Acupuncture is not only an ancient art that has been practised by Eastern cultures for thousands of years but it’s extremely versatile for treating a wide variety of medical conditions. It is defined as 'the insertion of a solid needle into the body with the purpose of alleviating pain and modifying disease'.

Legally veterinary acupuncture is an act of veterinary surgery which can only be carried out by a trained veterinary surgeon or by a qualified veterinary nurse under the supervision of an experienced vet. Our vets and nurses at HolisticPet are among the most experienced veterinary acupuncturists in Ireland and the UK. Acupuncture is very safe when administered under the right conditions, and we are delighted to be able to offer this therapy, delivered by a highly skilled and experienced team who love helping pets.


What is Acupuncture?


The term acupuncture comes from two words - “Acu” meaning needle and “punctura” to pierce the skin. Acupuncture has evolved from the ancient art of placing needles into special locations on the body to alleviate pain, improve recovery rates and increase resistance to disease. In Chinese cultures, it is even used as a form of anaesthesia and to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. In Western cultures, it is used primarily to treat pain but also for stress relief and to provide a sense of wellbeing. 

Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM regards acupuncture as a means of balancing the body’s life force or qi/chi [pronounced chee]. It is thought that qi/chi flows through meridians or pathways in the body and this flow of energy may get blocked at certain points. Acupuncture is thought to release these blockages permitting the flow of free energy which enables the person to return to health and balance again. People receiving an acupuncture treatment often describe strange sensations such as tingling or numbness and this is sometimes referred to as de qi.
Western acupuncturists tend to take a more scientific approach and view the acupuncture points as the best places to stimulate nerves, relax muscles and connective tissue and increase blood flow to tissues. Many also believe that the treatment releases natural painkillers or endorphins from the brain.

Before a patient is treated with acupuncture a vet should do a full examination and review the clinical history plus the diagnosis to determine if it is an appropriate treatment for the animal’s condition. Acupuncture is sometimes used on it’s own to treat a patient but in many cases, it will be used in conjunction with other conventional treatments or alongside complementary therapies such as herbal medicine. Combining acupuncture with other treatments may help to reduce the patient’s requirements for medications which long term might have undesirable side effects. This is particularly useful in our geriatric patients and patients who have other medical conditions rendering conventional medications inappropriate. 


Acupuncture for Dogs and Cats 


Most animals accept acupuncture readily. Many become sedated and relaxed during the sessions as shown in the images and so they associate the treatment with feeling good, many of our regular patients enthusiastically greet us which is very rewarding.

Cat receiving Acupuncture


What Conditions can Pet Acupuncture Treat?


Acute and Chronic Pain

  • Muscle pain
  • Osteoarthritis / Spinal arthritis
  • Conservative treatment of disc prolapse 
  • The pain associated with other conditions, e.g. ear pain, whilst the specific treatment works
  • Sports injuries
  • Postoperative pain and recovery
  • Cancer pain
  • Rehabilitation after injury, surgery or illness

Pain, both acute and chronic, is one of the most common indications for acupuncture. Chronic pain has particular effects on the patient’s quality of life through the influence on the central nervous system, in particular the emotional centres in the limbic system and amygdala. These patients can suffer from the interruption of their sleep, reduced appetite, poor social interaction, stress and depressed mood.

They can experience muscle or myofascial pain due to chronic stress and reduction in mobility. Acupuncture can interfere with the ways in which chronic pain develops by causing muscle relaxation, competing with the pain message by the Gate blocking method a theory proposed by two famous pain researchers Melzack and Wall and by inducing endorphin release in the brain. This endorphin release is the reason why some of our patients get noticeably sleepy during or after treatment at HolisticPet. At HolisticPet acupuncture is an essential component of our tailored multimodal analgesia programs. 

In addition to the effects on pain transmission, acupuncture is believed to increase circulation, aid the body’s natural defenses and immunity, improve nerve function and restore balance to the hypothalamus in stressed individuals. As a result, acupuncture may be used in a wide variety of medical conditions. Currently, at HolisticPet we focus on the use of acupuncture in pain management, chronic pain and rehabilitation

Rehabilitation involves the use of pain-relieving medications and pain-relieving therapies in order to restore an animal to full fitness and function after surgery, trauma, illness, or debilitation. At HolisticPet acupuncture is one of the essential pain relieving therapies that we use to assist our patients in their rehabilitation journey, in particular those recovering from orthopaedic or spinal surgery. Acute muscular strains can respond well, as can myofascial pain often found in chronic pain or injuries and postoperative pain.


The Pet Acupuncture Process


At the first appointment with HolisticPet our vets will carry out an in-depth consultation and examination so the first appointment may take 45-60 mins or 90 minutes if we include hydrotherapy in the regime. After this, the treatments normally take 30 minutes or 60 if they include hydrotherapy. Each treatment is tailored to the individual and may vary from case to case and even from week to week if the symptoms change. In addition, the number of treatments required and their frequency also varies from case to case. In our Sports Medicine clinics, it is common for us to see young, athletic dogs with muscular strains or joint sprains and other acute injuries which may only need one or two sessions to achieve a cure. However, most of our chronic pain patients will initially attend once a week for 4-6 weeks then return every one or two months for maintenance or top-up treatment plus reassessment. Be aware that, as with any treatment, there is a small percentage of animals that will not respond to acupuncture.

Most insurance companies provide cover for acupuncture and other complementary therapies. This should be outlined on your insurance policy.

What to expect after treatment.

  • Some pets show an immediate improvement which lasts for a day or two and then wears off. This may indicate that the individual is a good responder and usually the response lasts longer with each treatment so that the time between treatments can be extended.
  • Other pets may be a little stiff for a day or two. This usually indicates a strong responder who needs lighter stimulation next time. This stiffness or discomfort usually wears off with rest and is sometimes followed by an improvement.
  • Commonly there will be little noticeable response until after the third or fourth treatment and then a gradual improvement.
  • A small number of pets and people are classed as non-responders and don’t improve. We may recommend further investigations at this point in case there is another condition underlying the pain.


Why Choose Holistic Pet NI?


The team of professionals at HPET are all qualified in veterinary acupuncture and continue their studies and interest in this field with both WVAG (the Western veterinary acupuncture group) and the ABVA (the Association of British veterinary acupuncturists). They are extremely experienced in the field and treat 50-100 cats and dogs every week with acupuncture or electro acupuncture. It is such a powerful therapy that they are still amazed by its potential even after all their years of experience.



Are there any side effects of acupuncture in pets?
Some pets may be sleepy for a few hours after treatment or even up to a day. This is generally regarded as a good thing and we would recommend a few hours rest after treatment.
Occasionally a pet may be a little sore in which case we would normally give a lighter treatment next time.

How many sessions will my pet need?
That depends on the condition. Usually, the initial course is weekly for 4-6 weeks followed by monthly or 6 weekly maintenance treatments for chronic cases.

Is my pet suitable for acupuncture? 
Any pet is suitable.

How long does it take for acupuncture to work on dogs?
Some respond straight away, others need 4 or 5 treatments to get a response. A small number of individuals are classed as non responders.

Are dogs sedated for acupuncture?

Is acupuncture painful for pets?
Not usually but if they are very sensitive we may use very fine needles which are generally better tolerated.

If you think your pet may benefit from acupuncture call HolisticPet, the most experienced veterinary acupuncturists in Northern Ireland. HolisticPet- dedicated, passionate, sympathetic, professional.