This ancient healing modality can effectively address a wide range of health conditions in felines.
“Acupuncture helps me cope with the arthritis pain in my knees,” says Sandy. “I always feel so much relief after a session.” Like Sandy, an increasing number of people are embracing acupuncture as the treatment of choice for their aches, pains and illnesses. It’s also the fastest growing complementary therapy practiced on animals, and the number of veterinarians seeking training in this modality is growing.
Acupuncture was discovered by the ancient Chinese about 5,000 years ago. They learned they could affect physiological changes, control pain and stimulate organs or body parts by inserting needles into certain parts of the body. The needles are not inserted at random, but rather into acupuncture points, also called acupoints. These acupoints are focal areas that have increased electrical resistance. When stimulated, they also have the ability to produce a response in a target organ. The Chinese mapped these acupoints on humans and horses along with the effects produced by the stimulation of these points. The first acupuncturetextbook, the Neijing, was written by the Yellow Emperor around 4,700 years ago. It’s the oldest medicaltextbook in the world.
Acupuncture helps the body heal itself. When the acupoints are stimulated by tiny needles, natural chemicals are released that act centrally on the nervous system. They release natural pain-killing substances called endorphins. They also stimulate the body’s defense system and increase circulation. Because the nervous system goes all over the body, chemicals released from one spot may affect an organ or muscle farther away.
Do cats tolerate acupuncture?
Acupuncture is not painful or distressful to a cat when done by a qualified and experienced veterinarian. Acupuncture needles are very small – quite a bit smaller than the hypodermic needles used to give vaccinations. There may be a mild sensation of warmth or tingling when the needle is inserted, but it’s very transient. There may also be a sensation at the prick of a needle, but this doesn’t last when the needle is left in the acupoint. Some points are more sensitive than others and most veterinarians will avoid them altogether or use other methods such as lowlevel laser to stimulate those points. Most veterinary acupuncturists who practice on cats try to use as few needles as possible, use very small needles such as Korean Hand Needles, or use low-level laser.
Acupuncture needles are very small – quite a bit smaller than the hypodermic needles used to give vaccinations.
What’s involved in a treatment?
Each treatment is individualized to each patient. The points selected, the number of needles used and the length of the session all depend on the condition being treated. In general, most patients are seen once or twice a week initially, then the number of treatments is tapered off. Although a response may be seen after only one treatment, four to six are usually needed. The treatments last ten to 20 minutes.
What conditions can it help?
Acupuncture can be used along with regular veterinary medicine to treat a variety of feline conditions. We most commonly treat cats with musculoskeletal, renal and gastrointestinal problems, but many other conditions can be addressed, including:
- Traumatic injuries
- Intervertebral disc disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Loss of appetite
- Liver support with chronic elevated enzymes
- Chronic constipation
- Endocrine and reproductive
- Thyroid disturbances
- Respiratory and cardiovascular
- Kidney support in chronic insufficiency
- Painful urination syndromes
- Hyperesthesia (hair loss)
- Lick granulomas
- Support for FIV
Acupuncture can be a very powerful healing modality for cats, especially when combined with Western medical treatments.
Muffin was 16 years old when she presented with a three-day history of constipation. She had a painful abdomen full of hard stool, was vomiting, not eating and very cranky. Due to her age, her person was reluctant to hospitalize her and have enemas performed. (This would be the standard Western treatment for constipation.) Instead, she was given acupuncture using small needles and a low level laser. Acupoints were selected to relieve abdominal pain and intestinal spasm, and improve motility in the colon. The cat was also dehydrated, so 120ml of fluids were given subcutaneously. Immediately after the acupuncture, Muffin was less painful and had an improved disposition. Within eight hours of receiving the acupuncture, she passed a large quantity of stool and began eating again.
Panda is a 12½-year-old male that was brought in on an emergency basis for paresis of both hind legs. He was very painful and unable to stand. After radiographs, a diagnosis of intervertebral disc disease and arthritis was made. Because Panda had underlying kidney disease, the selection of pain control medication was limited. The family decided to try acupuncture. Acupoints were selected for pain control and muscle relaxation. After the 20-minute treatment, Panda went from screaming in pain to relaxed and purring. Panda continues to have regular treatments as needed for his chronic disc problems.
Arthritis and Hyperesthesia
Kujo is an 18-year-old male that had hyperesthesia (rolling skin) and barbering of hair on his lower back. He was very painful in the lower lumbar area and spent a lot of time pulling out his hair there. His back felt hot in this area. He was diagnosed with pain and arthritis of the lumbar spine. Chiropractic and acupuncture were performed on Kujo – these were his only treatments. After five acupuncture treatments, the hair-pulling had completely resolved. Kujo now has monthly maintenance treatments.