relieve muscle spasms and more
  • Chiropractic care can be used in cases of injury or disease, such as hip dysplasia, as well as for regular maintenance
  • The success of your pet’s adjunctive therapy will often depend on the skill of the practitioner, which is why it’s important to find someone who is experienced and licensed to treat pets

By Dr. Becker

A growing number of pet parents are seeking out alternative methods of pain relief and disease treatment and management, with acupuncture and chiropractic care among the top of the list. While relatively new among the conventional veterinary field in the U.S. (it was first introduced in 1971),1 acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in China to treat a variety of ailments in animals (including people).2

This ancient technique involves stimulating your pet's nervous system via specific acupuncture points on the body. The Eastern explanation is that acupuncture reroutes the body's vital energy force, or Qi, which flows along nerve pathways called meridians. The Western summary is that metal needles (good electrical conductors) modulate the nervous system's electricity, which reroutes and normalizes synapses and can affect all organ systems.

Fine needles, therapeutic lasers or pressure may be used for stimulation, and varying durations of stimulation are used to yield specific changes in the central nervous system. Research has shown acupuncture can indeed lead to the release of hormones, increase blood circulation, stimulate nerves, relieve muscle spasms and more, and there's increasing interest in its ability to help relieve pain and other conditions in pets.

What Is Acupuncture Good For?

Pain relief is one of the most common reasons why people seek acupuncture for their pets (although it can do much more). The research on this is sound and growing. For instance, a study published in Topics in Companion Animal Medicine found "acupuncture offers a compelling and safe method for pain management in … veterinary patients and should be strongly considered as a part of multimodal pain management plans."3

Even in cases of lameness, a combined approach of acupuncture and manual therapy was found to improve comfort and mobility in dogs suffering from musculoskeletal pain, with improvements in play behavior, walking, jumping, trotting, descending stairs, stiffness after rest and rising from a lying position noted.4 Among horses, acupuncture has been found to alter gait in horses,5 and was recommended in one study as a great contributor to equine rehabilitation by promoting pain relief, tissue healing and muscle growth.6

The researchers stated, "Acupuncture is safe, has minimal detrimental side effects, and is well tolerated by most horses." Beyond pain relief, acupuncture has been found to effectively reduce the incidence of seizures in dogs.7 Many holistic and integrative veterinarians use acupuncture routinely to treat patients with seizure disorders. It's a very versatile technique that can be used not only on dogs and horses but also on exotic animals, zoo animals and farm animals. I've even done acupuncture on birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Further, according to the Topics in Companion Animal Medicine (IVAS), acupuncture may be useful for functional problems that involve paralysis, inflammation and pain, including:8

  • Musculoskeletal problems, such as arthritis, intervertebral disk disease or traumatic nerve injury
  • Respiratory problems, such as feline asthma
  • Skin problems such as lick granulomas and allergic dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea
  • Selected reproductive problems

Why Choose Chiropractic Care?

Another adjunctive modality is chiropractic care, which is centered on correcting subluxations (or improper alignment between two bones) in order to allow the nervous system to function optimally.9 It uses the body's own healing abilities and the relationship between the spine and the nervous system to restore and maintain good health. Adjustments may be made by hand or using instruments.

Chiropractic care can be used in cases of injury or disease, such as hip dysplasia, as well as for regular maintenance. The latter may be especially useful with large and giant-breed dogs, or dogs who participate in athletic sports, in order to keep the musculoskeletal system from degenerating.

In fact, I recommend maintenance chiropractic care proactively for all my patients to reduce the risk of injury and joint degeneration. This is even good for puppies and kittens because they are "loose" — their joints are not yet completely formed and they're prone to subluxations.

Dogs with floating kneecaps may also benefit, as can those with urinary incontinence. I have seen many cases in my practice of improved bladder tone and neurologic function through maintenance chiropractic care. As with acupuncture, chiropractic care can help treat and prevent a wide range of conditions, including internal medical issues, such as chronic constipation, along with the following. Chiropractic care has even been used to treat neck issues in giraffes.10

Neck and back pain

Difficulty chewing or swallowing

Tail injuries

Sporting or working dog injuries

Muscle spasms and nerve problems

Bowel, bladder and other internal organ disorders

Injuries from slips, falls and/or accidents

Maintenance of joint and spine health

Jaw or TMJ problems

Post-surgical healing

Finding a Skilled Practitioner

The success of your pet's alternative therapy will often depend on the skill of the practitioner, which is why it's important to find someone who is experienced and licensed to treat pets. You can search for a certified animal chiropractor in your area at the American Veterinary Chiropractor Association and/or the College of Animal Chiropractic. To find a list of veterinarians trained as acupuncturists, visit AHVMA.org.