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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture was discovered and used for therapeutic purposes in China approximately 5,000 years ago. It was applied to veterinary use shortly afterwards, to treat horses, therefore it is not surprising that it is now being used in treating small animals such as cats. 

Acupuncture involves the stimulation of acupoints, usually with the insertion of fine needles to provide therapeutic effects. Acupuncture points (acupoints) are areas of high electrical conductivity. Because the nervous system has connections throughout the body, stimulation in one area can affect tissues and organs in another area of the body. Acupuncturists have mapped these acupoints and their target areas for cats and other animals. When stimulated, they cause a chemical release of endorphins that act on the nervous system. These endorphins cause physiological changes that control pain and stimulate organs. Endorphins are also associated with immune system functioning and increased circulation, resulting in better oxygenization to tissues. Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of conditions especially musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and renal conditions, as well as for preventative purposes.

Acupuncture should be administered on the advice of a veterinarian only and performed by a TCVM, traditional Chinese veterinary medicine trained, licenced veterinarian. Very small needles are used in the treatment of cats and if administered by a trained veterinarian the procedure is not painful or uncomfortable for your cat. 

Acupuncture Procedure in Cats

Before beginning acupuncture treatment, the veterinary acupuncturist will perform a physical exam and take a complete medical history of your cat. The medical history you provide should include any conditions being currently treated, medications currently prescribed, previous illness, surgery or traumatic incidents and any allergies your cat may have. You may also be asked to provide the results of any tests taken by previous veterinarians, for example radiographs or blood and urine test results. 

Anesthesia or sedation is not usually provided, as it is not necessary and may decrease the effectiveness of treatment. Discomfort to your pet is minimal.

Your veterinary acupuncture therapist will use a map of acupoints, there are 365 for your cat, and will determine which points require stimulation based on your cat’s therapeutic requirements. For cats, needles that are only about ½ inch long and of the very narrowest diameter are used.

The number of needles used and the location inserted depends on the condition being treated.

Acupuncture treatment usually begins with sessions one to two times per week for the first few weeks. Treatment is then reevaluated and may be reduced to once every two weeks for several weeks following.

Acupuncture sessions can last for as little as 20 minutes to as long as 60 minutes depending on the cat's condition requirements and the number of needles used to stimulate acupoints. 

Commonly used acupuncture technique involves the insertion of dry needles into the skin at acupoints. However, acupuncture with needles equipped with electrodes that transmit a small electrical current may also be used. Electrodes with electric current are often used to treat conditions such as paralysis from trauma.

Your veterinarian will insert small needles into the required acupoints and allow them to remain there for the amount of time required, as determined by your therapist. This stimulation will release endorphins, dilate blood vessels, and increase oxygenation to tissues and organs.

It usually takes several weeks for this treatment to be effective, however, some improvement may be seen soon after treatment begins.

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Efficacy of Acupuncture in Cats

Acupuncture therapy for cats is considered to be effective, especially when used in conjunction with western medicine therapies and treatments. 

Because cats are less tolerant of being in a clinic and less relaxed in a clinical setting, treatment at home may be more effective for some pets. A veterinary acupuncture therapist that is able to make home visits may be helpful if your cat becomes agitated at the veterinary office.

Some conditions can be reversed with a single round of acupuncture treatment, while others of a chronic nature may require ongoing treatment to address.

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Acupuncture Recovery in Cats

Acupuncture treatment does not require any special recovery or aftercare. Many cats fall asleep during treatment and are very relaxed post-treatment. Occasionally, your cat may experience some stiffness or soreness immediately after treatment, but this is generally minimal.

Although some pet owners report seeing effectiveness immediately after treatment, most acupuncture treatment requires several treatments over a period of weeks before results are seen.

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Cost of Acupuncture in Cats

Acupuncture therapy sessions range from 20 to 60 minutes in length and cost of treatment depends on your area and the length of treatment required. Acupuncture therapy sessions range from $25 to $125 per treatment. On average, eight treatments are required to address most conditions, although this varies depending on the condition being treated.

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Cat Acupuncture Considerations

Side effects of acupuncture treatment are minimal. The procedure itself produces minimal discomfort and special aftercare is not required. Some pet owners report their cat may experience lethargy and some worsening of symptoms immediately after treatment, but this is minimal and of short duration. In general, acupuncture is a minimally invasive form of therapy with few risks and is considered one of the safest forms of treatment.

There is a small risk that a needle could break off or infection could occur at the site of needle insertion, but this is very rare, and can be easily addressed by removal of the needle and antibiotics if required.

If tumors are present there is concern that increased blood flow to the tumor could potentially lead to tumor growth. This can be mitigated by not performing acupuncture in the area of the tumor. Acupuncture is often used to treat symptoms from cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation or address pain in cancer patients. Awareness of appropriate location for acupuncture treatment in these cases will address concerns regarding tumor growth.

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Acupuncture Prevention in Cats

Because acupuncture can be used to treat such a wide variety of conditions and ailments, preventative measures are difficult to identify. A good diet and routine monitoring by your veterinarian will ensure that your cat is healthy and any illness or condition identified quickly and treated as appropriate. Acupuncture is very commonly prescribed for musculoskeletal injuries which can be avoided by keeping cats indoors, and ensuring they have a safe environment with appropriate physical activity. For example, cat trees covered in carpet provide a good, relatively safe opportunity for exercise that household shelving and other furniture may not. Keeping your cat on a healthy diet and appropriately exercised will reduce injuries and disease that may need to be addressed with acupuncture therapy. 

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Acupuncture Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Shadow

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Domestic Medium-Haired Cat

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Pain
Lethargy
Sleepy
Reduced Appetite
Pain When Lifted
Agitation
Vocalizations

My cat Shadow had his first acupuncture appointment today. It was prescribed to him for his chronic arthritis pain. He was also diagnosed with IBD earlier in the year and more recently with chronic kidney disease and high blood pressure. During the appointment, Shadow was clearly agitated. He was twitching all over and it seemed to get worse as the 15 minutes wore on. He tolerated it, but just barely. The doctor said that it was due to central nervous system stimulation and completely normal. When we got him home, we noticed that he was much more vocal and active than usual. We're not sure whether we should be concerned, but he's running around and yell-howling down hallways. He's not hungry; we offered him dry food and he just nibbled at it. He's used the litter box. I can't really tell what he's experiencing or trying to tell us, but it's unnerving. He might be feeling better and thus has more energy, but his howls are relatively blood-curdling (he's a weird one) so it's hard to think that it might be a good thing. He didn't cry out when we picked him up, which leads us to think that he's not in as much pain as usual, and he's definitely more active, I just wish he didn't seem to be agitated.

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