When we mention acupuncture, most people would think of the likes of Chinese acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Yin and Yang, and Qi. Combining these thoughts and having pets as the patients, pet acupuncture almost sounds like a healer character in a martial arts game.
But besides traditional Chinese acupuncture, there’s also Western acupuncture.
Traditional acupuncture works by restoring the flow of energy (Qi) in the body. If Qi is unable to flow freely through certain parts of the body, it will cause disharmony, an unbalanced Yin and Yang, and therefore pain and illnesses.
Western acupuncture, on the other hand, is adapted from traditional acupuncture and doesn’t share the same fundamental principles of Qi and harmony. It is instead based on scientific evidence and performed only when there is a medical diagnosis. Its purpose is to stimulate the nervous system to release pain-relieving substances, such as endorphins and block inflammation-causing ones.
In Singapore, there are a few veterinary acupuncturists who can perform Chinese or integrative acupuncture for pets.
I managed to score an interview with Janielle Tan, better known as Jane, a full-time veterinary nurse practising at The Visiting Vets. She is currently the only Western pet acupuncturist in Singapore.
To learn more about this supportive and complementary therapy that can help with managing your pet’s pain, read on as Jane shares with us more about Western acupuncture for pets.
1. Hi Jane, thank you for having us today. When and how did you start dabbling in pet health and wellness?
I love animals since I was a kid but my parents did not allow me to keep pets. So, I started working part-time in pet shops while I was schooling. From then, my interest in pet health and wellness started growing.
Giving care to and interaction with animals made me want to make a positive impact in their lives. I picked up pet grooming and went on to be a zoo keeper, a vet nurse, and eventually a pet acupuncturist.
I believe in quality care for animals and the need to constantly upskill myself to be able to provide that. Despite my degree in Business Marketing, I attended the Western Veterinary Acupuncture course in Scotland in 2015. I attained the Certificate in Western Veterinary Acupuncture & Pain management from European School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies (ESVPS) in 2016.
2. Why did you decide to pick up pet acupuncture?
I believe that acupuncture is an effective treatment for pain management. I also want to be able to help animals directly aside from assisting vets with treatments and nursing.
Seeing that pet acupuncture is a niche in Singapore and does not come cheap, I want to be able to provide it at a more affordable rate and help to raise awareness of it in Singapore.
3. What are the benefits of Western pet acupuncture? What kinds of pets would benefit greatly from it?
Pet acupuncture can be used for a variety of problems but I use the technique mainly for the treatment of pain.
Pets suffering from acute or chronic pain would benefit from acupuncture. For example:
- muscle pain
- osteoarthritis and spinal arthritis
- conservative (non or post-surgical) treatment of disc prolapse (slipped disc)
- selective pain-associated conditions (e.g. skin problems and visceral (gastrointestinal/bladder) disorder)
- certain conditions related to the immune system
Acupuncture is also effective for some other kinds of functional conditions, such as constipation in cats and irritable bowel related problems in dogs.
4. Are there pets that are not suitable for it?
Acupuncture, when administered properly, is very safe. It is a legal requirement that only a veterinary acupuncturist can perform pet acupuncture in Singapore.
Owners of pets should always inform their veterinary acupuncturist of pre-existing conditions, especially clotting disorder or immunity-related diseases before treatment. They will be the best person to advise you on whether your dog is suitable for acupuncture.
5. Are there different types of pet acupuncture?
There are three types of pet acupuncture – dry needling, electro-acupuncture, and aqua-puncture.
Dry needling is the most commonly used form of pet acupuncture and uses purely needles.
Aquapuncture is for pets that really cannot sit still. Instead of having to keep needles in place, Vitamin B or Homeopathic Anti-Inflammatory is injected into the acupuncture points.
Electro-acupuncture is basically an electric current applied to dry needling. A device that generates continuous electric pulses is attached to the needles through small clips. I use it on my patients with more severe conditions or when the effect of dry needling does not last as long as it should.
6. Is pet acupuncture more for once-off treatment or long-term management?
Pet acupuncture is a long-term treatment. Typically, it begins with once-a-week treatments, for four to six weeks.
That’s because it takes about four weeks to determine the effectiveness of the treatments. If the pet is responsive and doing well, we will start prolonging the duration between treatments so that the effect is maintained for as long as possible.
7. Do all pets respond to acupuncture the same way?
Acupuncture has to go hand in hand with treatments advised by the vet.
Your pet may show one of three responses to treatment:
1. They seem a little stiffer or more uncomfortable
This may mean that the dose was a little too much. But it also means that they are responding to treatment. After a day or two, you should observe some improvement. Be sure to inform the acupuncturist at the next session so that they can adjust the dosage.
