How Acupuncture Helps Some Cats

When traditional methods fail to make cats feel better, some people turn to acupuncture.

By: Arthur40A
Can acupuncture help your cat? By: Arthur40A

Emeraude and Lakota were 2 elderly cats who found safe haven with artist-writer Bernadette Kazmarski. They had, as you might expect, some serious health issues.

So Kazmarski, a seasoned cat rescuer and a blogger at The Creative Cat, gave them a lot of thoughtful, loving care. Part of this included acupuncture, courtesy of Dr. Michelle Elgersma.

Never having brought any of my own cats in for an acupuncture treatment, I had a hard time envisioning any cat, elderly or not-so-elderly, putting up with those needles. When in doubt, research.

An Unconventional Blend

Acupuncture for cats and dogs is steadily increasing, according to Dr. Allen Schoen, author of Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans and Animals Can Change the Way We Live.

Perhaps people are realizing, as he puts it, that “no one form of medicine has all the answers. We must look at the individual needs of each animal. Sometimes the best answer is medication; sometimes it’s surgery; sometimes it’s acupuncture; sometimes it’s a blend.”

It’s All About the Chi

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and, as such, deals with the blockages and imbalances in our energy, or chi. By careful placement of extremely fine needles, an acupuncturist can unblock that chi and jump-start the body’s natural healing abilities.

In that respect, it’s a lot like Reiki. Both are about healing on a subtle level and can be used as supplements to conventional veterinary care.

It, too, as Kazmarski points out, “has no side effects so if it doesn’t work it simply has no effect.”

Why Acupuncture?

“Because animals can’t be given many of the medications and treatments used in humans to make them more comfortable,” explains Kazmarski, “acupuncture can often be used for pain control or relief, noninfectious inflammation and even paralysis, and this helps to provide relief from, control or heal such conditions as arthritis, disk disease, nerve injuries, asthma, allergies, skin conditions and gastrointestinal problems as well as diabetes, renal issues, heart conditions and hyperthyroid disease.”

With acupuncture, there are no dangerous side effects. Lakota was nearing the end when he had his session. Both his caregiver and the vet knew that the acupuncture wasn’t going to change that.

Actually, there was “no visible effect” at all, Kazmarski says, “though it may have made him more comfortable.”

Emeraude, on the other hand, responded immediately to acupuncture. “She began talking to me at that point and continued to the end [of the session], giving me face rubs and even licking my hand,” Kazmarski says. Not only did her diarrhea begin to let up, but her appetite and her kidneys showed marked improvement.

The video below shows Tiger, a 4-year-old cat with asthma, calmly enjoying an acupuncture session:

The Feline Response

Acupuncturist Becca Seltz explains that cats and dogs don’t experience any pain from the needles. They feel an unfamiliar sensation, yes, but that’s it. So she doesn’t anesthetize them beforehand.

Nor does she believe in restraining her feline patients. “My feeling is that restraining the animal undoes many of the benefits of acupuncture,” she says. “Animals are very sensitive. When they are restrained, it causes them to tense.”

Emeraude’s response isn’t that unusual: Animals respond much more quickly to acupuncture than humans do. Seltz leaves the needles in for roughly 5 to 10 minutes. The animals generally let her know when they want those needles out. In fact, she has had cats “start taking out their own needles with their mouths,” she says.

She concedes she hasn’t had much luck with anxiety or other behavioral issues. But acupuncture does help greatly with arthritis and skin and digestive-tract problems.

Seltz tells the story of a cat who had suffered from constipation since kittenhood. “It always involved lots of enemas and stool softeners. She started seeing me for acupuncture, and after 2 weeks her constipation completely resolved.”

Cats are surprisingly relaxed about acupuncture. Many even fall asleep during their sessions, same as they do with Reiki.

Acupuncture is not, in the words of Diana Waldhuber, “an overnight remedy” — you wouldn’t really trust it if it was, would you? — but people do claim changes in their pets. “Kitty may be more alert, social, relaxed and moving about like its old self in as little as 1 or 2 sessions.”

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This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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