How Does Acupuncture In Pets Really Work?

Listen to this post
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Since becoming qualified to perform certain acupuncture techniques in 2014, I have seen the unmistakable benefits of acupuncture in pets within the limited scope of my training which includes orthopedic and spinal conditions, and seizures. Although I would have loved to have taken the initiative to become certified to expand into the full scope of acupuncture therapy for all manners of ailments in pets, being an owner of two clinics and very much immersed in day to day practice, I simply have not had the time.

I have had the good fortune to have recently hired a young veterinarian who is fully Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) certified and have seen full on what acupuncture can do. One of her first days on the job, a cat came in so congested that it had to open mouth breathe, something cats are generally very resistant to do. Dr. Juliana Cafiero proceeded to apply acupuncture with B-12 infused through the hubs of the needles she applied (a form of aqua-acupuncture), and the feline patient breathed easier within a matter of minutes. Some of the lingering acupuncture skeptics on my medical team were at last won over with that single case, now full believers in the benefits of acupuncture.

So how does acupuncture really work? From the Eastern perspective, disease stems from the blockage of the flow of energy through the body called chi. This disruption of energy flow from injury or other factors leads to disease. Strategically placed needles restore the flow of chi that allows the body to heal itself.

I have to be perfectly honest, as a biochemistry undergraduate major and a primarily western trained veterinarian, I had a hard time accepting this concept, especially as I spent a full day getting acupuncture qualified and listening to the TCVM instructor speak of the 5 elements of Chinese medicine: water, fire, metal, earth and wood. While the scope of my medicine increased from that training because of my qualification to perform acupuncture, I felt compelled to explain acupuncture from a more Western context, both for myself and for my more Western minded clients that would not want to hear about the 5 elements of medicine from the Eastern context.

What I learned was that what the Chinese referred to as chi, was really quite simple to explain in the more Western medical concepts or a combination of:

  • Circulation
  • Nerve conduction
  • Hormone flow


Acupuncture causes vasodilation. From the arteriole side, this serves to increase blood supply to regions, thereby increasing the volume of healing cells that fight infection, remove dead cells, and repair injured cells. From the venous and lymphatic vessel side, this increases drainage of inflammatory debris and toxins.

Nerve Conduction

Acupuncture increases the propagation of nerve impulses, which is as essential to body function as circulation is. Nerve conduction provides the energy and signals to energize and direct all metabolic processes that go far beyond musculoskeletal movement.

Hormone Flow

Hormones regulate the metabolic processes of the body and support all manner of body function. It is hormones that trigger optimal digestion during “rest or digest” cycles, sleep wake cycles, the fight or flight response, and the presence of pain and inflammation. By restoring the proper flow of hormonal messengers, acupuncture enhances body function and its own intrinsic healing properties.

There is no placebo effect in dogs and cats, as they do not come into a veterinary clinic with the hope and desire to get well that often drives placebo effect in people. As I watch my acupuncture patients drop their head and take on a posture of relaxation within 30 seconds of placing needles at their relaxation points, I know that is a real physiological effect taking place.

Whichever perspective one wishes to view acupuncture, rest assured, it works!

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. He is the author of The Man In The White Coat: A Veterinarian’s Tail Of Love. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , general partner of Grant Animal Clinic, and runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.  Dr. Welton fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.