Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

What Is the Point of Veterinary Acupuncture?

By Tanya Stephens

While some misguided people try ineffective “therapies”, at least they can seek out other treatments if they don’t work. Not so the hapless pet.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

There is no scientific evidence for the use of acupuncture in any animal, including humans. We know that the powerful placebo effect tricks human patients into thinking acupuncture works, but why do some people (including some veterinarians who should know better) think that it’s curing animals? Is this an extreme example of cognitive bias or the caregiver placebo effect, in which the caregiver believes their animal has responded to a “treatment”? It’s a well-known phenomenon in animal care, but who is being treated: the owner or their pet?

The caregiver placebo effect means that the owner not only thinks that their animal has improved but will tell the acupuncturist so. Caregiver placebo effects are the result of using inconsistent subjective measures of response instead of objective measures. As in the human field, veterinarians using ineffective therapies will often target lucrative chronic disease conditions such as arthritis, which can wax and wane, and owners may not expect much improvement anyway.

The use of ineffective “therapies” on animals is a serious animal welfare and ethical issue. Acts and codes of conduct require veterinarians to base their decisions on scientific evidence and current knowledge, have the animal as the first priority, and alleviate suffering – certainly not add to it by sticking needles into non-consenting pets.


The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.