Acupuncture for Senior Dogs: A Holistic Approach to Canine Well-Being

As our furry friends get older, it’s only natural for us to explore different ways to ensure their health and well-being. One alternative therapy that has gained popularity in recent years is acupuncture. While many may associate acupuncture with humans, this ancient practice can also benefit our senior canine companions.

In this article, we will delve into the world of acupuncture for senior dogs and explore whether this holistic approach can truly enhance their quality of life.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been practiced by the Chinese and other Eastern cultures for thousands of years. It is believed that the natural state of the body is balance, and disease is a result of an imbalance. Acupuncture encourages the body to heal itself by correcting those imbalances.

As more and more people have been introducing alternative therapies into their own health care regimens, they are extending that interest to the care of their pets. Integrated medicine has become more commonplace, melding Western medical care with Eastern philosophy.

While there are an endless number of success stories, acupuncture is not a guaranteed fix for every pet. Treatments and efficacy will vary depending on the condition of your pet. It is good to note, acupuncture can be used alongside Western medicine, so you don’t have to choose one or the other.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Special needles are inserted into acupoints (the spot where nerve bundles and blood vessels come together), to help redirect the body’s energy fields (called Qi) back into balance. They also stimulate the release of anti-inflammatory and pain relieving hormones (endorphins).

The number of needles used will depend on the issue. Some will need just a few in one area, others many all over the body. It is not a painful procedure, but that’s not to say he won’t feel something!  

The time a treatment takes will vary – could last 10 minutes, could last 1 hour. It’s not unusual for a dog to relax, or even fall asleep during acupuncture.

Types of Acupuncture  

You may be surprised to learn, there are some techniques that don’t involve the use of needles.


Gentle pressure is applied to acupoints, releasing blocked healing energy and blood, and helping distribute nutrients the body needs to heal.

Electroacupuncture/ Electrostimulation

A mild electric current passes between needles, stimulating the nerves. It relaxes spasming muscles, and is often used to treat paralysis resulting from injury or trauma.


A solution of herbs or vitamins is injected into the acupoints through the tip of a needle.

Laser Acupuncture

Lasers are used in place of needles to stimulate acupoints.


Needles are heated with a dried herbal incense, stimulating blood flow. Heat is very beneficial for older dogs with sore or stiff joints, which is why you’ll often find senior pets with heating blankets, self-heating mats, or even hot water bottles on their beds.

What Conditions Would Benefit?

Acupuncture can be used as the main therapy or in combination with others, to treat a variety of health conditions –  

Inflammation and Painarthritis, degenerative joint disease, sprains…

Gastrointestinal Problemschronic idiopathic diarrhea or vomiting

Respiratory Disorderssinusitis, asthma…

Cancerhelp lessen side effects of chemotherapy, boost the immune system…

Metabolic DiseaseKidney and liver failure, Cushing’s, diabetes…

Traumasurgery, car accidents

Neurological Problemsresult of epilepsy, stroke…

Urinary Disordersincontinence, cystitis…

Systemic Inflammatory Conditionsallergies, lick granulomas…

General Well Being – as recommended by my holistic vet

Advantages of Acupuncture

One of the significant advantages of acupuncture is that it is a drug-free and non-invasive therapy. This makes it a safe option for senior dogs who may already be on multiple medications or have underlying health conditions. Unlike medications, acupuncture does not cause any adverse side effects and can be used alongside conventional treatments. However, it is crucial to consult with a qualified veterinarian who specializes in acupuncture to ensure the best possible outcomes for your furry friend.

How Often Will my Dog Need Treatment?

Each case is unique, and that can’t be answered here, but I can say that typically you can expect 1-3 visits a week to start. Once your vet sees how your dog responds, you should get a better idea of the frequency.

The effects of acupuncture are cumulative, so your dog will benefit more if you stick to the recommended plan, rather than going for treatment “whenever.”  

What Improvements Will I See and How Quickly?

We all want to know our dogs will be fine, and that it will happen quickly. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can know, especially at the outset.  

While acupuncture can lead to incredible results, it is not a cure all, and not every dog will benefit. Be patient, as difficult as that may be, and remember that alternative treatments are typically slower to act, and it takes time for a body to heal itself.

I did come across these statistics you may find helpful/comforting:

  • About 25% of patients show major improvement, some being “cured”
  • About 50% experience significant improvement, but still have some symptoms
  • The remaining 25% did not respond to the treatment at all

Seems to me that 75% experiencing at least significant improvement are pretty good odds.

Are There Side Effects?

Some dogs experience them, others don’t. You could see an increase or decrease in things like energy and appetite. You may want to give your dog a couple of days to rest, light exercise, calm environment.

On rare occasions a needle will break, infection will develop, or symptoms will worsen. If you have any concerns, or your dog doesn’t seem quite “right” call the vet immediately.

I have to add – if you will be seeing two vets, you need to be clear on who to call, when.

Can’t Decide Whether or Not to Try Acupuncture?

