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Acupuncture For Dogs – Pros, Cons, And Effectiveness (Vet Answer)

Acupuncture needle in dog's leg

Vet approved

Dr. Sharon Butzke Photo

Written by

Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Vet)

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

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Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice with a long history of use in humans and is being increasingly recognized for its ability to improve the quality of life of our canine friends. Acupuncture is typically used alongside other therapies and can offer benefits for a wide range of medical conditions. If you are curious to know more about acupuncture for dogs, this article is for you!

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What Is Acupuncture and How Does It Work?

There are different types of acupuncture, but the most common technique used by veterinarians is called dry needling. This is the practice of inserting very thin, sterile needles into specific points (referred to as “acupoints”) on the body to promote healing.

Stimulation of acupoints can produce a variety of physiologic effects, including:

  • Increased nervous system activity, blood flow, and immune response
  • Muscle relaxation and relief of spasms
  • Release of pain-blocking and “feel-good” chemicals in the body

Can Dogs Benefit from Acupuncture?

Some of the reported benefits of acupuncture in dogs include:

Is Acupuncture Safe for Dogs?

When performed properly by a qualified veterinary professional, acupuncture in dogs is considered to be very safe.

Are There Any Reasons Not to Use Acupuncture in Dogs?

Acupuncture is not contraindicated in any specific medical conditions in dogs.

However, there are some things to keep in mind before you decide to use acupuncture treatments on your dog.

  1. Acupuncture needles should never be inserted into wounds, infected skin, or tumors.
  2. Certain acupuncture points should be avoided in pregnant dogs.
  3. Electro-acupuncture is not recommended for dogs with seizure disorders and should be used with caution in dogs with pacemakers.
  4. Caution may be warranted in dogs with blood clotting disorders or compromised immune systems.

Acupuncture may not be the best option for dogs who are excessively anxious or aggressive. For these pets, the stress of veterinary visits may outweigh the potential benefits of acupuncture.

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Will My Dog Tolerate Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is generally well-tolerated by dogs. Acupuncture needles are incredibly fine, so many dogs do not even notice them being placed. Some dogs become so relaxed during sessions that they even fall asleep!

A few dogs may feel nervous or excited and have a hard time staying still. Your veterinarian may offer food or special treats as a distraction. Occasionally, a natural calming supplement or mild sedative medication may be recommended to help your dog rest quietly during treatment. The goal is for acupuncture to be a positive experience!

Some veterinarians offer mobile services, which is a useful option for dogs who feel more comfortable at home.

What Should I Expect During an Initial Acupuncture Consultation?

Initial consultations often take at least one hour. The veterinarian needs time to thoroughly assess your dog’s health to help ensure they receive the greatest benefit from acupuncture.

During the initial consultation, the veterinarian will:
  • Ask detailed questions to develop a clear understanding of your dog’s medical history and any existing condition(s)
  • Review any supplements and/or medications your pet takes
  • Request copies of previous test results, which may include bloodwork, x-rays, or other advanced imaging studies
  • Perform a complete physical examination

After a thorough assessment, the veterinarian will recommend a plan tailored to your dog’s unique needs. Then they will perform the first acupuncture treatment, which typically takes about 20–30 minutes.

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How Long Are Follow-Up Acupuncture Appointments?

Follow-up acupuncture appointments are typically shorter than the initial consultation. The veterinarian will ask about your dog’s response to their previous session(s), perform a brief assessment, and administer the acupuncture treatment.

How Many Acupuncture Treatments Will My Dog Need?

Acute injuries may only require a few treatments. Chronic conditions respond best to regular sessions because the benefits of acupuncture can accumulate over time.

Many veterinary acupuncturists advise that it takes at least three sessions to see improvement, although some pets may respond more quickly. Treatments are more frequent initially, usually 1–3 times per week for at least four weeks.

If your dog responds well to acupuncture and long-term treatment is recommended, your veterinarian will help you determine the ideal amount of time between treatments to help keep your dog feeling their best. Some dogs continue to do well after reducing visits to every 4–6 weeks, while others may benefit from more frequent sessions. Every dog is different!

How Effective Is Acupuncture for Dogs?

There is some controversy among veterinarians regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture for dogs due to the limited number of clinical studies currently available. However, veterinary acupuncturists and many dog owners believe strongly in the benefits because they have seen results firsthand.

It is challenging to measure the general effectiveness of acupuncture in dogs. Every pet is an individual, signs of improvement may be subjective, and treatment success is defined differently for every patient.

The effectiveness of acupuncture for your dog may be affected by:

  • Their age and general health
  • The medical condition being treated
  • How long the condition has been present
  • The skill and experience of the acupuncture practitioner
  • The number of treatments completed and how regularly they are administered

Veterinarians Dr. Steve Marsden, Dr. Shawn Messonnier, and Dr. Cheryl Yuill offer some general guidelines, based on their clinical experience, to help pet owners set realistic expectations for acupuncture:

  • 25% of patients experience significant improvement
  • 50% have a very good response but symptoms do not resolve completely
  • 25% may show minimal or no obvious benefit

It is also important to remember that acupuncture is often most helpful when used in combination with other forms of therapy rather than as a standalone treatment.

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Does Acupuncture Have Any Side Effects on Dogs?

When performed properly by a qualified veterinary professional, acupuncture has very few reported side effects.

Some dogs may feel tired, a little stiff, or sore after an acupuncture session. You may notice minor bleeding or bruising where needles were inserted. Rarely, dogs may experience a worsening of symptoms for a day or two before showing improvement.

If you have any concerns about your dog after an acupuncture treatment, please contact a veterinarian.

How Much Does Acupuncture Cost?

 Fees are set by each individual veterinarian to reflect their level of training and experience. The amount of time dedicated to an appointment also factors into cost. In the United States, initial consultations may cost upwards of a few hundred dollars. Follow-up visits are often less expensive.

If you have pet insurance, your provider may have options to help cover the cost of acupuncture for your dog.

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How Do I Find a Veterinarian Who Performs Acupuncture?

vet. examining labrador dog
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

Veterinary acupuncture should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian who has completed extensive training in this specific therapy. A referral from your regular veterinarian may or may not be required.

To find a certified practitioner near you, you can ask your regular veterinarian for a recommendation or consult one of the directories linked here:

Summary of the Pros and Cons of Acupuncture in Dogs

Pros
  • Very safe
  • Becoming more widely accessible
  • Reported benefits for a wide variety of medical conditions
  • May improve quality of life
  • Potential to reduce the amount of medication your dog needs
Cons
  • Can be expensive
  • Limited clinical studies available to support benefits in dogs
  • May not see benefits until after three or more treatments
  • Usually requires regular veterinary visits long-term
  • Some dogs show minimal or no improvement

Acupuncture is worth considering based on its safety and potential to improve quality of life. Your dog may thank you!

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Featured Image Credit: Freestocksorg, Pexels

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