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All About Acupuncture for Tripawd Cats, Dogs, Rabbits and Other Pets

Many animals enjoy pain relief through veterinary acupuncture. If you’re thinking about taking your Tripawd to an acupuncturist, now is the time to listen to our Tripawd Talk Radio podcast “Veterinary Acupuncture for Tripawd Cats, Dogs, Rabbits and Other Pets.”

Get to the Point of Veterinary Acupuncture for Tripawd Cats, Dogs, Rabbits and Other Pets

veterinary acupuncture for Tripawd cats, dogs, rabbits and other pets
Dr. Nell Ostermeier, DVM, CVA (IVAS)

All pets need pain management at some time. Tripawds often need it more than their four-legged pals. In this episode, learn how veteirnary acupuncture can help our threee-legged pets feel better throughout their lives. And not just when they’re in temporary acute pain. Your guide is Dr. Nell Ostermeier, DVM, CVA (IVAS) a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and co-owner of Lombard Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Ostermeier discusses how a compromised gait in a dog or cat can lead to problems down the road. Problems like joint stress, muscle strains and other issues. Managing their pain is critical and veterinary acupuncture is one drug-free way to do it. Veterinary acupuncture is also great for other conditions like anxiety. In this episode she shares everything we need to know about acupuncture for Tripawds young and old.

Learn More About Veterinary Acupuncture for Tripawds

Can’t download the podcast now? No worries! Dr. Ostermeier has graciously allowed us to share her discussion notes for this interview. Read on to for a synopsis of our Tripawd Talk Radio chat.

What conditions can be helped by veterinary acupuncture?  

Acupuncture has become more mainstream over the past 10 years. <ost people are familiar with its use for pain relief, injuries and musculoskeletal issues. However, acupuncture is also used to treat internal organ dysfunction and disease, allergies, and behavioral or emotional issues such as anxiety. So, acupuncture can be used to help treat virtually any health condition or imbalance in the body. 

How does placing needles in the body help a pet (or person) feel better?

Tripawd acupuncture
Mosby gets acupuncture treatment. Click to learn more.

The root of this question is actually “how does acupuncture work?” The answer is not simple because there are multiple proposed and proven pathways through which acupuncture works. I will provide a very basic explanation from both the Western and Eastern perspective.

The effects of acupuncture can not be explained though a single mechanism.  According to Western perspective, the acupuncture points are bundles of vessels and nerves located at specific points on the body. They are more sensitive and more effective at sending messages than other bundles of vessels and nerves.  

  • Stimulating these bundles or points causes both a local response at or near the point and a distant response* by sending messages to larger vessels and nerves and in some cases to the spinal cord or specific areas of the brain.  
  • The local response can result in pain relief, reduced inflammation and improved circulation at the site and the distant response via the message system can achieve these same results but at a deeper or even whole-body level.  

The Eastern perspective is similar in that it explains both local and distance response.

According to traditional Chinese medicine there are 12 main channels circulating blood and Qi energy throughout the body at all times. These channels have acupuncture points located on the surface of the body that we can access with needles but the channels continue deep into the body to specific organ systems including the brain.

  • When using the TCM theory, we are stimulating these points on the surface to gain both local and distant responses on the channels with the end goal of maintaining the smooth flow of Qi (energy) and Blood throughout the entire body.
  • Areas of pain are considered stagnation in TCM and “stagnant” means the circulation is not smooth in that area.

Thus, just as in Western medicine, using TCM theory we stimulate acupuncture points to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and improve circulation at both the local and distant areas. While the language may differ, the goal from both the Eastern and the Western perspective is to achieve balance for the patient, which means a longer, happier life!

*More About Local and Distant Points:  Local points are considered to be at or very near the site of pain or inflammation. Distant points on the channel are further above or below these local points, but because they are on the same channel, they can relieve pain anywhere on it.

For example, pain in the shoulder can be relieved by stimulating a point on the wrist because they are on the same channel. There are also even more distant effects when it comes to organ systems. For example, a point on the Lung channel is located on the wrist and because that channel dives deep into the lung, this point can be stimulated to treat asthma or lung related problems.  

Which Tripawds are good candidates for acupuncture? Are some animals more receptive than others?

Tripawd acupuncture
All animals are good candidates for acupuncture.

All pets and all Tripawds are good candidates for an Integrative Medicine or Acupuncture consult. However, if the pet is too painful, reactive, or unwilling to allow a veterinarian to touch them, they may not be able to receive acupuncture safely. In these cases, we can still identify patterns that the patient is dealing with and provide herbal support.

Tripawds in general are excellent candidates because their bodies have learned to function in an abnormal way in order to maintain a normal, happy quality of life. While they may make it look easy, it does cause excess wear and tear on the muscles and joints of the other limbs taking up the slack.

