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Acupuncture and TCVM for Cats: A Natural Approach to Pain Relief?

Acupuncture and TCVM for Cats: A Natural Approach to Pain Relief?
Written by Dr. Kimberly Couch, DVM
—Veterinarian 🇺🇸

Hey everyone! 👋

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Dr. Kimberly Couch, the newest content creator for My Lovely Feline.

I recently graduated from the University of Florida of Veterinarian Medicine (Go Gators! 🐊) and have been practicing as a small animal/ integrative medicine veterinarian in the Tampa Bay area ever since.

This blog post is about something that is very near and dear to my heart- Veterinary Acupuncture. While you may not even be aware that such a thing exists, we can do acupuncture on dogs, cats, and even bunnies!

I have long been fascinated with the integration of natural medicine into both my life and practice, even before I began attending vet school.

I carried that passion through school and made a point to educate myself as much as possible about “holistic” or Eastern medicine and how to integrate into general/ traditional/ Western medicine.

I strongly believe that using the two medical practices in harmony with one another allows for the most optimal and inclusive treatment plan for my patients.

This comprehensive approach allows me to draw on a wealth of medical knowledge from around the globe.

So what exactly is acupuncture?

The simple answer is that acupuncture is the process of inserting multiple small needles into various pre-determined “points” on the body.

The practice of acupuncture has been used for humans and large farm animals (cows, pigs, and horses) for well over 2,000 years. Within the last 60 years, veterinarians have had immense success providing acupuncture treatments to small household pets, and as a result, the treatment has exploded in popularity.
In general, the Chinese theory of acupuncture is based around the presence of energy flow patterns all throughout the body.

Disruptions of these energy flows can cause health imbalances and diseases.
Acupuncture involves the strategic selection of points along the body which are physically manipulated, stimulated by fine needle penetration of the skin and/or by electrical stimulation or fluid injection.

These thin, solid, metallic needles are used to penetrate specific acupuncture points in order to stimulate vessels, nerves, or lymphatics for a pre-determined period of time.

The body is made up of a complex network of interconnecting nerve fibers, so placing a very fine needle into a particular location can have allows the effects to stretch beyond the point of insertion and into the system as a whole.

Biologically, the activation of these acupuncture sites also releases endorphins, anti-inflammatory mediators, and hormones- all of which can assist with recovery and healing.

In veterinary medicine, we use acupuncture for a variety of reasons. However, we use it most commonly to treat arthritis, disc disease, seizures, to assist recovery from surgeries, and to treat many chronic/ refractory conditions.

Many people don’t think that cats would tolerate an acupuncture treatment, but actually, most of my feline acupuncture patients sit through their entire treatment and even seem to enjoy it!

My own cats tolerate acupuncture needles better than giving them oral medications!

Acupuncture in cats is most commonly used to treat diseases where other treatments have failed or are not enough, such as pain and arthritis, or as an adjunctive treatment for chronic kidney disease, intermittent treatment for upper respiratory infections, or as palliative treatment for cancer.

What does a visit entail?

Acupuncture is only a small part of a much larger traditional Chinese Veterinary medicine (TCVM) practice that we can incorporate into traditional veterinary practices.

TCVM includes acupuncture, Chinese herbs, food therapy, and tui-na (massage).

The TCVM exam is far more in-depth than a standard veterinary visit and may take longer than usual.

We thoroughly examine the components of your pet’s heart, pulse, tongue color and ask very specific questions about your pet in order to identify unique features within your pet in order to make a Chinese pattern diagnosis.

The information gathered at TCVM visits allows us to develop a treatment plan that is specifically designed to treat your pet’s unique pattern.

We may also recommend herbal formulas and additional modalities in order to complement and enhance the acupuncture treatments.


Can acupuncture be used in place of traditional medicine?

Acupuncture is best used as adjunctive therapy to traditional veterinary medicine therapies.

Depending on the condition being treated, acupuncture can be used instead of medications or along with medications. However, sometimes acupuncture is not an effective treatment, and medications and other more traditional veterinary therapies may be necessary.

This decision is patient-specific and should be determined by a veterinarian and licensed veterinary acupuncturist.

What should I expect at my pet’s first visit?

Each acupuncture appointment generally lasts about an hour in duration- which includes the physical exam, questions, and treatment.

The actual acupuncture treatments can range from 10-20 minutes; however, the exact amount of time is both unique to the patient and depends on the condition being treated.

The number of treatments required depends entirely on the condition we are treating your pet for, as well as your pet’s response to the treatment itself.

For acute diseases, one or two sessions may be necessary; For chronic diseases, patients may require lifelong treatment once a week- once a month.

For chronic conditions, we usually recommend 3-5 treatments a week apart to start with treatment further spaced apart as your pet improves.

How can I get acupuncture for my pet?

Please check with your veterinarian for recommendations or visit for certified veterinary acupuncturists in your area.


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy that is effective in treating many chronic diseases. It is increasing in popularity in veterinary medicine.

Acupuncture can only be performed by a veterinarian that is also certified in veterinary acupuncture. It is best used in conjunction with traditional veterinary medicine (termed integrative medicine).

To find out if your pet is a good candidate for acupuncture, please contact your veterinarian or visit to find a veterinary acupuncturist near you.


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