2. There’s no difference
This can be quite disappointing but it does not mean that all hope is lost. It may just take more time. Also, some improvements after the first treatment could be too brief or small for us to tell. It may be assuring to know that about 80% of animals are responsive to acupuncture. Do allow at least four sessions to determine whether acupuncture works for your pet.
3. You see an improvement
This may happen within three days after the treatment. The conditions that we are treating may recur before the next treatment, but this is normal. The effects of acupuncture treatment typically last longer after each subsequent session and your pet may eventually be able to stop treatment for a period of time.
8. How much does an average pet acupuncture session with you cost?
- S$50 – S$100 at the clinic
- S$100 – S$150 for a house call visit
Also read: A List of Recommended Vets in Singapore
9. Do you have any success stories to share?
A Miniature Dachshund suffered slipped disc and was paralysed from the waist down. Surgery wasn’t a viable option for his owner so he decided to let his Dachie try acupuncture along with treatments given by the vet. His dog started walking after two sessions.
I also treated a Labrador with lymphoma that was undergoing chemotherapy and suffering from severe side effects (diarrhoea and vomiting). In this case, acupuncture as the supportive post-chemotherapy therapy helped to significantly reduce the side effects. It gave the dog quality of life before it was time for him to say goodbye.
I have been very lucky that most of my acupuncture patients have responded very well to treatments.
10. Do you have pets of your own and do you use acupuncture on them?
Yes, I now have a 16-year-old dog that’s suffering from arthritis as well as renal failure. She’s managing her arthritis very well with acupuncture. It is especially helpful because nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not a good option for her arthritis due to her renal failure.
11. Do you perform acupuncture on animals other than dogs?
Yes – cats, rabbits, and horses (in the UK).
12. Tell us a misconception people have towards Western pet acupuncture.
It is a common misconception that acupuncture can cure diseases but in fact, acupuncture can only help to manage a disease better. It is a supportive therapy.
13. What are some difficulties that you encounter at your job?
Dogs that can’t keep their butts still and greedy dogs that attempt to eat needles!
While those are at least comical, impatient owners give me the biggest headache.
Owners who expect to see immediate effects of acupuncture treatment, especially after one session tend to give up and not return for important subsequent sessions.
They need to know that acupuncture may or may not work immediately. It depends on the conditions of the pets and their responsiveness to acupuncture.
14. What is the difference between acupuncture at home and at the clinic?
Some pets tend to be more anxious at the clinic and it can sometimes be difficult to administer treatment. With house calls, pets are more comfortable in their home environment and it is also more convenient for pets with walking difficulties.
15. What do you usually do during your free time?
I read books or articles that vets read to keep myself relevant and knowledgeable about the development of diseases and their treatments and breakthroughs in research.
I also make fabric martingale collars for dogs. It’s called Ruff Premium by JS. I believe that dogs need gentle collars that are also strong enough to control them and not injure their neck or spine during pulls on walks.
I also love spending time with my dogs at dog cafes during rest days.
16. How well-received is pet acupuncture in Singapore?
I believe that the modern pet owners in Singapore are increasingly more receptive to acupuncture. However, there are still many who are skeptical about it.
17. How many patients do you have in a typical week?
I have about 15 patients a week but my clientele is growing.
18. Some people don’t believe in pet acupuncture because it is not scientifically proven. What are your views on that?
I am a believer in Western veterinary acupuncture and a part of the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), which does acupuncture for humans. There are many scientifically proven case studies about acupuncture for pain management.
I urge you to check out the BMAS website to find out more.
19. How does a pet owner decide whether a pet acupuncturist is good?
In my opinion, a good pet acupuncturist should be knowledgeable about a pet’s health condition, diseases, and the treatment options available other than acupuncture.
He/she should also be honest about how acupuncture works and when it would work best. Never give owners false hope.
20. Is there anything you want pet owners to know about Western pet acupuncture?
Acupuncture doesn’t hurt. As the needles are very fine, the animals can hardly feel it. Sometimes animals may react to the needle insertion as though they are expecting pain. But they will soon relax when they learn that it doesn’t hurt. Most animals would relax during the treatment and some may even doze off.
Most importantly, pet owners should understand that acupuncture doesn’t cure. It is a supportive and complementary therapy that goes hand in hand with the vet’s treatment, which often involves oral medications.
Writer’s note: I was curious about how dry needling feels like so Jane tried using a needle on me! I’ve got to give it to her as it hurt less than an ant bite when the needle went in.
Special thanks to Pecan and Pippin for being our models!