Acupuncture, Massage, and Other Beneficial Therapies for Your Pet

Massage, acupuncture, water therapy—it sounds like a day at the spa, but it’s actually a typical day at an animal rehabilitation center. Just like they do for us, these treatments have a wide range of benefits for our pets.


Water-based therapies often work in tandem with other hands-on therapies. Underwater treadmills in particular tend to benefit overweight or arthritic pets, or those with neurological issues who need the buoyancy of the water to reduce the impact on their joints or to keep them upright while walking. The treadmill adjusts for pace and sits in a fillable tank so the height of the water can be altered to determine the amount of body weight carried, which allows for a targeted workout, says Aziza Glass, DMV, owner of Personal Touch Veterinary Clinic, a mobile practice in Texas.

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While commonly used in veterinary therapy to treat chronic pain, acupuncture can also be utilized for neurological issues, gut problems, and even skin conditions. Fine needles are inserted into specific points on the body that have high concentrations of nerve endings or cells that release endorphins. "We can select the points based on their function to achieve the desired response," says Dr. Glass. Pet parents can continue the therapy at home by using their hands to apply pressure to these same points.


Therapeutic massage can be used to improve circulation, reduce swelling, and relieve anxiety and fear in animals. One of the most common massage techniques is effleurage, which uses slow, gentle glides to manipulate the superficial tissues and promote blood flow. Deeper massage—known as petrissage—uses a kneading motion to loosen the muscles. A pet enjoying the massage is "not resisting in any way; their body is completely relaxed, and they are starting to fall asleep," says Leilani Alvarez, DVM, director of Integrative and Rehabilitative Medicine at the Animal Medical Center in New York City.

Electrical Stimulation

There are two major types: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which is used for pain relief, and neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), which can be used to maintain muscle memory and strength, stimulate atrophied muscles, or relax muscle spasms. TENS and NMES both administer low-current electrical pulses; TENS targets the sensory nerves to disrupt pain receptors, while NMES targets the muscles to induce a contraction. Although your pet may be startled by the unfamiliar sensation at first, neither of these therapies should cause any pain.

PROM Therapy

Passive range of motion (PROM) is a technique in which the therapist manually moves the animal's limbs to stretch the muscles and mobilize the joints. Stimulating movement is particularly beneficial for pets recovering from surgery, as it prevents the buildup of scar tissue and protects against long-term loss of range of motion. "Using an open-hand technique, I use the levers of the bones that are connected to the joint as a means to mobilize that joint. I am never forcing [motion]; it's a guided movement," says Dr. Alvarez.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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