Pet Acupuncture

Dr Kristy Gilbert is an experienced small animal veterinarian who has been a valued member of our team since 2011. She completed her studies in small animal acupuncture in 2015 via the internationally recognised Chi Institute, and is now a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist.

Please enquire today if you would like to include acupuncture in your pet’s treatment programme.

What is acupuncture?

Traditional acupuncture involves the precise insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body’s surface to bring about pain relief or healing of imbalances in the body, either at sites local or distant to those needles. In traditional Chinese medicine it is believed that imbalances or “disharmony“ within the patient’s body and with their environment can lead to disease. A traditional Chinese medical practitioner will often combine acupuncture with herbal treatments, food therapy, and specialised massage and exercises to correct disharmony and thereby treat disease, but acupuncture can also be used alone or in conjunction with our western medical treatments to benefit patients with a vast array of ailments.

Acupuncture is one component of traditional Chinese medicine which is a system of treatment that has been practiced and refined over thousands of years. Records of acupuncture being used to formally treat human ailments date back at least 4000 years. There is even evidence to suggest that stone needles may have been used in Neolithic times to stimulate certain points on the body to have an effect, that’s 8000 years ago! In China, domestic livestock animals like horses, pigs and cattle have benefited from acupuncture treatment over the last 2000 years. As eastern and western medicine are becoming more intertwined it is only natural that in recent years this ancient traditional Chinese treatment has also been applied to our beloved companion pets too.

Frequently asked questions 

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture is an area of traditional Chinese medicine that has been extremely well researched and proven to have beneficial measurable physiological effects.

Studies have documented that stimulation of specific acupuncture points can have both local and systemic (distant) effects. These effects are mediated by a complex interaction between specific hormones, tissue chemicals, nerve pathways and the immune system. For example, the pain relieving effects of acupuncture are largely attributed by scientists to be due to the release of endorphins, the stimulation of specific nerve pathways that can essentially block the messages of pain being sent to the central nervous system, and the reduction of inflammation and muscle spasm via the release of certain tissue chemicals when specific points are stimulated.

Studies of stimulation of specific acupuncture points have also recorded beneficial effects on the immune system, such as elevated white blood cell counts, which can be helpful in the management of many cancer patients, whilst other points have been proven to cause release of norepinephrine (adrenaline) to aid in resuscitation following cardiovascular collapse.

Whilst not everything about acupuncture can be explained by western science as we know it, there is great evidence to support its use as a complementary treatment option for a vast array of ailments.

Does acupuncture work for all patients?

No, acupuncture does not work for every pet every time, but nor does every course of medication or other treatment option. Among the human population, 3% of people have a certain type of brain chemistry that makes them unable to respond to the signals sent to the nervous system by acupuncture. It is not known what percentage of domestic animals may simply be “non responders” too. Concurrent necessary medications can sometimes slow or dampen the effects of acupuncture or the disease process itself may require other forms of treatment beyond acupuncture.

A thorough patient history and examination, a definitive western diagnosis,and an accurate traditional Chinese pattern diagnosis are integral in contributing to your pet achieving benefits from acupuncture treatment. However, with over 300 acupuncture points described in humans and a similar number thought to exist in our pets, choosing the right combination of any number of these points to treat an individual successfully relies not just on the skill of the acupuncturist. A pet’s own tolerance of acupuncture can sometimes impact on the accuracy of needle placement, the points able to be accessed and needle retention itself so there are many reasons why patient response to acupuncture can vary.

What conditions is acupuncture used for?

Acupuncture is a valid treatment option in the pain management of musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis, back and neck pain, non-surgical tendon and ligament conditions and intervertebral disc disease. It can be safely used in conjunction with western medical and surgical treatments.

Acupuncture can be used as part of a holistic approach to treating a vast array of internal medical conditions such as recurrent urinary tract diseases, medical gastrointestinal conditions, chronic kidney disease, behavioural problems such as anxiety, and in palliative and geriatric care but it is often used in conjunction with other treatments. For example, it can aid in treating nausea and gastrointestinal disturbances that may not be responding fully to western medicine or in cases where the side effects of medication are proving problematic.

How many treatments will my pet need?

Just like a course of pills, more than one treatment is usually needed. The number and frequency of treatments varies between patients but Kristy generally recommends 3-5 sessions to fully appreciate whether a response has been achieved or not. Sometimes a positive response is noticed after only one session. On average sessions are initially 1-2 weeks apart but this is also case dependant. Some pets with chronic ailments that show a positive response to acupuncture may benefit from a “tune-up” every few months following their initial sessions or may find its use beneficial on an “as required” basis.

Acupuncture safety, risks and contraindications

Acupuncture is considered to be a very low-risk treatment option when implemented by a trained professional such as Kristy. The needles used are sterile, single-use only and they are made of stainless steel so the chances of needle breakage are minimal. It is normal for your pet to feel some degree of discomfort when the needles are first inserted, and some points are more sensitive than others, but any painful response is usually transient and most pets are surprisingly tolerant of the procedure with some even being known to fall asleep during the session!

Minor bleeding or bruising at the needle puncture sites can sometimes occur and sleepiness in the hours or during the day after treatment is not uncommon. Sometimes a muzzle will be used on dogs during the acupuncture treatment session as initial reactions to needles can be unpredictable. This is as much about protecting the vet as it is about protecting you whilst you hold your pet for the procedure.

Certain specific acupuncture points may be contraindicated in pregnancy, overlying skin infections or certain types of cancers so a full physical exam and full disclosure of patient history is necessary prior to commencement of treatment with acupuncture.

Acupuncture can be safely combined with medication and other western treatments. Some drugs can dampen, slow or even heighten the response to acupuncture so any effects they may have on the efficacy of acupuncture treatment will be discussed at your pet’s first consultation. Medication should never be discontinued or changed without consulting your veterinarian.

How do I make an appointment?

A full physical exam and full patient history is required before commencing any medical treatment, including acupuncture. As with any course of treatment, there is a greater chance of success when your practitioner has as much information about your pet and his/her condition as possible. Appropriate diagnostic tests and/or treatment options will always be discussed and recommended so that your pet receives thorough and well-rounded veterinary care.

If your pet has been seen recently at one of our hospitals (within 3-6 months) for an ailment that you would be keen to try acupuncture for, an internal referral to Kristy may be all that is necessary. Please contact us to register your interest and Kristy will review your case and talk to your regular vet before contacting you to arrange a suitable appointment time. Sometimes a general recheck may be necessary first so Kristy can review your pet’s condition and examine your pet using traditional Chinese medicine pattern diagnostics. This enables her to better formulate an individual acupuncture plan for your pet. Your first acupuncture session may then be scheduled on a different day depending on bookings.

If your pet has not been seen for a while or has a new ailment a regular veterinary check-up will be required first. Please feel free to express your interest in acupuncture at this time.

If you are NOT a client of North Nowra Veterinary Hospital or Jervis Bay Veterinary Clinic and your pet is currently under the care of a veterinarian for an ailment that may benefit from complementary acupuncture, please ask your regular vet for a referral to Kristy. Your pet’s history will need to be faxed or emailed to North Nowra Vets and once reviewed Kristy will contact both you and your regular vet to arrange a course of acupuncture if appropriate. Kristy will liaise with your regular vet throughout the course of treatment as necessary.

PLEASE NOTE: You will be asked to remain present throughout the session to assist in holding your pet as combinations of needles are left in place for anything from 5-10 minutes through to 20-30 minutes each so sessions can commonly last 30-60 minutes. Please let us know if you feel uncomfortable about this so that we can make alternate arrangements!

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