The Benefits of Physical Rehabilitation and Acupuncture for Pets

July 30, 2020

The Benefits of Physical Rehabilitation and Acupuncture for Pets

The Acupuncture and Physical Rehabilitation services at VVC Fredericksburg provide a comprehensive treatment program  that enhance the quality of care for many pets’ conditions.  We often combine traditional medications with acupuncture  and/or physical rehab for enhanced treatment results.

Case Overview

Barkley is a 14-year old French Bulldog. He has some arthritis and was previously on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) daily to help manage his symptoms. He started seeing the physical rehabilitation and acupuncture services at VVC Fredericksburg weekly and was put on a CBD supplement.

With weekly visits to rehab, visits with acupuncture every 3 weeks, and the CBD supplement, Barkley has now been able to come off of the NSAID. He jumps on the couch now, and although he sleeps a lot, he does play with the other dogs in his household and goes out for walks. His favorite things to do (other than sleep!) are lounging in the grass and sunbathing on a sunny day.

What is veterinary ACUPUNCTURE? 

Acupuncture involves the placement of thin needles into specific points on the body to help stimulate healing and control pain. Stimulation may also be provided through other methods, including acupressure, cupping, or by applying heat, cold, water, laser, etc.

Acupuncture is an ancient form of treatment that is believed to have originated around 100 BC in China. Acupuncture is one component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which is based on the philosophy that the body’s life energy, or Qi (pronounced “chi”), flows along channels called meridians, and controls the balance of the body. A Qi imbalance is believed to cause disharmony and disease, and needle insertion at specific points along the meridians stimulates beneficial effects. In veterinary medicine, acupuncture is considered successful in treating disorders of various systems, including the reproductive, musculoskeletal, neurologic, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, and the dermatologic systems.

Acupuncture may benefit pets with conditions, such as:

  • Chronic musculoskeletal problems, including arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, and neck and back pain
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Nerve conditions
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Slowed gastrointestinal motility

Acupuncture is extremely safe when performed by a veterinarian who is a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA). The needles are thin, insertion rarely causes pain, and most pets become relaxed and may fall asleep during treatments. Acupuncture is an alternative treatment, and therefore can often be used in patients who cannot take medications, such as those with liver or kidney problems.

Electro-acupuncture, which you will see used in the video, sends electric currents to the treatment areas in order to stimulate nerve endings deep inside the tissue below acupressure points. The added stimulation from electro-acupuncture is known to work exceptionally well for chronic pain relief. Pets who experience chronic pain or severe discomfort from arthritis tend to show an improved range of motion after electro-acupuncture treatments. Barkley is an excellent testament to this.

Barkley’s Acupuncture sessions

Barkley’s acupuncture session began with a full body exam.  During the exam, we identified that much of much of Barkley’s pain was centralized in his shoulders and mid-back areas. This is likely due to Barkley’s breed, as French Bulldogs are typically very front-heavy. Barkley’s right shoulder also showed decrease range of motion. Since Barkley is 14-years old, it’s not surprising that time has enhanced the strain on the front of his body.

During Barkley’s treatment, acupuncture needles were strategically placed throughout his body to stimulate a wide range of body points to stimulate those areas and relieve tension and pain. To further stimulate specific problem areas,  an electro-acupuncture unit was used during treatment. The clamps that provide electrical current are placed locally, where the discomfort is greatest. You’ll see that Barkley’s clamps were placed along his shoulder and mid-back areas. As treatment progresses, and pets visit for subsequent treatments, your CVA may try more remote points to further treat the problem areas.

The level of electrical current depends on the severity of the patient’s condition and also on the size and build of the patient. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers generally require a higher level of stimulation than a Poodle or Yorkshire Terrier, for example. With humans, you are able to verbally ask them if they feel the simulation. With pets, a CVA will observe the patient closely as the current is administered. For example, if a dog is shaking or panting during treatment, they may stop momentarily when the electrical stimulation begins. Some pets will fall asleep during treatment, some will pay attention to treats and, in some cases, pets will be intrigued and will pay attention to what is going on throughout the treatment. Barkley slowly stopped shaking during treatment and stayed focused on his peanut butter.

Acupuncture may be used in combination with certain physical rehabilitation modalities – Barkley’s treatment plan included a combination of acupuncture sessions as well as visits with the certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (CCRP) at VVC Fredericksburg.

Click here to view this video in full screen.

What is veterinary physical rehabilitation?

Just like humans may need to see a physical therapist after a surgery or injury, pets may require rehabilitation too. Veterinary physical rehabilitation may be recommended after surgery or medical procedure, due to an injury, for weight loss management, or to manage chronic pain or other symptoms. The goals and many benefits of physical rehabilitation include minimizing recovery time after a surgery, decreased pain or discomfort, increased mobility and flexibility, weight loss, improved athletic conditioning, and overall improved quality of life.

VVC’s certified rehabilitation practitioners have extensive training in using physical rehab to enhance the quality of care for many pets’ conditions. Our rehabilitation practitioners perform a full assessment of a patient’s condition, then work closely with clients to determine both long- and short-term goals for the patient’s treatment plan.

Barkley’s physical rehabilitation sessions

Therapeutic Laser sessions use low level light therapy to help treat many conditions and ailments, alleviate arthritis, regenerate nerve stimulation, decrease pain, increase mobility and flexibility, and aid in quicker healing for wounds and incisions.

“Laser”—an acronym for “light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation”—refers to a unit that emits focused, penetrating light beams in three forms:

(1) Monochromatic: Light that is a single wavelength – natural light, in contrast, emits a range of wavelengths. (2) Coherent: Photons (i.e., tiny particles of light or electromagnetic radiation) that travel in the same phase and direction (3) Collimated: Photons that travel in a single straight beam. Coherence and collimation give a laser penetrating power to a restricted area so that nearby tissues are unaffected.

Lasers are classified based on their wavelength and energy output, with four classes currently recognized (Class 1-4). Laser therapy is used to treat many medical conditions, including chronic arthritis (in Barkley’s case), surgical incisions, tendon and ligament injuries, traumatic injuries. Laser therapy can be particularly helpful for pets with limited treatment options. Examples of this include pets with liver or kidney disease who cannot take certain medications, cats (only a few pain medications are approved for use, older pets with diminished organ function.

Barkely’s treatment regimen also consists of therapeutic exercises. The following physical rehabilitation modalities are used as part of Barkley’s treatment plan:

  • Cavaletti* work at various levels
  • Core strengthening
  • Balance and coordination exercises

*Cavaletti work refers to sets of poles set up at varying heights so that dogs may walk/jump over them to work different muscles. This type of training adds variety and helps improve body awareness, flexibility, strength – and even gives the brain some exercise!

Samantha Blake, our certified canine rehabilitation practitioner (CCRP) – seen in the video below – incorporated various rehab modalities into Barkley’s treatment plan, including laser therapy and therapeutic exercise.  Therapeutic exercise involves the use of physical movement and various equipment to restore and improve mobility. A balance disc helps to strengthen muscles, practice core work, and improve balance. With age, Barkley started to experience pelvic limb muscle loss and weakness. Exercises were performed at an incline to aid in strengthening his pelvic limbs and reducing his forelimb load.


Click here to view this video in full screen.


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Physical Rehabilitation