Victor, a Greyhound who is being treated with acupuncture.

Denis qualified as a vet over twenty years ago, and for most of this time, he’s had a particular interest in treating greyhounds. In 2004, he established the Canine Sports Medicine Clinic. Denis treats all types of dogs, but since his focus is the treatment of sports-related injuries, nearly all of his patients are greyhounds. Denis also works part-time as a lecturer on a course in Canine Sports Medicine at the Veterinary Faculty in UCD.

For some selected cases, he’s found an unusual answer: the ancient Chinese therapy of acupuncture.

Greyhounds are like thoroughbred racehorses, or human sprinters. When they race, their muscles, tendons and joints are put under a special type of stress that most pet dogs would never experience. And if they suffer an injury of any kind, they need finely tuned treatment. If a pet dog suffers a mild problem like a sprained toe, it may get better with just rest and time. Often an owner might not even notice that there is a problem.

Greyhounds are different. A minor tendon sprain can be enough to prevent the animal from running smoothly at high speeds: when a large animal is running at full tilt, it’s essential that every muscle and every joint is functioning perfectly. If there is any weakness or discomfort, the greyhound won’t be able to run smoothly, and won’t be able to run as rapidly as normal. Since the main purpose of a greyhound is to win races, their owners are highly motivated to have any injury treated promptly and effectively.

Denis treats most cases with standard conventional veterinary medicine and surgery, but there are some cases  where he’s found that acupuncture provides the treatment that’s needed. He learned to do acupuncture on a post-graduate course in the UK.

At its most complex, acupuncture is just one of many treatments that are given under Chinese Traditional Medicine. There are elaborate theories about the flow of energy down channels in the body, and the insertion of a needle with acupuncture is meant to adjust the way that this energy flows. Denis has learned this theory, but he’s also learned about the modern scientific understanding of how acupuncture works. The fine needles stimulate nerve endings, creating feedback to the central nervous system which influences the way that the body deals with the injury. Acupuncture has now become widely accepted as a legitimate scientific way of treating animals, with lecturers in pain relief including it on the list of recommended methods for pain relief in certain situations.

Before using acupuncture, Denis always carries out a detailed examination of the animal, even taking x-rays if needed. It’s important to make an accurate diagnosis of the problem before starting any treatment. Once this has been done, Denis discusses the various treatment options.

When acupuncture is chosen as a treatment, Denis asks that the animal owner stays with the patient while it’s being done. A selection of needles- somewhere between six and sixteen – are pushed through the skin at carefully chosen locations, depending on the site and severity of the painful area. The needles are left in place for around fifteen minutes before being removed. The treatment needs to be repeated: usually, it’s given once a week for a month, then once every few weeks, then once a month: the precise timing of sessions depends on the individual animal. Perhaps surprisingly, most animals don’t mind the needles being inserted: they are so fine that there is minimal pain sensation.

Victor was a typical case: he had a minor sprain of his knee joint: after acupuncture, he was back to normal within two weeks. Denis treats a wide range of ailments with acupuncture: in pets, he finds that it can be especially useful for arthritis, especially in cases where standard medications are not enough to control the discomfort.


  • Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese treatment
  • Scientists are now getting closer to understanding how “needling” can help to ease pain
  • Acupuncture can be used successfully in animals, from racehorses to greyhounds to pets

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