Acupuncture: What is it and Why Your Dog Might Need It

Acupuncture: What is it and Why Your Dog Might Need It

Acupuncture is an ancient form of natural therapy that originates from Chinese medicine dating back to 6,000 BC. This form of treatment is based on the premise that energy flows all throughout the body via 12 main channels that represent each major organ of the body and their function. It’s believed this energy can be channeled to achieve balance and health.

Acupuncture is performed by inserting a needle into specific points on the body to promote a desired healing effect. Needles are inserted into tissue where the nerve endings and blood vessels come together. These areas are known as acupuncture points. Originally, 365 acupuncture points were established that were connected to 14 major channel lines: one channel for each of the 12 inner organs, one along the spine and one along the midline of the abdomen.

For hundreds of years, acupuncture gradually became one of the standard therapies used in Chinese culture. However, it wasn’t until the early 1970s that acupuncture was accepted as an appropriate form of treatment in the U.S. In 1975, acupuncture was introduced as an organized form of veterinary medicine.

It’s believed that acupuncture has been used on animals for over 4,000 years. Legend has it that it was originally used to treat lame horses in war. Fast forward to present day, and acupuncture has been used on all types of animal species including elephants, cattle, monkeys, rabbits, cats, and dogs.

The ultimate goal of acupuncture is to accelerate the body’s natural healing process.

The insertion of the needle into the flesh stimulates blood flow and the release of the endorphins enkephalin and dynorphin, the body’s natural painkillers. Inserting needles at different acupuncture points relaxes muscles and provides pain relief in different areas of the body.

Therefore, acupuncture treatment is most commonly used to treat pain and is frequently used as an alternative to prescription and OTC pain relievers.

However, acupuncture has been reported to treat a host of issues, including chronic back pain caused by an injury or sleeping structure, arthritis, respiratory disorders, headaches, and even skin issues.

In pets, it can be used for the following:

  • Musculoskeletal Problems: osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, chronic degenerative joint disease, intervertebral disc disease, tendonitis, sprains, and muscle spasms.
  • Neurological Problems: epilepsy, stroke, deafness, coma, paralysis from disc disease.
  • Urinary Disorders: incontinence, cystitis, urine retention.
  • Gastrointestinal Problems: colitis, chronic idiopathic diarrhea or vomiting, gastroenteritis, rectal prolapse.
  • Respiratory Disorders: sinusitis, rhinitis, asthma, chronic coughing, pneumonia.
  • Systemic Inflammatory Conditions: chronic skin inflammation, allergies, lick granulomas.

5 Methods of Acupuncture for Dogs

Although needle insertion is the primary acupuncture treatment given, there are alternative methods used. Here is a brief summary of each:


Rather than needles, practitioners used their fingers, palms, elbows, feet, or special devices to apply pressure to acupoints along the body’s meridians. Acupressure achieves a comparable effect to needle insertion, but it tends to be a good option for hard to reach locations, behaviorally challenging pets, and for circumstances where needle treatment might not be available.


Aquapuncture or water puncture is the injection of a solution into acupoints using a hypodermic needle. For quite a few days after this solution has been injected under the dog’s skin, it will continue to either stimulate or sedate the acupuncture points. The solution is usually comprised of lidocaine, saline, and vitamin B12, together with a homeopathic remedy. Aquapuncture is good for dogs that have severe back or hip pain that’s caused by vertebral spondylosis, arthritis or hip dysplasia.


Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy that consists of burning dried Chinese herbs called “moxa” on or near the skin. The purpose of this technique is to stimulate circulation. Heat therapy is very beneficial to pets that are older or suffering from conditions involving joint stiffness and/or muscular soreness.

Electrostimulation (Estim)

Through Estim or electropuncture, an electrical device is used to stimulate the acupuncture points in the dog’s body. This is done through the use of wires attached to the acupuncture needles. A mild electrical charge is then sent at variable frequencies through the needle and into the acupuncture point on the dog’s body. electropuncture is an excellent choice if your dog has severe paralysis.


In this form of acupuncture treatment, needles are substituted for a laser to stimulate acupoints. Laser acupuncture is the most recent form of acupuncture to date. Laser treatment for dogs employs deep-penetrating light to promote a chain of chemical reactions known as photobiostimulation. This process helps relieve pain through the release of endorphins, and it stimulates injured cells to heal at an accelerated pace.

How Acupuncture Treatment is Given

Each practitioner that performs acupuncture treatment has a unique style.

Acupuncture and the various alternative treatments can last anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 minutes and is given over the course of four to six sessions—typically, once a week for four weeks. Some pets respond after the first session and some take all four sessions to respond. Thereafter, the frequency of treatment depends on the response of the individual animal.

Because there is a potential for harm if the treatment is performed incorrectly, it’s important that only a properly trained veterinarian conducts acupuncture on animals.

Costs for acupuncture treatment will vary based on the condition being treated and the skill level of the practitioner.

Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain management. However, it is often used to treat musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or nerve injuries. Many times, acupuncture is used during rehabilitation from an injury. Additionally, increased blood flow promoted by acupuncture may aid in skin and gastrointestinal issues in pets.

The Benefits of Acupuncture

Acupuncture treatment is safe and virtually painless for small animals; however, it may induce sensations your pet is not used to, such as tingling or numbness. Developments in animal acupuncture, including the use of a laser, create a completely painless experience.

Additionally, being a natural remedy to pain relief, acupuncture eliminates the harmful side effects of drugs and typically does not interact with other medications and supplements your dog is taking.


Even though the above treatments will not cause your dog any pain, they are time-consuming and do require your dog to lie still for long periods of time. Additionally, if you are looking for a completely natural remedy, beware that many vets use acupuncture in conjunction with other painkillers for the best results.

A study by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine looking across all available clinical trials found not enough evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for animals. Most of the evidence in support of acupuncture for animals is anecdotal, from pet owners themselves. However, the practice of incorporating acupuncture into an animal’s wellness routine is most definitely growing.

About the Author
Lisa is a freelance writer from Raleigh, NC that has suffered from anxiety and insomnia since her teenage years. Due to her condition, she is passionate about educating on the importance of sleep health and how pets can help ease anxiety. When she isn’t writing, you can find her practicing yoga or working on a new recipe!