Senior dogs can be prone to a variety of health problems, from joint issues to appetite loss. Acupuncture can help treat many of these conditions and enhance your canine companion’s well-being.
As our dogs get older, they can develop a range of health issues, from arthritis and disc disease to age-related anxiety and appetite loss. Acupuncture is one modality that can help address these and other health issues in senior dogs. In this article, we’ll look at how acupuncture works, and cover five common conditions in older canines that it can assist with.
My own dog’s experience with acupuncture
Bruiser, my 14-year-old Doxie, was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) when he was five years old. After crate rest and an MRI, we started acupuncture and haven’t looked back. Even now, nine years later, it’s obvious that Bruiser benefits from his treatments, as he always does “zoomies” the day after his appointments! While his IVDD remains an ongoing concern, given his advancing age, his monthly sessions improve his overall mobility; as a bonus, they help control his gastrointestinal issues, too. And as a certified vet technician, I’ve seen acupuncture help many other senior dogs.
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine sterile needles (0.16 mm to 0.3 mm diameter) into specific points along the body. The stimulation of these points causes local muscle relaxation, the release of natural pain-relieving hormones such as serotonin and endorphins, increased local circulation, and a blockage of pain signals in the body. Acupuncture also stimulates blood flow to nerves, joints and organs to help maintain their function longer.
“Acupuncture sessions are a wonderful way to treat pain, reduced appetite, nerve and organ dysfunction and many other conditions in senior dogs,” says Dr. Becky Jester, DVM and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Herbalist. “I also incorporate basic massage and joint manipulations into the treatment to ease the insertion of needles, and aid the body’s ability to regain function.”
Consistent treatment is better than having sessions done at random intervals, since the effects of acupuncture are known to be cumulative. Depending on the dog and his health problem, sessions may be tapered off after a period of time.
5 conditions acupuncture can help with
Acupuncture often helps with arthritis and degenerative disc disease (from severe pain to neurologic dysfunction), as well as idiopathic vestibular disease (circling/falling and/or head tilt not caused by ear infection), gastrointestinal issues, and kidney and liver disease, to name a few. Dogs frequently suffer from these problems as they start to age. Other conditions acupuncture can help alleviate include anorexia, incontinence, immune support, inflammatory bowel disease, nausea, post-surgical pain and trigger points (muscle knots).
Acupuncture can also decrease the number of conventional drugs needed for some illnesses and conditions, such as the five common problems listed below:
Is your dog having trouble walking? Acupuncture can help with the management of arthritis by decreasing pain, increasing mobility, and potentially reducing the dosage of conventional drug therapy that might be required for pain control.
2. Disc disease (IVDD)
Acupuncture reduces local swelling, inflammation and pain in patients with IVDD. It also decreases cord compression, scar formation and tissue oxygen deprivation, while restoring damaged nerves. EAP (see below) is known to help the body respond faster in many IVDD cases.
3. Age-related anxiety
Acupuncture is all about restoring balance in the body. Sometimes age brings on anxiety in our senior dogs. Anxiety can be caused by anything from rides in the car to a loud plane passing by overhead. In other cases, senior dogs may not be as sociable as they used to be, and encountering other dogs can cause leash reactivity. It’s also highly likely the onset of an illness, such as blindness or hearing loss, can cause anxiety in your pet. Acupuncture has noticeably calming effect on these dogs; in fact, most fall asleep during treatment.
4. Lack of appetite
According to VCA Hospitals, “Dogs with diabetes, kidney or liver failure, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease have experienced a decrease in nausea and increase in appetite after acupuncture sessions.” Bruiser is a great example; he has a heart condition and inappetence is a side effect. We use acupuncture as the primary method to encourage his interest in food.
Needles should not be used near a tumor, so your dog’s vet or oncologist should be notified if you’re having acupuncture done for your senior. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it as part of his treatment plan. Acupuncture is mainly used for the discomfort and lack of appetite associated with cancer and conventional treatments.
Electro-acupuncture and more
Electro-acupuncture (EAP) has been found to increase the body’s response to acupuncture. Needles are connected by metal clips and electro-impulses move between the clips and into the needles. Dogs receiving acupuncture (dry-needling) combined with EAP have lower pain scores and respond more quickly to treatments. Studies show that acupuncture and EAP can reduce the inflammation and pain associated with specific areas of disc compression. Bruiser’s acupuncturist uses EAP throughout his treatment sessions.
Additional therapies include:
- Acupressure: This is a great alternative when needle treatment cannot be used. Acupressure is the application of pressure on certain points of the body. It can increase circulation throughout the body.
- Aquapuncture: This form involves the injection of liquids to produce an energetic change by pushing tissue out of the way. Vitamin B12 is commonly used in dogs that need an immune boost.
- Laser therapy: Lasers can be used for the relieving pain, reducing swelling and healing wounds. Laser treatments are wonderful for dogs with arthritis.
- Moxibustion: While not very common, moxibustion involves the application of a heated Chinese herbal compound to the needles. Heat is very beneficial to dogs that are older or suffering from conditions with joint stiffness.
Finding a veterinary acupuncturist
While more veterinarians are offering acupuncture, you may need to do some research to find one in your area, depending on where you live. Visit the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society at ivas.org to find holistic vets practicing acupuncture in or near your region.
The veterinarian I take Bruiser to practices out of her home. The environment is calm and quiet, which is a nice alternative to a busy clinic, especially for an older dog. If you dog is anxious or has limited mobility, you might consider a veterinary acupuncturist who is mobile and will treat your dog in the comfort of your home.
You don’t need to wait until your dog develops age-related disease before introducing acupuncture into his healthcare regime. Proactively using acupuncture as your dog gets older, even if he’s still in good health, can help prevent or prolong the development of problems.