Chronic lameness in dogs and cats can have many causes, including osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia and more. Electroacupuncture can be an effective way to help treat the problem.

Lameness in dogs and cats is a sign of illness, not a specific disease, and refers to the inability to use one or more limbs properly. It is associated with pain or injury in soft tissues, joints or bones. Nerve and muscle function may be impaired due to changes to neuromuscular tissues. Muscle and skeletal problems may affect other organ systems, including the urinary, digestive, and circulatory systems. Chronic lameness may be caused by osteoarthritis. Lameness can affect pets of any age, from growing to senior animals. This article discusses how electroacupuncture can be used to effectively treat chronic lameness in dogs and cats.


Some forms of lameness, such as that caused by osteoarthritis, require lifelong medical treatment, while others require surgical repair. Alongside the general nonsteroidal drugs and pain relief medications, more and more alternative options are being used, such as acupuncture, electroacupuncture (EA), laser treatment, chiropractic adjustment and physiotherapy. These days, a multimodal approach is preferred over “one treatment fits all”.


Electroacupuncture involves passing an electrical current through acupuncture needles that have already been inserted into acupoints on the animal’s body. EA provides more robust stimulation and more predictable effects.

  1. The level of needle stimulation can be accurately measured by known frequencies, amplitudes, and duration of treatment. This enables the acupuncturist to rigorously assess a treatment session and replicate effective treatments in the future.
  2. EA allows the acupuncturist to deliver a higher and more continuous level of needle stimulation than by hand, thus facilitating unique treatments for pain and neurodegenerative disorders (Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1981).

The dorsal horn gray matter of the spinal cord, the periaqueductal gray matter, the pons, medulla, limbic system, cerebral cortex and autonomic system are generally influenced by EA.

Chronic lameness, caused by the following issues, is the most popular reason for using EA:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Patellar luxation
  • Ligament disease
  • Intervertebral disk disease
  • Osteochondritis dissecan


Electroacupuncture units are very similar, and are pretty easy to use. First, all leads should be turned to zero amplitude and completely turned off before being connected to the needles. Stimulation should always start at the lowest amplitude, be gradually increased until there is an apparent deQi response, then lowered slightly from that amplitude. The voltage must be high enough to overcome the resistance of the tissue being treated, and the current must be enough to depolarize nerves.

Since tolerance and habituation to the stimulus will occur, the amplitude or frequency may be slightly increased or changed every five to ten minutes.

Stimulating a patient with a wide range of frequencies will provide a broader range of neurotransmitter release. Dense and disperse EA units alternate low and high frequencies every few seconds. The alternation allows for nerve fibers to accommodate stimulation, and for the optimum release of neurotransmitters.

How to use the unit

The two buttons connected to the leads are named F1 and F2 (these are the ones that set the frequency). F1 sets the constant frequency, which should always be connected. F2 produces an intermittent frequency (comes and disappears).

  • If F1 > F2, only a constant frequency will be administered to the patient, based on the F1’s level.
  • If F2 > F1, a frequency between F1 and F2 will be administered (dense and disperse)
  • If F1 = 0, then the unit will provide an intermittent output provided by F2

Examples of frequencies

  • Low-frequency: F1 = 20-30 Hz, F2 = 0 Hz — provides good analgesia
  • Dense and disperse (DD): F1 = 80 Hz, F2 = 120 Hz — used more for paralysis, intervertebral disk disease and internal medicine cases
  • Intermittent wave: F1 = 0, F2 = 50-200 Hz — used for muscular atrophy

In most cases, we start by using a constant low-frequency stimulation, about 4-40 Hz (usually 20 Hz), which primarily results in a release of endorphins and enkephalins.

The average frequency (about 100 Hz) produces rapid analgesia through the local production of dynorphins via the spinal cord or nuclei of the brainstem. This analgesia is rapid and dissipates quickly when EA stops. This frequency is mainly used for surgical cases.

When patients are under the effects of opiates, EA is administered at frequencies near 200Hz — this will favor the release of local and systemic dynorphins and serotonin.


The first session: Should be around five to 20 mins using a maximum of three pairs (six) needles where F1 = 20 Hz and F2 = 0 Hz

The second session: If no side effects were noticed, then EA duration can increase to 20 to 45 mins using seven pairs (14) EA 14 needles and a combination of frequencies — F1 = 80 Hz, F2 = 120 Hz; F1 = 0 Hz, F2 = 50 Hz, depending on the case.

As a general rule, we match the points bilaterally. Cassu et al found in their study that bilateral EA produced a shorter latency period, a greater intensity, and a longer duration of analgesia than unilateral stimulation, without creating a stress response. Therefore, bilateral electroacupuncture produces a better analgesic effect than unilateral stimulation.

How to pair the points

  • Points on the same meridian: ST 36 + ST 41, GV 14 + Bai Hui
  • Points with similar energy function: ST 36 + GB 34

Local points should be connected bilaterally so that electric current flows through the stagnation area. Examples: GB 21 + SI 9 for shoulder pain, GB 34 + ST 35 of the same limb for knee pain, Huatuo-Jia-Ji crossed for IVDD, GB 20 + GB 21 or Jing-Jia-Ji for Wobbler syndrome.

  • Proximal to distal points: BL 23 + Liu Feng for paralysis of a posterior limb, GV 14 + PC 9 in paralysis of the forehand

Healthy area to be paired with the affected area — for example, in right facial paralysis, bilateral ST 5 + ST 4 + ST 7

As the case example shows, dogs and cats with chronic lameness often respond very well to electroacupuncture. Because lameness is a common symptom in small animals, this modality is certainly worth your consideration.

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Dr. Cristina Firulete graduated from Cluj-Napoca, Romania in 2017 and now practices in a holistic clinic in northern England. As a student, she worked in practices that offered alternative options such as homeopathy and acupuncture. Since qualifying as a veterinary surgeon, she has realized how important it is to treat every patient with a holistic view. Dr. Firulate received her CVA certification in December 2019. She also earned her certification from the Chi Institute and plans to continue her education in TCVM. Her conventional medical interests include emergencies, anaesthesia, and feline medicine, but her main goal is to recognize chronic pain and improve quality of life for her patients.


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