Acupuncture has been getting more and more popular these days and it's not surprising that more and more vets are offering acupuncture for dogs with disc disease. Dogs suffering from cervical or thoracolumbar intervertebral disc disease are currently offered two options: conservative medical treatment consisting of medications against pain and inflammation and cage confinement, and for more severe cases, a surgical procedure known as ventral decompression or fenestration. And what about acupuncture? Acupuncture has also its place, and studies on using acupuncture for dogs with disc disease seem promising.
A Word of Caution
While acupuncture has the the potential for healing and making dogs feel better, one of the most important precautions that dog owners should take before having their dogs undergo acupuncture, is ensuring that their dogs are properly diagnosed.
The reason why this is so important is the fact that acupuncture has the potential to mask or alter symptoms which can make a later diagnosis much more difficult, explains veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Altman in the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
For instance, if a dog is suspected to have a spinal injury, but then turns out having an undetected life-threatening condition such as a bone cancer in the vertebrae, the use of acupuncture may mask the clinical signs resulting in a delayed diagnosis and treatment. This can mean that, in a serious condition such as cancer, precious time may be wasted.
Another factor to consider is that the pain reducing "side-effect" of dog acupuncture may encourage dogs to become overly active which can cause them to injure themselves and overall hinder the healing process. This is something dog owners should be aware of, but these instances can be avoided by consulting with a vet and following the vet's guidelines.
Acupuncture for Dog Cervical Disc Disease
Cervical intervertebral disc disease affects the dog's neck and can be quite painful causing dogs to have trouble eating, resting and moving in general. How can these dogs be helped with acupuncture?
A study conducted by Dr. Luc A. Janssens revealed that the results attained with acupuncture treatment for cervical disc disease are favorable and even comparable to those of surgical treatment.
To help dogs suffering from cervical disc disease, Dr. Janssens used needle insertion for 15 to 20 minutes without manipulation or stimulation of the needles. The treatment protocol consisted of one or two sessions per week using the GB-20 point, the TH-15 point, the LI-11 point. the SI-3 point and the GB-34 point.
The results of the study were quite promising: out of 35 dogs undergoing acupuncture, 69 percent showed complete recovery, 9 percent recovered within 2 days and 28 percent within one week, while 10 dogs relapsed. Some of the dog participating in the study had a history of being treated medically and surgically without satisfactory results.
Based on the study, Dr. Janssens concluded that overall acupuncture appeared to be effective in 70 percent of cervical disc protrusions with the average recovery time being 2 weeks. In his opinion, acupuncture therefore provided favorable results, but generally, acupuncture should not be continued over the course of 2 to 3 weeks if results are not seen by then and surgery at that point is advisable, especially in dogs with a history of recurrences.
Acupuncture for Dog Thoracolumbar Disc Disease
Thoracolumbar disc disease affects the dog's thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine. When the dog's back in involved, dogs have trouble walking and some dogs may even go on to develop loss of pain sensation and neurological deficits that impair their ability to urinate/defecate.
When it comes to thoracolumbar disc disease, the more severe the neurological signs, the more unfavorable or grave the prognosis. Prognosis though is fair for when affected dogs have still retained voluntary motor control (the ability to move at will) and deep pain sensation (which is often assessed by pinching the dogs toe).
Generally, dogs who are likely to return to a functional state show improvement within the first 2 weeks; however, this is not a hard and fast rule, points out veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Altman in the book "Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine."
What do studies says about the use of acupuncture for thoracolumbur disc disease in dogs? A study conducted once again by Dr. Janssens shows promising results. Dr. Janssen divided the dog into several groups based on their clinical signs.
In Group 1 were dogs with only back pain and no neurological signs, in Group 2 were dogs with back pain and signs of partial paralysis, in Group 3 were dogs who felt pain still but were unable to stand, walk or bear weight and in Group 4 were dogs who suffered from loss of pain sensation and showed paralysis of the legs and lower body. All dogs participating in the study were provided an average of 3.6 acupuncture treatments.
Once again, results showed favorable results with 85 percent of dogs making a complete recovery. Roughly 63 percent of dogs who recovered after several acupuncture sessions were dogs who had been treated with conventional medical therapy for about 2 weeks without success. The results therefore demonstrate that acupuncture can help reduce pain in dogs suffering from thoracolumbur disc disease and that its results can be comparable to those attained through surgery or medical treatment for dogs in group 1,2, and 3.
Further studies published years later in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (see references below) showed that electroacupuncture combined with steroids provided dogs suffering from thoracolumbur disc disease with shorter recovery times compared to steroid treatment alone.
"Acupuncture is a GREAT option for treating this type of problem!! Acupuncture, and chiropractic in the right hands can be very effective. This is exactly the type of thing that is really responsive to complementary therapy! Really a great option to look into!"~Dr. Fiona
- Probl Vet Med. 1992 Mar;4(1):107-16.Acupuncture for the treatment of thoracolumbar and cervical disc disease in the dog. Janssens LA
J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007 Sep 15;231(6):913-8.Evaluation of electroacupuncture treatment for thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease in dogs. Hayashi AM1, Matera JM, Fonseca Pinto AC.
J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2009 May 1;234(9):1141-6. doi: 10.2460/javma.234.9.1141. Effects of adjunct electroacupuncture on severity of postoperative pain in dogs undergoing hemilaminectomy because of acute thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease. Laim A1, Jaggy A, Forterre F, Doherr MG, Aeschbacher G, Glardon O.
J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2010 Jun 1;236(11):1225-9. doi: 10.2460/javma.236.11.1225.Comparison of decompressive surgery, electroacupuncture, and decompressive surgery followed by electroacupuncture for the treatment of dogs with intervertebral disk disease with long-standing severe neurologic deficits.
Joaquim JG1, Luna SP, Brondani JT, Torelli SR, Rahal SC, de Paula Freitas F