Does Acupuncture For Pets Really Work?

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Everybody has heard of acupuncture, and more people than ever have tried it.  But if acupuncture helps people, could it also help pets?

Veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Benbow says she was a skeptic, until she sent one of her patients to another veterinarian, to try it.  The patient recovered so well that Dr. Benbow was inspired to learn more.  She studied animal acupuncture at Colorado State University, and returned to New Orleans a confirmed believer.

Recently, Dr. Benbow demonstrated the treatment at West Esplanade Veterinary Hospital and Bird Clinic in Metairie.  She inserted about a dozen, super-thin needles into a rabbit with spine problems. She says there’s no pain involved with acupuncture, only “a little pinch” when the needles go lightly into the skin.

Dr. Benbow says acupuncture works basically the same way in animals as it does in people.  The brain responds to a needle as if it were a foreign object—sending the body’s own healing properties to the injured area.  Acupuncture proponents say a successful treatment helps the body to heal itself.

Veterinarians use acupuncture to treat everything from pet arthritis to kidney problems. Dr. Benbow says it’s especially useful for treating chronic pain.  “There is a lot of physiological change that can happen with chronic pain,” she says, and “acupuncture can help reverse those changes and just help relax those muscles and just help your body heal a lot quicker.”

But Dr. Benbow says there’s one crucial difference in how people and animals respond to acupuncture.  Animals don’t have any sense of a placebo effect.  “You can needle a dog and they come in limping and then they get better, “ she says, but “you can’t tell a dog, ‘ I’m going to put some needles in you and you’re going to feel better.’”

There is, however, one effect that pet acupuncture can have on pet owners.  “A lot of them have never had acupuncture for themselves,”  Dr. Benbow says, but after seeing a positive outcome in their pets, “now they’re getting acupuncture for themselves.”