Acupuncture for Cats

You knew alternative medicine was catching on with some people, but how about for pets? The truth is, the use of acupuncture on animals traces back to China's Western Jin dynasty, circa 300 A.D. In the western world, animal acupuncture's roots are more recent and seeping into the mainstream. But when might it be appropriate to try it with your cat? And what should you expect from treatment? We asked New York-based veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist Stacey Joy Hershman to provide a fresh look at an age-old therapy.

An Overview
Acupuncture involves inserting thin, sterilized needles into pressure points slightly below the skin for between five and 30 minutes. It works by increasing blood flow, thereby promoting healing, relieving muscle spasms, stimulating nerves and helping to regulate the immune system. In doing all of the aforementioned, it is thought to treat the whole animal, rather than simply treating a set of symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments, including traditional Western medicine.

Kitty acupuncture is indicated mainly for musculoskeletal problems, skin problems, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory problems and cancer (to boost immune functioning and control pain). "Some common chronic illnesses treated with acupuncture include torn ligaments, muscle sprains, slipped discs and arthritis," says Dr. Hershman. 

Success for Some
Concerned about the side effects of conventional medicine, Barbara Stocker of Tuscan, Arizona took her cat to an acupuncturist to treat a hip joint disease. "When my cat, Violet, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, we thought her fun-filled, active life was over. We didn't want to go with painkillers, so we talked to the vet about acupuncture," Barbara says.  "Violet has responded so well to the treatments. From the beginning, we saw increased mobility and energy. It was obvious that the treatment was alleviating some of her pain." Today, she receives an acupuncture treatment once a month.

Olivia Goldstein of Chicago wasn't sure how her new cat would react to the treatment, but decided to experiment as a last resort. "I adopted an abused cat, and before I adopted her, she'd gotten her front paw stuck in the grill of a car," says Olivia.  "The vet could have amputated the paw, but suggested trying acupuncture first. Apparently, the needles can restore nerve function, and that's what they did. Banjo walks normally now, and doesn't seem to have pain anymore."

Unique Approach to Healing
How a cat responds to acupuncture has a lot to do with its individual temperament. "It depends on the cat," says Dr. Hershman. "Some relax and stay still, or fall asleep. Others won't tolerate the needles." Because cats tend to be more comfortable in their home environment, Dr. Hershman and many other certified veterinary acupuncturists make house calls, though this option is more costly. (For example, Dr. Hershman charges $100 for a house call, plus the cost of the treatment -- between $65 and $80 per application.)

Dr. Hershman notes that the needles can also be used to treat depression and behavioral problems. "After the possibility of any underlying medical issues are ruled out, a cat can receive calming points for anxiety, stress and spraying of urine due to stress," says Dr. Hershman.

Acupuncture isn't a one-shot cure-all, and requires commitment on the part of a cat owner. "Treatment can be once a week for four to eight weeks depending on what the cat is dealing with," explains Dr. Hershman. If relief from symptoms occurs during the initial treatment period, some cats are put on a maintenance schedule of one visit each month.

by Darcy Lockman