Alternative Healing Modalities for Your Pets
by Ellen Lovinger Eller
People who don’t feel well have lots of options—including "alternative therapies" such as massage, acupuncture, Reiki and the use of flower essences. Happily, many of those options are just as effective at soothing and healing our animal friends as they are for us. What’s more, they are readily available to pet owners as veterinarians and human healers branch out…
Massage: Healing Touch
When it comes to easing pain, providing comfort and a sense of wellness, massage is ideal—noninvasive, effective for treating various conditions and, often, preventing future flare-ups. And animals’ response to massage is every bit as profound as a human being’s.
Properly employed, massage can relax a pet’s stiff muscles, improve circulation, increase range of motion, ease the pain of arthritis and other joint problems, and reduce swelling. It also aids in the removal of metabolic wastes, offers stimulation, both mental and physical, and provides a form of gentle exercise that is especially beneficial as pets grow older and less active.
When you suspect your dog or cat (or horse!) doesn’t feel right—perhaps he’s unwilling to move a certain way, or is behaving oddly…shying away from you, snapping, refusing food—a massage practitioner will use touch to work on the entire body and then, gradually, focus in on problem areas to alleviate pain. Often, a series of general massages, in conjunction with simple techniques that the pet’s owner can perform at home to continue the therapy, will lead to positive, lasting changes.
For animal athletes who compete in races or agility trials, for instance, there are also forms of sports massage, including pre-event and post-event techniques that are used to warm the muscles, relax nervousness and/or stimulate the animal, and then to cool him down and lower his respiration rate when the race is over.
Most owners who are tuned-in to their furry companions will notice a certain softness in a pet’s eyes that indicates he is enjoying the massage. He is likely to show signs of relaxation, yawning and lowering his head in comfort. Following the massage, you should get him to walk around for a few minutes, then offer a drink of water and allow him to just rest a while.
& Modern Adaptations
In traditional Eastern medicine, sickness is believed caused by blockages or an imbalance in the flow or chi, or energy, which travels along 12 main linear pathways, or meridians, in the body. Acupuncture is a method of unblocking and rebalancing the movement of chi by inserting small needles in any number of 365 specific places on the body, called points, to redirect the energy flow and restore and/or maintain health. (In the West, the reason given for the efficacy of acupuncture is that most of the 365 main acupuncture points correspond to clusters of nerves and blood vessels which, when stimulated, trigger physiological effects that "leverage" the body’s innate healing power.)
Veterinary acupuncture has come a long way since China’s Jin Dynasty, between 136 and 265 A.D., when healers first used sharp stones to cut and bleed points on the bodies of horses and other large working animals. Today, acupuncture is used to maintain and promote balance in healthy pets, as well as to treat a wide variety of conditions. These include chronic arthritis, pre- and post-operative pain, gastrointestinal disorders, spinal cord trauma, incontinence, seizures, respiratory problems, diseases of the heart, liver, kidneys and skin…even separation anxiety. As it does for humans, acupuncture has been shown to improve appetite and boost the immune system of animals suffering from cancer, and it can also enhance the overall quality of life for aging pets.
Often, the best treatment is a combination of Western and Eastern medicine—an integrated approach that involves having an acupuncture specialist work with your regular veterinarian to promote optimum health for your pet, or finding a veterinarian who has expanded his allopathic skills. So these days, aside from the use of acupuncture needles, your pet may receive treatments that include:
Acupressure, the simple use of manual pressure on a point without needles;
Electroacupuncture, a process that uses mild electrical stimulation between points to enhance the effect, especially for musculoskeletal and spinal problems;
Aquapuncture, an injection of saline-diluted Vitamin B12 in an acupuncture point to allow stimulation without having to keep the needle in place; and
Laserpuncture, a technique in which an infrared laser is used to painlessly stimulate acupuncture points.
Unlike people who may be leery about needles, animals have no preconceptions about acupuncture. Most simply respond well to it.
Reiki, a healing method that originated in Japan, is based on the idea that universal energy flows through all living beings. When that energy is high, the body is healthy, balanced and less susceptible to sickness. When the energy is low, the individual—human or animal—is more easily affected by stress and open to illness.