So far it sounds pretty good, but you’re still on the fence. What will help you make a decision one way or the other?

• Going online and reading testimonials?

• Speaking to people who have tried it?

• Speaking to a practitioner?

• You love your current vet but he doesn’t offer alternative therapies, you don’t want to leave and are concerned care will suffer with 2 vets because of crossed wires…

• How open are you to alternative therapies?

• Have you been satisfied or not, with the treatment your dog has been getting?

• Are you concerned about the amount of medication your dog is taking, or their potential/actual side effects?

• Have you had a bad personal experience with acupuncture?

• Is cost a concern?

What Senior Dog Parents Have to Say

I thought it would be helpful to see what senior dog parents had to say about their experiences with acupuncture.

♦ This is mine… “We live in England but spent a few months in Spain. I had always wanted to take my dogs to a holistic vet but there are none near when we live. I was so happy to find one in Spain, just under an hour drive from where we were staying. Our vet Pepe recommended acupuncture twice a week for 3 months as part of his holistic treatment of my dog Red, not for a specific condition. I never noticed any difference, but when we came back to England and we stopped the acupuncture I noticed a big difference in her overall well-being. She seemed frail.”

♦ “We do different acupuncture points for everything. But it started due to neuropathy and back leg weakness. Huge difference and worked better than anything else. Have tried for appetite stimulation and incontinence with less of a drastic beneficial impact.”

♦ “Most recently my 14.5 yo has been having acupuncture. I started it before he really had any problems. We have been going about once a month to start. We were away camping with him (RV) for three weeks and we’re about a week or so behind schedule when we came back and I noticed that he was having a harder time sitting and standing, went to his appointment and he was much better. All three of my pups have had acupuncture in their later years, I think it’s wonderful.”

♦ “Hi! My 14 year old great Dane had acupuncture when she lost use of her back legs suddenly. We were not sure of the reason. She had no movement in her back legs at the start of her acupuncture but as the weeks went on she started correcting her feet placement when being walked in her harness and she even started swinging her legs forward trying to take steps. Sadly she passed before her treatment was done, but I know if she was able to continue on she would have been walking again. I think acupuncture is amazing and helped her so much!! I would definitely recommend using this treatment if you dog needs it.”

♦ “My 14.5 year old lab goes for arthritis. He is very relaxed when there and feels better after. I know this because he runs after (which he doesn’t do going in) and jumps right into the car after (which he also doesn’t usually do)!”

♦ “When my first dog Sonny had lymphoma we got chemo. After he came out of remission we saw a holistic vet and he got acupuncture and some herbs. He fell asleep in the car on the way home which he had never done before! I went against my “gut instincts” and got him a second round of chemo…he was not cured from it but I do believe the acupuncture truly made him more comfortable…”

♦ “Yes! Acupuncture works very well for Sundae. She’s almost 15 and has arthritis.”

♦ “I had acupuncture every month on my 15year old Shih tzu and it was a big help. He also had Librela injections in his last months.”

♦ “We did acupuncture for our dog. My suggestion is to start with it now. Don’t wait.”

♦ “Acupuncture did wonders for my old lady! She was also getting adequan shots but I noticed a real difference with the acupuncture.”

I’m Ready, Now What?

Find a practitioner (if your current vet doesn’t offer it)

Find a qualified and experienced practitioner that you feel comfortable with. Start off with the obvious – ask your vet and anyone you know and trust who has pets. You may be surprised to discover they see a holistic vet.

Check out The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture ( or Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists ( 

I will mention this again – if you will be dealing with 2 vets, it’s very important for you to understand what role each will play, that the lines of communication between all parties are kept open, and that everyone is clear on who the primary vet responsible for your dog’s care is. Crossed wires and mixed signals can jeopardise your dog’s health.

The first appointment  

If your appointment is with someone new, they will ask for permission to have copies of your dog’s medical history, treatment plan and list of medications sent over beforehand.  

Do not expect your first acupuncture session to take place at that time. This appointment will be a “get to know your dog” (and you) – physical examination, your concerns…

Your vet will either make the recommendations for treatment at the end of your appointment, or will get back to you with the details.

Acupuncture for Senior Dogs – Conclusion

In conclusion, acupuncture can be a valuable addition to the overall wellness plan for senior dogs. With its potential benefits in pain management, improved mobility and enhanced well-being, it offers a holistic approach to their care.

However, it is always essential to consult with a qualified veterinarian to determine if acupuncture is suitable for your senior dog and to ensure the best possible outcomes. By exploring alternative therapies like acupuncture, we can provide our furry companions with the love and care they deserve in their golden years.

If your dog has had acupuncture I would love to hear about your experiences. What made you try it? Was it for a specific medical condition or just for overall well-being? How did your dog react? Have you noticed improvements? Have you been able to eliminate or at least reduce any of his medications? Would you recommend it?

Sharing helps others so please leave your feedback below in the comments section.











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