Doing acupuncture on cats may sound crazy. After all, your furry pal can barely tolerate riding in a car, let alone somebody poking it with needles.
Yet in a feline medical first, researchers recently succeeded in using acupuncture to treat a cat suffering from limb paralysis. Could acupuncture benefit your cat, particularly if physical or emotional issues have cropped up?
Acupuncture to the Rescue
Oriental medicine, including acupuncture, has been used for thousands of years to treat ailments in people and animals. Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific points in the body called meridians, where chi -- or vital energy -- is said to flow. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when chi is blocked, the body suffers. Yet by using acupuncture on several of these meridians, practitioners say chi can be unblocked and health restored.
In the aforementioned study, researchers used acupuncture on a 14-year-old cat with disc disease. The cat showed significant improvements in posture and mobility four months after starting acupuncture. The regime involved weekly visits at first, which were later reduced to every other week. After this brief round of treatments, the feline patient was walking and running again.
"Due to the seriousness of the disease, acupuncture was the only medical option, but I didn't have great expectations for this cat," admits Keum Hwa Choi, DVM, the study’s co-author who is an assistant professor of integrative medicine at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine in St. Paul. She had previously used acupuncture on dogs, horses, cows, rabbits and ferrets. Needless to say, the cat's response excited Dr. Choi.
Disc disease is only one condition in cats that acupuncture can help. Others include kidney conditions, autoimmune disorders, allergies, hip dysplasia, arthritis and certain musculoskeletal problems, along with some emotional issues. In most cases, acupuncture is used in conjunction with other treatments.
Cat Acupuncture Basics
If you're considering this treatment option for your cat, here's what you should know:
- Special training Because this treatment is so specialized, only certified veterinarians should perform acupuncture. Contact the AAVA or the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society to locate a qualified practitioner. Also, ask other pet owners for references.
- Short-term costs Acupuncture costs about $160 per session, on average. While that might sound like a lot up front, in the end, it will cost you less than trying to manage a condition without it, says Gary Van Engelenburg, DVM, president of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA).
- Treatment schedules The treatment schedule depends on the condition being treated. For about 90 percent of conditions, you'll see improvements in two to four treatments, Dr. Van Engelenburg says. Once the cat shows improvement, time between treatments is increased.
- Painless procedure Surprisingly, acupuncture is a low-stress treatment, says Dr. Van Engelenburg, who usually uses lasers over needles. The procedure takes only a few minutes and should help relax your cat in the process.
- Supplementary treatments While acupuncture might work wonders for your cat, it's not a cure. For instance, if your cat has arthritis and kidney issues, it may need additional treatments every few months.
In the end, though, the results of acupuncture may surprise you. Dr. Van Engelenburg has seen cats that were given only a few months to live yet survived several more years after acupuncture treatments. As he says, "This noninvasive procedure could improve the quality of life for your cat and perhaps help it live longer."