A small minority of animal patients balk at the idea of having needles poked in them, the experts said, but most actually appear to enjoy their treatments. That may be because acupuncture seems to release natural painkillers called endorphins.
"Usually by the second or third treatment, they … will just lie down, ready for their treatment," Alvarez said. "I have one cat that's known in the rest of the practice as a rather fractious cat. But this cat will literally purr during his treatment."
Both Alvarez and Crisman stressed that while acupuncture sometimes works well on its own, it is often best used alongside Western medicine. "If you have an infection, for example, and perhaps the infection is a result of poor circulation to that area, then you can improve the circulation [with acupuncture] and use the antibiotics to kill the bugs," Alvarez said.
According to the experts, pet owners who decide to seek out an acupuncturist should make sure the practitioner is certified by one of the three U.S. centers, guaranteeing that the person has undergone the required months of rigorous training.
For her part, Washburn worries that too many pet owners don't recognize acupuncture as a potential treatment option.
"I sometimes see people on the street with a dog that's wobbly or it looks like it's limping, an older dog in pain," Washburn said. "I always tell the owners that they should try it. They probably think I'm crazy. But I'm fully convinced that it extended the life of my beloved pet."
The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society has more on veterinary acupuncture.
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