A Reiki practitioner is trained in four "attunements" that allow him to channel the universal energy through his hands, infusing the process with deep, loving intention. During a treatment, he will carefully place his hands on or hovering near the body—there are 12 basic hand positions—according to the patient’s needs. He may also send, or "beam," healing energy from a distance, which is a great advantage for practitioners who are trying to help animals that may not be touchable for some reason: think fish in a tank, poisonous snakes and frightened animals that are in a lot of pain or have experienced some sort of trauma, such as abuse, neglect, loss of a companion, or abandonment when a family moves to a new home.
In most situations, however, in which a beloved pet is accustomed to being touched, a Reiki healer is likely to start by laying hands at the base of the ears, near the neck. This has a calming effect, relaxing the muscles, which, in turn, lets the energy flow. Then, using hand positions similar to those for humans (the larger the animal, the more positions a practitioner will use to channel a sufficient dose of energy), he will systematically lay hands on or near different parts of the pet’s body, guided by the energy shifts he feels and focusing his healing touch to areas where he senses pain.
Note that, in general, pets are as naturally receptive to Reiki as they are to petting and grooming. They enjoy the sensation of warmth commonly experienced while being treated and, like many humans, may nod off during a session—which typically lasts between 20 and 30 minutes. The number of treatments required will depend entirely on your pet’s health status and needs.
Far Beyond Fragrance
In the 1930s, an English physician and homeopath named Edward Bach came up with the idea of diluting and potentizing extracts of various plants to make them more effective treatments for people, and animals, than the original "herbal" remedies. Believing that disease results from imbalances or negativity at the soul level, and correcting problems at that point will heal the body on all levels, Dr. Bach developed flower remedies that acted like catalysts upon inharmonies in the emotional/spiritual body to bring the physical body back in balance.
There were originally 38 flower remedies that Dr. Bach felt would correct all possible imbalances—from emotions such as anger to lack of confidence—and since animals display emotions much as people do, their response to appropriate remedies is equally therapeutic. (It should be mentioned that numerous Flower Essence Societies have formed since Dr. Bach pioneered his research, and many new remedies have been developed as a result.)
Specific essences are used to treat particular imbalances—either alone or in combination. Perhaps the most frequently used Bach Flower Remedy for pets is Rescue Remedy, actually a combination of five other remedies that act synergistically to calm stress and fear: Star of Bethlehem for trauma and numbness, Clematis for being grounded and to prevent passing out, Rock Rose for panic, Impatiens for tension and irritability, and Cherry Plum to prevent loss of control. Three or four drops can be given into the mouth every five minutes until a response is seen, or 10 drops can be added to the animal’s water bowl every time the water is changed. Rescue Remedy is ideal during times of stress—when introducing a new pet into the home, for example, or calming an animal upset by a thunderstorm. It is also wonderful in cases of injury-related shock or trauma and, while not a substitute for immediate veterinary care, it can be safely given before traveling to the vet’s office and afterwards, to help speed recovery.
Here are 10 other common flower essences, available in most health food stores:
Bleeding Heart—For grieving animals that have suffered a loss of another animal or person.
Chamomile—A calming remedy for fractious and irritable animals, as well as young pets that are teething.
Crab Apple—A remedy that acts to cleanse the body and get rid of toxins.
Heather—Excellent for soothing animals that are suffering from separation anxiety.
Olive—Helps animals whose energies are depleted by strain or a chronic disease to handle the ordeal better and become stronger again.
Rock Rose—Given to pets that are very high-strung, nervous or fearful for no known reason.
Self Heal—Stimulates the innate healing reserves of the body; useful for any illness.
Tiger Lily—Used to make aggressive animals that tend to bite and snap less hostile and open to learning to co-operate with others.
Walnut—Extremely useful during any time of transition, such as moving to a new house or adjusting to new pets or family members.
Water Violet—Especially suitable for cats that are unusually introverted and detached, helping them to open up, become more friendly and less emotionally distant.
Talking To Your Pet
If by chance you’re not sure what is troubling your pet or causing him pain, you may want to consult an animal communicator. Even at a distance, without meeting your furry friend, a gifted, highly skilled professional can read him and let you know what hurts, what frightens or excites him, what makes him happy…and what you can do to give him the good life he deserves.
In any case, whether you’re looking for a massage practitioner or the right flower essence to help your pet, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, or consult a trusted friend. When it comes to your pet’s well-being, don’t take chances!
Ellen Eller is a freelance writer and editor based in western Massachusetts, and a regular contributor to Wisdom magazine.
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