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Acupuncture For Cats: Pros, Cons, & Effectiveness (Vet Answer)

Cat getting acupuncture treatment

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Dr. Kim Podlecki Photo

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Dr. Kim Podlecki

Veterinarian

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Some people might be familiar with acupuncture or at least have a basic understanding of what it is. While acupuncture has generally been used on people with positive results, some pet-owners have wondered if acupuncture can be used on animals, like their cat. If you are curious if acupuncture can help your cat with some health issues, keep reading this article.

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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine that has been around for thousands of years. Acupuncture is a technique used to balance an animals’ life force energy, known as qi (pronounced “chee”). This energy flows through meridians, or energy pathways of the body. By gently inserting small sterile needles into specific areas of the body where energy flows (acupoints), the qi can be balanced.

Does Acupuncture Work on Cats?

Unfortunately, concrete studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture in pets have not yet occurred. Even in human medicine, physicians argue the effectiveness of acupuncture despite numerous ongoing studies. When clients do pursue acupuncture for their pets, cats make up a very small percentage of the patients, making statistical evidence even more difficult.

Because of this, many veterinarians will recommend using acupuncture in addition to traditional western medicine or when traditional medicine has not improved the patients’ clinical condition or quality of life.

While research is ongoing, the general belief is that acupuncture and the stimulation of acupoints (where the needles are inserted) can cause the release of substances from the nervous system that can relieve pain, stress, and decrease inflammation.

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Who Can Administer Acupuncture to My Cat?

It is best to look for a practitioner who has been trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA). The Chi Institute is the most well-known academic institution in the United States, offering veterinary acupuncture training. The Chi Institute’s website allows pet owners to easily find a CVA near them. You can search for practitioners both in and outside the United States who have been trained in acupuncture and other eastern medicine modalities.

Many acupuncture practitioners are considered mobile, meaning they travel to your house to work on your cats. If acupuncture is offered in a veterinary clinic setting, it’s best to make sure your cat is not a stressful traveler and gets along with new people outside of their home environment.

When Should I Consider Acupuncture for My Cat?

This discussion should be had with your regular veterinarian as it’s determined on a case-by-case basis. Acupuncture may be a great option for your cat if they are difficult to administer medications to. For instance, chronic orthopedic or intestinal diseases where owners are unable to give medications daily. While acupuncture may not work the same as daily medications, it may be the only therapeutic option a cat may allow.

Cats with neoplastic diseases or cats coming out of remission may be good candidates for acupuncture. Chronic diseases where cats will suffer weight loss such as kidney disease, IBD or hyperthyroidism, chronic anxiety which can lead to urinary issues (especially in male cats), allergies and other dermatologic issues may all be conditions to consider to acupuncture treatment.

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What to Expect

ragamuffin cat lying on the table
Image Credit: Billy Ong, Shutterstock

Each visit should be tailored to your cat and your cats’ specific needs. Once in the appointment, the practitioner will take the time to examine your pet and speak with you about specific concerns and/or conditions. Many practitioners will even have owners fill out a questionnaire prior to the visit, similar to paperwork completed at human medical visits. This will help the acupuncturist determine where to place the acupuncture needles.

Depending on the cat, they may be treated while lying in their favorite bed or in their favorite area of the house. Some cats will do better while sitting or sleeping in their owner’s laps. Each case is different and catered to make sure the cat is as stress-free and comfortable as possible.

Once the needles are inserted, they are left in place for 5–15 minutes. This again depends on the location of the needles and the patient’s tolerance to being touched.

Prices for treatments vary greatly depending on whether the practitioner is mobile or works out of the clinic, how long the cat will tolerate treatment, what the cat needs, and if they are a new patient or not. We recommend looking on the Chi Institute website and contacting a CVA near you for their specific prices.

Are There Any Harmful Side Effects?

The needles used in acupuncture are small gauge needles. The gauge of a needle refers to the size of the needle opening. The larger the gauge number, the smaller the hole. An acupuncturist uses needles ranging from 26 gauge to 40 gauge. A typical gauge used for drawing blood from a cat is 20 gauge to 22 gauge. Although they are small gauge needles and only as large as a few strands of hair, cats with any type of bleeding and/or clotting disorders may not be good candidates for acupuncture.

If your cat does not like to be touched by any human, especially strangers, they may not be an ideal candidate for acupuncture. While most cats tolerate the treatments well, no practitioner wants themselves or the cats’ owners to walk away with battle wounds from an intolerant patient. These wounds may be the most harmful side effects of all.

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So, What We’re Saying Is…

While acupuncture has yet to be scientifically proven effective in cats, it may be an integrative method to consider in some patients. If a cat is unable to be medicated despite its owners’ best efforts, has a chronic condition not responding to western medications, or has a condition that has a price tag outside the owner’s capabilities, acupuncture should be considered.

If the cat hates human contact, does not allow anyone to get near it, does not travel well (if there are no mobile CVA’s nearby) or hides even if friendly, then acupuncture may not be a viable option.

While studies have been small in sample size, scientific proof of acupuncture effects have yet to be proven. However, combining TCVM and western medicine may be a great option for some cats. Discussions about if acupuncture could and should be considered for your cat should be had with your trusted veterinarian.


Featured Image Credit: Elayne Massaini, Shutterstock

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