Acupuncture is excellent for supporting the remaining limbs while they do the extra work.  In addition, there has been research into phantom limb syndrome in people which has been shown to respond to acupuncture.  It only makes sense that if people experience phantom limb, so could pets.  

Can acupuncture be administered when a pet is also on traditional pain management drugs?

Yes, in fact, often times acupuncture and herbs will reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals needed to control pain or treat a medical problem. Acupuncture is an extremely safe treatment with no negative side effects. An experienced, certified veterinary acupuncturist will know if there are any contraindications regarding herbs. 

What are the different types of acupuncture available?

There are multiple techniques and tools used to perform acupuncture.  The most common types in veterinary medicine are traditional needle placement, vitamin b12 aquapressure, electroacupuncture, and laser acupuncture.

  • Traditional needling (sometimes referred to as dry needling) consists of needles placed in the points and left for typically 10-20 minutes while pet hangs out. Yes, they actually sit still for this or at least still enough for it to work!
  • Aquapressure consists of very small amounts of vitamin b12 are injected into the acu points. This is used to extend the length of stimulation and in the rare pet that just won’t sit still! For example, young, scrappy terrors or jumpy pugs!
  • Electroacupuncture consists of leads that are connected to the ends of needles in order to stimulate nerves, muscles and the pain relief cascade at a deeper level. 
  • Laser acupuncture is when a low level or “cold” laser is used to stimulate the points using light energy or photons. 

There has been good success in human amputees with phantom limb syndrome using scalp and auricular (ear) acupuncture techniques. These are currently less commonly used in pets. I expect as we gain more knowledge and experience, they will become more popular and useful in the hands of veterinarians. 

What can we expect from a session? Will it hurt our pets?

veterinary acupuncture for Tripawd cats, dogs, rabbits and other pets
Dr. Nell Ostermeier: Each vet acupuncturist has their own style.

Each veterinary acupuncturist has a unique style that will contribute to the experience you and your pet have during an appointment. Here is how an appointment with me would go:

The needles rarely hurt because they are so thin and they do not puncture holes in the tissue but rather spread the cells. There is no hollow core as in a hypodermic or injection needle. However, there are what I call “zinger” points. They are points that are more sensitive and can have a painful, heavy or surprising sensation when needled.  These will vary from pet to pet and I can get a sense for them by placing moderate pressure with my finger on the point first, before placing the needle.  

Most pets, especially dogs, actually enjoy acupuncture and experience some level of immediate relief or relaxation due to endorphin and serotonin release. In pets with musculoskeletal problems or tight muscles like our Tripawds, they will have immediate release of muscle and connective tissue which typically feels great! Many pets will “learn” these effects and will begin to love going to the vet.  It is truly amazing and rewarding for everyone involved!

How many sessions are usually required before results can be seen? What is the overall success rate?

Each pet’s response is unique. Some pets will experience immediate results, some after they arrive home. Some the next day, and others not until after 2-3 treatments.  An important aspect of your relationship with a veterinary acupuncturist should be setting positive, yet realistic treatment goals and then tracking progress.

Success rate also varies and is difficult to measure.  However, in 2 recent research studies conducted in human amputees, pain relief was noted in 50% and 86%of the patients respectively. In my patients, I utilize their response and the feedback of their owners to monitor and track success.  

Who can administer acupuncture? Do vets need a license to practice it in the US? What about other countries?

In most states, you need to be a veterinarian to administer acupuncture.  As in many fields, the rules and regulations get tricky and there are plenty of rule benders. It is best to stick with certified veterinary acupuncturists.  I can not speak to other countries as rules vary extensively.  I can tell you that the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) has over 1900 members located in over 60 countries.  

How can one find a veterinary acupuncturist and what should one look for in a veterinary acupuncturist?

It is best if you choose an acupuncturist who is both a licensed veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist.  These individuals have been trained in both Western medicine and acupuncture. This will provide you with the safest, most effective treatment style for your pet.  

A veterinarian who has been certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) must have taken a certification course that includes lectures, labs, and an examination on the topics of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. This gives them the foundation to practice from the Western and Eastern standpoint. And to understand how to safely prescribe herbs.

A great place to search for certified veterinarians by location is the IVAS website (see right sidebar “Search for Vets” feature). This organization is a nonprofit and dedicated to the mission of supporting responsible veterinary acupuncture and its associated modalities. 

Tripawd Talk Radio
Click to learn about veterinary acupuncture

More Reading About Veterinary Acupuncture for Tripawds

Canine Acupuncture and Rehabilitation Therapy Tips for Tripawds
My Visit to the Animal Acupuncture Doctor In Colorado

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2 thoughts on “All About Acupuncture for Tripawd Cats, Dogs, Rabbits and Other Pets”

  1. I am a patient of Dr. Nell with my tripawd George. 9 years old large breed dog that lost his back leg to cancer 2 months ago.
    I see the benefits of her treatments and have been going to her for over a year now.
    I can’t say enough about how much this helps George.


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