I often get asked if acupuncture will help dogs suffering from arthritis pain. This is a great question! I treat dogs suffering from arthritis daily, and most of these cases have already been treated with conventional medicine. Because I practice a great deal of alternative medicine, I think people expect something special in my “bag of tricks”. To be honest, sometimes I can pull out a special tool and help… but sometimes I can’t! But I can tell you, or better yet, explain to you how acupuncture for dog arthritis pain can help.
This is the absolute first and most critical step. It can be very misleading when the benefits of a certain modality are misrepresented. A good example of such misrepresentation would be “acupuncture helps all pain.” Well, acupuncture can “help” all pain, but the good, discerning veterinarian knows when to use it and when other options may be better. Even better yet, an experienced veterinarian can tell you when a combination of different modalities may be the best option for your dog. An exceptional veterinarian will be able to predict and communicate the benefits and expected outcome of a certain treatment to the client. This is especially important when practicing alternative medicine. Pain is real to the dog yet only perceived by you and I. Acupuncture for dog arthritis pain helps as long as the owners are educated on the expectations and committed to the recommended protocol.
Evaluate the Dog
This is a huge step! It sounds like a given, yet sometimes veterinarians, (including myself,) tend to lump all arthritic dogs into one single category: dogs with arthritis! This is a big mistake! In my opinion, arthritis pain in the back responds most favorably to acupuncture while pain in only the extremities responds better to other methods. Arthritis pain in the back responds favorably to acupuncture because you can utilize needle points right along the back and along the bladder meridian. These are areas in which dogs readily tolerate acupuncture. Also, most dogs have a limited number of points that can be stimulated. These points must be chosen wisely. Points along the back are easily needled, well-tolerated and effective.
The muscles along the top line, the longissimus, must be stimulated for pain relieving effects. These are the large muscles found on each side of the bony spinal column that often become tight and spastic in response to bony arthritis. It is my belief that most of the pain in back arthritis ultimately comes from the soft tissue muscular pain around the joint, not necessarily the bony abnormality. Along the back, you can insert needles directly into the deep musculature. In other parts of the body, this is much more difficult.
The patient must be evaluated carefully and x-rays may be necessary to determine the exact origin of the arthritic pain. The take home message here is: arthritic pain in the back responds more favorably to acupuncture than arthritic pain in the extremities.
Electro-Acupuncture for Dog Arthritis Pain
For maximal pain relief, electroacupuncture must be used. Electroacupuncture is a technique involving needle stimulation that enhances the analgesic effects of acupuncture by blocking pain pathways.
The musculature and soft tissues structures become so relaxed that the tissue is essentially numb. For maximum pain relief, electro-acupuncture is mandatory. Click here to see some of our past articles on electro-acupuncture.
Unfortunately, determining the number sessions needed of acupuncture for dog arthritis pain is difficult and unpredictable. I am only able to provide an estimation after an evaluation. Your goals, along with your dog’s condition and eventual response will be the ultimate guide in number and frequency of sessions. Since arthritis is a chronic, progressive disease, the goal is management of pain. Managing pain typically requires consistent sessions over time. You cannot cure the disease or limit the progression, you can only control the pain! Different dogs respond differently to the treatment and many factors come into play when deciding the frequency of sessions. The decision on the number and frequency of sessions is made on an individual basis taking into account the following: owner’s opinion and expectations, concurrent medicines, degree of pain, and other relevant health issues. The number and frequency of sessions does however have an impact on the veterinarians’ ability to control pain.
I have had great success in my practice treating dog arthritis pain with acupuncture. Sometimes acupuncture is the sole modality, and sometimes I use it in combination with Eastern herbals, homeopathics, laser therapy, and food therapy. I have seen dogs become so relaxed and relieved of pain that they fall asleep during their acupuncture session. Acupuncture is a wonderful tool when used properly, and I am very pleased to have it in my “bag of tricks”.