Practical Acupuncture for Bloat

Author’s note:  I have been interested in alternative or complementary medicine for several years. Because of this interest I had attended several presentations on acupuncture and suggested it as the topic for one of our local Wolfhound club meetings. Since then I have completed the veterinary acupuncture certification course and taken the certification exam.

Earlier I wrote an article for the Wolfhound club newsletter about treating early bloat with acupuncture. The article was based on a presentation by Debbie Mitchell, DVM, a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist (CVA), and by an experience a club member had. Her Wolfhound woke her in the night in distress. She felt his abdomen which was enlarged and hard behind the rib cage. Remembering Dr. Mitchell’s “bloat point,” the owner vigorously massaged the point (acupressure). After five to ten minutes, she said he passed an enormous amount of gas, then was comfortable. When I (her primary care veterinarian) saw him the next day he was completely normal.

After publication in the newsletter, and posting on several internet lists, I have received feedback on a number of animals (dogs and horses!) whom the owners treated with acupressure and saved from bloat. I am so impressed with the success of this simple procedure, I decided to share it more broadly.

Many people consider acupuncture to be a form of voodoo. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture points (acupoints) are locations of focused energy along channels (meridians) of energy. Illness and disease are considered to be manifestations of imbalances or blockages of energy in the body and acupuncture balances or releases the energy blockage.

In Western Medicine, anatomical and neurophysiological research has shown acupoints to be either at the end point of nerve fibers or where nerve fibers penetrate the body’s fascial planes. Stimulation of acupoints releases neurochemicals and hormones which can have effects throughout the body.

Because of the patterns of embryological and neuroanatomic development, acupoints may be quite removed from the organ system they affect. The Stomach Meridian, for example, starts on the face, runs along the ventral aspect of the body, up and over the flank and onto the lateral aspect of the hind leg, ending on the toe.

Another aspect of acupuncture that confuses people is that points on meridians which seem unrelated can affect other organ systems. For example, the Bladder Meridian contains points for many systems other than the urinary tract.

With that in mind, I will describe several acupoints that you, as an owner, can find and use with acupressure.

The main “bloat point” is Stomach 36 (ST 36). It is on the lateral (outside) aspect of the hind leg, below the stile (knee) in the body of the Tibialis anterialis muscle. In some individual, especially greyhounds, this muscle may be very well developed. To find ST 36 put your hand on the dog’s leg at the front of the hock (heel) joint and find the tibia, or shin bone.  Follow the tibia up the leg.  It becomes a sharp ridge.  Just below the stifle (knee) you will feel a bony prominence. This is the tibial crest. Let your hand slide over the ridge onto the lateral aspect of the leg.  If you feel very gently with your fingertip, you may feel a light indentation - ST 36 (Fig 1). Another way to find ST36 is to bend the dog’s leg.  Starting at the patella (knee cap) slide your hand down the stifle. The first prominence after the patella is the tibial plateau. The second prominence down is the tibial crest. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t feel ST 36 specifically. If you are in the right area, and if you massage vigorously or press firmly, you can still stimulate the energy release. If your dog is having a stomach or spleen problem this point will be sore and he will jerk his leg away.

The second acupoint to monitor is Bladder 21 (BL 21). The Bladder Meridian runs down the back on both sides of the spine. First, measure the 10th rib width compared to your finger. This is a unit of measurement called a cun (“soon”). Next, feel the end of the 13th rib (the last rib) and follow it up to the attachment at the spine. Find the vertebrae behind it. BL 21 is a depression halfway between these two vertebra (T13 and L1), 1 1/2 cun lateral to the midline (Fig 2). Please note that the size of a cun is relative to the size of the dog which is why you measure the rib.

BL 21 is a diagnostic point for the stomach. If a dog has a stomach disorder, this point will be painful. His skin may ripple when you press the point, or the muscles spasm, or the dog may drop his rear because it is painful to touch there.

The final point is Conception Vessel 12 (CV 12). The CV Meridian runs down the ventral midline of the body. CV 12 is a depression halfway between the umbilicus (navel; belly button) and the end of the sternum (Fig 3). CV 12 is the “alarm point” for the stomach.  Pressing here will make the dog groan, grunt in pain or whimper.

You have the information, now how do you put it to work?  It is late at night.  Your dog wakes you.  He is restless and anxious.  He tries to gag or vomit but nothing comes out.  You feel his sides but you aren’t sure if he is fuller or if his abdomen is hard (or maybe you are certain). Find ST36 and press. He jerks his leg away. Find CV12 and press up. He whines. Find BL21 and press. He flinches. CALL YOUR VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY!!! 

Knowledge and use of the acupuncture or acupressure points is not a substitute for emergency veterinary care. If possible, while one person is phoning, and while driving to the veterinary clinic, the other person should vigorously massage ST36.  Even dig a fingernail into the point. It may take ten to fifteen minutes to get a response, but it will work IF volvulus (twisting of the stomach) is not present. The dog will start to belch or pass gas when you are successful. Don’t quit, though. If possible, have someone continue to massage ST36 (adding CV12 helps) during the trip to the emergency clinic or your veterinary clinic. Massaging for 20 minutes is a typical treatment period.

Once at the emergency clinic your dog will (probably) still need to have his stomach pumped of residual fluid, gas and food. Intravenous fluids and monitoring for signs of toxemia may be necessary. Some of the toxic side effects of bloat (cardiac arrythmias, stomach wall necrosis) may not appear for twenty four to forty eight hours, so be vigilant. Acupressure treatment can help you win the battle, but the war isn’t won until the danger period is past.

Good luck.

Editors note:  the author retains all copyright privileges for this article.
© 2014 C. A. Krowzack, DVM

This page was last updated 01/04/2021.