Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine


Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body which is usually achieved through the insertion of specialized needles. The specific points are called acupuncture points or "acupoints" (Shu-xu) and they typically lie along the body's Meridians or Channels. Most veterinary acupuncture points and Meridians are transposed to animals from humans, though some "classical points" defined on particular species have been retained and are still used in acupuncture treatments today.

Acupoints can be stimulated using a variety of techniques including dry needling, moxibustion, aqua-acupuncture, and electro-stimulation. Acupuncture is a very safe medical procedure when administered by a qualified practitioner. Very few side effects have been found in clinical cases. 

Acupuncture has been practiced in both animals and humans for thousands of years in China. The earliest veterinary acupuncture book Bo Le's Canon of Veterinary Acupuncture (Bo Le Zhen Jing) is believed to have been written between 659-621 B.C. during the Qin-mu-gong period.

When is Acupuncture indicated?

Acupuncture can help maintain health and improve performance.

Acupuncture therapy can be effective in the following conditions, plus many others:

  • Musculoskeletal problems-
    • Muscle soreness
    • Back pain
    • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
    • Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)
  • Neurological disorders-
    • Seizures
    • Laryngeal hemiplegia
    • Facial or radial nerve paralysis
    • Behavioral problems
  • Respiratory disorders-
    • Feline asthma
    • Heaves
  • Gastrointestinal disorders-
    • Diarrhea
    • Gastric ulcers
    • Colic
    • Vomiting
    • Constipation
  • Other chronic conditions-
    • Anhidrosis
    • Asthma
    • Cough
    • Uveitis
    • Behavioral problems
    • Hyper- or hypoadrenocorticism (Cushing's/Addison's)
    • Hyper- or hypothyroidism
    • Infertility
    • Renal failure
    • Geriatric weakness
    • Skin problems (such as lick granulomas, atopic dermatitis)

What is Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM)?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, disease is understood as an imbalance in the body. Since the body and its environment are an interconnected system, disease must be examined with respect to the whole patient. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a diagnosis is made by identifying the underlying "pattern" of disharmony. Pattern diagnosis differs from conventional Western medical diagnosis because it takes into account not only disease signs, but how these signs relate to the individual's temperament, sex, age, activity, and environment. For this reason, Chinese Medicine is often regarded as more holistic than conventional Western Medicine.

There are five branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine--Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy, Tui-na (medical massage), and Qi-gong (meditative exercise). In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), Qi-gong is excluded because it cannot be performed by animals. The veterinary practitioner however, can practice meditation and the therapeutic benefit is believed to be passed on to the animal.

What is the goal of Acupuncture treatment?

The ancient Chinese discovered that the health of the body depends on the state of Qi (pronounced "chee").  Qi is the life force or vital energy. There are two opposite forms of Qi: Yin and Yang and neither can exist without the other.

Qi flows throughout the body 24 hours per day, maintaining a physiological balance of Yin and Yang. When the flow of Qi is interrupted by factors such as viruses, bacteria, injury, or stress, the balance of Yin and Yang will be lost and consequently, a disease may occur.  

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, pain is interpreted as the blockage of Qi flow and Acupuncture stimulation resolves this blockage, freeing the flow of Qi and enabling the body to heal itself. Thus, the goal of Acupuncture is to restore the flow of Qi and allow homeostasis to return. Homeostasis and health are restored when Yin and Yang are in balance.

What physiological effects are induced by Acupuncture? 

Modern research shows that acupoints are located in the areas of the body where there is a high density of free nerve endings, mast cells, small arterioles, and lymphatic vessels. Stimulation of acupoints induces a release of beta-endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters.  

Acupuncture stimulation induces these physiological effects:

  • Pain relief
  • Regulation of gastrointestinal motility
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Immunoregulation
  • Hormone and reproductive regulation
  • Anti-febrile effect; microcirculation promotion

Does Acupuncture hurt?

Over 95% of patients are comfortable with acupuncture therapy. Some animals will fall asleep during acupuncture treatment. Sedation is not recommended before acupuncture treatment as it may interfere with the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture is one of the safest forms of medical treatment for animals when it is administered by a properly trained veterinarian. Side effects of acupuncture are rare, but they do exist. An animal’s condition may seem worse for up to 48 hours after a treatment. Other animals become lethargic or sleepy for 24 hours. These effects are an indication that some physiological changes are developing, and they are most often followed by an improvement in the animal’s condition.

How long does each treatment last and how many treatments are needed?

Each session may take 20 to 60 minutes. The number of treatments will vary depending on the nature, severity, and duration of the disease. A single treatment may be enough for an acute condition. A series of 3 to 10 treatments can resolve many chronic problems. Some degenerative conditions may need monthly treatments over time.

Why is Acupuncture often combined with Herbal Medicine?

Chinese Herbal Medicine can be used as support for Acupuncture treatment or on occasion, in lieu of Acupuncture. Herbs are frequently used in situations that have not responded to traditional Western veterinary medical practices.

Chinese Herbal Medicine utilizes specific herbal combinations to treat particular disease patterns. These herbal combinations, or "formulas" are usually administered orally and are typically given in powder form to horses and other large animals and in tea pill or capsule form to dogs and cats.

What about Food Therapy, Tui-na, and chiropractic?

Food Therapy is the use of diet to treat and prevent imbalance within the body. It utilizes knowledge of the energetics of food ingredients to tailor diets to individual animals. TCVM practitioners may recommend foods to use or to eliminate based on Traditional Chinese Food Energetics and TCVM Diagnosis.  

Tui-na is a form of Chinese medical massage in which different manipulations are applied to acupoints and Meridians to promote the circulation of Qi and correct imbalances within the organ systems.  

Please visit our Animal Chiropractic Therapy Services page for more information! 



Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine

International Veterinary Acupuncture Society: What is Veterinary Acupuncture?

National Institute of Health (NIH): National Center for Complemetary and Alternative Medicine