Acupuncture Needles, Treatment Plans and More from Dr. Hirschfeld

Interview with Beth Hirschfeld, DVM, CVA, DMO about acupuncture needles, treatment plans for your fur baby, expectations and potential complications

We learned about the origins of acupuncture and its integration into veterinary medicine in Part 1 of our interview with Dr. Hirschfeld.  Now let’s dig into the specifics of how acupuncture is administered and what you and your fur baby can expect from the treatment.

First: Prepare

In order to enhance the benefit of the acupuncture treatment, for three hours prior to treatment make sure your fur baby avoids:

  • Heavy feeding
  • Heavy exercise
  • Bathing (including going into a pool or ocean) for three hours before and after a treatment

How many treatments do you recommend?

dog at veterinarianBefore pursuing treatment with acupuncture, I perform a physical examination and get the patient’s full medical history.  In some cases, diagnostic laboratory tests and x-rays may be required.  There are some conditions for which a single acupuncture treatment is all that is required.  In most instances, however, I will prescribe multiple treatments spread over weeks or even months to reverse some chronic conditions.  For more involved problems, the pet parent must be willing to commit to a minimum of three acupuncture treatments in order to see an improvement.  The more traditional Chinese approach requires six treatments before expecting any improvement.

Typically, the acupuncture treatments are given once a week, but occasionally they may be required twice weekly or, alternatively, every two weeks, depending upon the patient’s condition.  As the patient responds to the treatments, I note the length of time that the treatment remains effective and the treatment intervals may increase, or I may decide to stop treatment completely if additional treatments are unnecessary.  Chronic conditions may require treatment monthly or several times per year, once the initial response level has peaked, in order to maintain maximum positive effect.

It is also important to understand that there is a limit to how much acupuncture will help your fur baby.  It may be that the disease or trauma has progressed beyond the point where acupuncture can arrest or reverse the damage, and all the acupuncture can do is provide supportive care and symptomatic relief.

Tell us about acupuncture needles and how they are used.

  • acupunctureI use needles that are made of finest quality surgical steel. The needles are pre-sterilized and immediately disposed of after use.  They are very slender – barely thicker than a human hair – and have a flexible shaft.  These needles are solid core so they produce very little or no discomfort.  For aquapuncture and biopuncture, I use very small gauge needles to minimize discomfort.
  • The number of needles used and where they are placed depends on individual needs.  The needles are inserted just beneath the surface of the skin.  A slight prick may be felt during insertion.  The sensation of needling varies from individual to individual, point to point and day to day.  The sensation of needling can be strong but only lasts for a moment.  It is often followed by a sense of deep relaxation and calm.
  • During the acupuncture treatment itself, most animals exhibit little or no pain or discomfort.  Most patients will lie down and nap during a treatment with their parents nearby or holding them.
  • A few animals – those with a very high anxiety level or extreme fear reaction to being confined or restrained – require more coaxing to stay still.  It is only in extraordinary circumstances that sedation may be required.  Aggressive animals who are known to bite may have to be muzzled for the first one or two sessions.
  • The treatment itself may last up to an hour or so, but will vary depending on which type of acupuncture is being performed (aquapuncture and biopuncture tend to take less time while moxibustion and electrostimulation take longer to perform).

What can pet parents and the patient expect after treatment?

  • dog sleepingLet your fur baby get plenty of rest after a treatment so that her body can experience the maximum benefit of the treatment.
  • Your fur baby may exhibit reactions to acupuncture treatments for 24-48 hours afterwards; she may exhibit no immediate change; or she may become very sleepy or hyperactive, probably due to sudden changes in the energy flows within her body. Either extreme, or even no reaction at all, is not to be considered as cause for alarm.
  • Be sure to continue with any prescribed medications.
  • To help properly direct future treatments, make note of any change in the patient’s attitude, gait, alertness, appetite, bowel, and urinary movements.
  • There are occasions following an acupuncture treatment when the patient will exhibit a “rebound effect” or healing crisis, during which time the symptoms seem to worsen for up to 72 hours and then suddenly begin to improve. The rebound effect may be seen as a good sign, usually because the patient becomes markedly better after the 72-hour window following the acupuncture treatment.  Please alert your veterinarian about the patient’s symptoms should this event occur.  This effect may be explained by the temporary removal of the compensatory energy routing the body had been using to maintain a homeostasis of energy flow.  The acupuncture redirects all energy flows back into a more harmonious pattern, which will speed healing, but which may put the body’s system “out of whack” until the energy flows strongly through the new directions.

What are the most common complications that can occur as part of an acupuncture treatment?

There are several rare complications associated with acupuncture treatments:

  • The breaking of a needle while in the skin or subcutaneous tissue, which may be remedied by minor surgery;
  • Hematoma formation, which is the pooling of blood from a punctured blood vessel;
  • Striking a nerve during the placement of an acupuncture needle; and
  • very rarely, only under deep needle insertion, an organ may be punctured. These are extremely rare occurrences but have been reported to happen.

Are there needle-less alternatives to acupuncture? Since December 2015 I have also offered needle-less acupuncture using a state of the art, dual beam, class IV laser. The laser using the acupuncture tip is only held to a particular point for 3-7 seconds so treatment is much faster. There are several probe options, including a large probe that can be held 8 inches away for really fractious animals or nervous animals such as birds that may not like to be touched. I am seeing just as good results using the laser as I achieve with traditional needles!



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