BEIJING - Lucky, a 3-year-old Dachshund, lay on an examination table as a vet was prepping him for a needle treatment for his lame hind leg.
He looked frightened and was whining piteously at his owner, seemingly begging her to let him go home.
But after several needle pricks, he calmed down and unexpectedly turned sleepy-eyed, said Hou Duojia, Lucky's owner, recalling the first time she took Lucky for an acupuncture treatment.
"Before the needle treatment, I was heartbroken to see him suffering from pain," she said.
One of Lucky's leg was severely injured by a bicycle five months ago and Hou tried several healing methods - including surgery and medication that cost 2,500 yuan ($375) - but to no avail. And his condition seemed to become worse.
Hou was on the verge of giving up when she read a flyer promoting a newly opened pet clinic and its novel treatment for mobility-impaired pets - acupuncture.
She seized this opportunity and brought Lucky to the clinic. To her surprise, Lucky's condition greatly improved after almost two months of treatment. Moreover, the acupuncture cost has so far been 420 yuan.
Although still not fully recovered, Lucky can now accompany Hou for daily walks after dinner, which she considers "the best time of a day".
Liu Zhongjie, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at China Agricultural University in Beijing, said pet acupuncture is increasing in popularity in major Chinese cities.
Acupuncture is one of the main forms of treatment in traditional Chinese medicine. It involves the manipulation of sharp, thin needles inserted at specific points, in a bid to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes.
This process is believed to adjust and alter the body's energy flow into healthier patterns, and is used to treat a wide variety of illnesses and health conditions. In most circumstances, it is most effective when used as prevention or before a health condition becomes acute.
Acupuncture is also an effective and low-cost remedy for chronic pains such as back injuries and arthritis. In China, it has also been used to supplement invasive Western treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery.
And it works exceptionally well on animals, too, Liu said, making it a popular treatment choice for pet owners.
"Acupuncture for animals is actually derived from human acupuncture," said Liu, adding that his clinic receives 10 to 20 animal patients for the needle treatment every month.
He said acupuncture works for a wide array of heath problems for animals, but it is especially good to cure movement disorder caused by muscle injury, neural paralysis and spinal disk herniation.
"Similar to the practice of acupuncture on human, acupuncture can either be used to treat your pets alone or in conjunction with other treatments."
He said the length, number and frequency of treatments depend on the condition of the animal and the method of stimulation that is used by the acupuncturist.
"Typical treatments last from 5 to 30 minutes, with the patient being treated once or twice a week, and generally most veterinary acupuncturists will recommend a minimum of 6 to 10 treatments," Liu said.
Occasionally, there is a brief moment of discomfort as the needle penetrates the skin, but once the needles are in place, pains vanish and most animals become very relaxed and may even doze off during treatment, because it stimulates a release of pain-killing chemicals and anti-inflammatory substances from the body.
All these create a beneficial effect by promoting tissue repair, improving blood circulation and relieving pain, Liu said.
In addition to high curative effect, relatively cheaper medical bills also increase acupuncture's popularity. Liu also said acupuncture has less side effects than Western procedures.
Acupuncture for pets is also on offer outside China, as it has been introduced to places such as the United States, Japan and some European countries. Its effectiveness has been gradually reorganized, Liu said, adding that he has received more foreign apprentices in recent years.
"Over the past decades, almost all pet acupuncture clinics overseas have been opened by Chinese immigrants, but more and more foreigners are now learning this technique," he said.
Liu said 25 to 30 exchange students from Washington State University will come to learn animal acupuncture trainings at his university in May next year.
"Traditional Chinese veterinary acupuncture offers foreign medical workers a totally different way of diagnosing and looking at the animal," Liu said.