Acupuncture for dogs and cats

25 March 2024 - 5 min read
dog acupuncture
dog acupuncture

Acupuncture involves inserting small needles into strategic points around your cat or dog’s body to help treat a number of health problems, including chronic pain.

It works to block pain messages and encourage the body to produce and use its natural painkillers. This complementary therapy should always be used alongside conventional veterinary treatments.

Below, we discuss how to get acupuncture, how it works and if it's a good idea for your pet.

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Up to £2,500 cover for complementary therapies on our Complete policy

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How can I get acupuncture for my dog or cat?

By law, only a veterinary surgeon is allowed to perform acupuncture on animals.

If your vet doesn’t offer it, they should be able to refer you to a veterinary acupuncture specialist near you who can offer these services.

Does acupuncture work for dogs and cats?

There’s very little evidence on whether acupuncture for animals works or not. Few robust and reliable studies exist to support acupuncture and the nature of the therapy means it’s very hard to create a placebo effect to test effectiveness.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that acupuncture for dogs and cats has benefits. It’s also non-invasive and many dogs seem to find the treatment relaxing.

A 2020 study of 72 dogs with osteoarthritis concluded that: “Acupuncture did not improve weight-bearing on the primarily affected limb, increase activity as measured by accelerometry, or improve subjective orthopaedic scores; however, an owner-perceived improvement in pain and function was identified.”

There is even less evidence when it comes to acupuncture in cats, perhaps as more dogs are treated than cats. A study in 2009 of just one cat with IVDD showed “significant improvements in mobility, proprioception and spinal posture were noticed and the cat was able to rise, walk and run four months after starting acupuncture treatments”

The benefits of acupuncture for dogs and cats

Despite the lack of hard evidence in its favour, lots of pet owners and vets do report success with using acupuncture to:

● improve circulation

● help muscles relax

● reduce inflammation

● increase the speed of healing

● reduce anxiety and behaviour problems

There are a few conditions that animal acupuncture may be particularly beneficial for:

● osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease


● gastrointestinal disorders

● behaviour disorders

● skin conditions

● respiratory conditions

● cancer side effects

● surgical recovery

● metabolic diseases

● urinary incontinence

Arthritis and joint inflammation

Arthritis and joint inflammation are some of the most common reasons a vet will recommend acupuncture for a dog or cat. Providing this alternative form of pain relief could reduce the amount of medicated pain relief the animal needs or improve the effects of conventional painkillers.

Acupuncture is also sometimes used as an additional form of pain relief in dogs with hip dysplasia.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and chronic spinal pain

IVDD is most commonly seen in Dachshunds but can also affect larger dogs like German Shepherds and Labradors. Acupuncture can be used to help relieve pain and aid recovery in dogs following spinal surgery for IVDD, or to manage pain for dogs that can’t have surgery.

Skin Allergies

It’s not just muscle and nerve pain that acupuncture is used for. Some vets offer it to treat discomfort caused by serious skin allergies and relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. They might also aim to stimulate acupressure points thought to stimulate the immune system.


Immune system acupuncture points might be targeted for dogs and cats with cancer. Again, it can be used as additional pain relief and help ease several symptoms   

Epilepsy, seizures and neurological problems

Sometimes, acupuncture is used to stimulate the nerves. To reduce the severity or frequency of seizures, acupuncture needles might be used on points around the head and ears.

Kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is fairly common in cats, and acupuncture can be used here too. It’s thought to stimulate blood flow to the kidneys to improve renal function.

Weight loss

Acupuncture could help your dog lose weight. Some experts theorise that acupuncture converts fat cells into lean muscle, leading to a faster metabolism and healthier eating habits. 

However, studies are still in the early stages, and much more research is needed to support this theory, so it's currently considered an experimental weight loss plan.

Reduce pet anxiety

Humans use acupuncture to relax and release stress. Naturally, pets can benefit from it too. The process lowers cortisol - the body's stress hormone - and stimulates the body’s feel-good hormones, which could relax your pet. 

It's considered a low-risk non-medicinal treatment option for anxiety and behaviour problems, but it's worth chatting with your vet first. It can be an option to supplement anxiety management in your pet alongside environmental management and other behaviour training and modification.

Cats in heat

Acupressure can help a cat in heat to relax. It's slightly different to acupuncture, as the therapist will use their hands instead of needles. 

A point known as CV-1 is thought to be used to stimulate ovulation and end the estrus cycle, allowing a cat to calm down. 

What are the side effects of acupuncture?

Although acupuncture is a safe and non-invasive treatment, there are sometimes side effects at the points where the needles are inserted, including:

● soreness

● bruising

● a small amount of bleeding

Some owners report their dogs seem worse after acupuncture or more tired, but this is rare. On the whole, acupuncture is considered safe, with few side effects. Always speak to your vet first to discuss the suitability of acupuncture for your pet.      

How often will my pet need animal acupuncture?

Treatment plans usually start at once per week for four to six weeks, before a long-term plan is made. However, it depends on your pet's condition, general health, and personality. It'll also depend on how your pet responds to treatment.

Sessions can last anywhere from five to 30 minutes. 

Your practitioner will discuss your pet’s treatment needs at the start and throughout the programme. 

What to expect on the first acupuncture session for dogs and cats

Your first visit will usually take around an hour. You can expect a: 

● general examination

● review of your pet's medical history

● discussion about your pet, their treatments and diagnosis

A veterinary acupuncturist may ask for further diagnostic tests or treatments, but they'll chat this through with you at the time. 

How much does acupuncture for dogs and cats cost?

In March 2024, we checked the prices of 10 vets around the UK offering acupuncture, and the average cost of an initial session was £84.85 and £67.35 for follow-up sessions.

The price of acupuncture for cats and dogs varied quite a lot. The cheapest session we found is £40 and the most expensive is £160. Some clinics offer a course of treatment for one flat fee. 

Can pet insurance pay for acupuncture?

Your ManyPets pet insurance policy includes coverage for complementary therapies, including acupuncture.

There’s a separate vet fee limit for complementary therapies between £500-£2,500, and this limit is a part of your overall annual vet fee limit.

All our policies are lifetime cover, so if your dog needs acupuncture for the foreseeable future this limit will refresh each year when you renew.

Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.