A team of researchers in Brazil conducted a controlled and interesting study using acupuncture to reduce anxiety in dogs that resulted from the sound of thunder.
- Control – Eight dogs were not given any acupuncture treatment prior to sound stimulus.
- Acupuncture – Eight dogs were given acupuncture at points that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states produce relaxation and a sedative effect, and are indicated for fear, anxiety and restlessness.
- No-Point Group – This group of eight dogs was given acupuncture near the same points as the acupuncture group, but not on any other acupuncture points in the body.
- The dogs were not given sedatives nor wore muzzles before the acupuncture treatment.
- The Acupuncture and No-Point Groups were subjected to sound stress five minutes after acupuncture treatment.
- Heart rate
- Behavioral – The dogs were videotaped during the sound stress. While the researchers admitted there was a level of subjectivity to this portion of the experiment, they used a comprehensive statistical model.
- Cortisol levels in the blood – Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that is released in a pulsatile manner throughout the day. It increases glucose levels in the bloodstream and the availability of substances that repair tissues, and also enhances the brain’s use of glucose.
- Heart rate – The Acupuncture group of dogs did not have any changes in heart rate during the sound stimulus, unlike the other two groups.
- Behavioral – The Acupuncture group had reduced behavioral responses such as hiding, restlessness, bolting or running around.
- Cortisol – Acupuncture did not affect the cortisol levels in these dogs.
Measuring cortisol levels accurately can be difficult, primarily because it is normally released throughout out the day. In fact, prior studies have resulted in contradictory results for cortisol levels measured in dogs in response to sound. Even though acupuncture did not affect the cortisol levels in the Acupuncture group of dogs, the thunder sound did not change cortisol levels either in the Controls. As the researchers point out, “Cortisol analysis has not demonstrated reliability/sensitivity as a tool to analyze the acute effect of anti-stress strategies. Since the acoustic stimulus did not change cortisol levels, then acupuncture would hardly be expected to reduce cortisol levels any further.”
This study is promising and provides a basis for further exploration. For example, it would be interesting if researchers could extend the time between acupuncture treatment and loud noises, increase the number of treatments prior to sound exposure, change the sound to fireworks or sirens, and increase the amount of time of exposure.
As most of us know, summer is right around the corner and while we all love the Fourth of July, many of our dogs do not. Hemopet has tips available to help reduce your companion dog’s anxiety during these times. However, you may want to talk to your local companion animal acupuncturist about this study and try it out with your dog, if he reacts to fireworks or thunder.
Martins Maccariello, Carolina Elisabetta, et al. “Effects of Acupuncture on the Heart Rate Variability, Cortisol Levels and Behavioural Response Induced by Thunder Sound in Beagles.” Physiology & Behavior, vol. 186, no. 15, 15 Mar. 2018, pp. 37–44., doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.01.006. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S003193841830012X?via%3Dihub.