How to Use Acupressure to Help Your Dog Flourish

Based on ancient Chinese principles, acupressure offers natural, drug-free healing.

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You may be familiar with acupuncture, and you’ve most likely heard of therapeutic massage … but what about acupressure? This technique has its core foundations in ancient Chinese healing principles that have been observed for thousands of years. You might say it combines the targeted energy focus of acupuncture with the gentle, sustained, hands-on approach of skilled therapeutic massage. And it’s seeing an upsurge in popularity among pet parents looking for natural, drug-free ways to help enhance, augment, and support traditional veterinary care.

When most people consider terms like “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM) and “acupressure,” they may recall hearing about various human benefits. But the truth is, acupressure has been used on canines, cats, horses, and other animals for centuries. If you think about the way most dogs (and many felines) enjoy being petted and scratched, it makes sense that so many would respond favorably to a technique like acupressure. While this therapy can be used on its own or in combination with general massage, it appears to be especially beneficial when used as part of a larger, integrative approach that includes skilled veterinary expertise.

“Chinese medicine has a lot to do with supporting and strengthening the overall immune system,” notes Amy Snow, co-founder of Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute in Colorado. “Acupressure has its roots in the ancient Chinese healing art of tui-na (pronounced tway-nah). This hands-on practice helps facilitate energy flow throughout the body.”

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Helping pets to relax is a very popular side benefit of acupressure, and it’s also critical to successful treatment. (Relaxed dog photo by Shutterstock.)

Essentially, acupressure involves the application of gentle, non-invasive pressure on certain targeted body points. These points are known as “acupoints,” and they are located along “meridians” — focused channels or pathways that facilitate energy flow throughout the body. Chinese medicine maintains that living creatures struggling with stress or illness can experience various energy blockages and imbalances. This may lead to a lack of energy in certain systemic areas, and/or a surplus of energy in other areas. Applying gentle pressure to these meridian points in a calm, soothing, and non-invasive way can help to balance and release the flow of blocked energy.

“Unlike acupuncture, acupressure is non-invasive,” explains Snow. “There are no needles or skin puncturing involved. We are, however, manipulating energy along with soft tissue. There is also an exchange of intentional healing energies from the human to the animal.”

“If you think about it,” adds Denise Theobald, founder and lead instructor at the Chicago School of Canine Massage, “our bodies are made up of complex energies at the cellular and molecular level.” To illustrate, Theobald often has students picture what can happen when a body part becomes injured and inflamed. “It feels warm — it generates heat,” she says. “That’s energy. In acupressure, such energies can be gently influenced and re-directed to assist with healing or support overall wellness.”

When it comes to acupressure, progress is typically gradual and steady — though in some cases, a noticeable difference can be observed almost immediately. An example might be an anxious pet growing calmer when a certain meridian point is held. With time, acupressure benefits can often include increased stamina, improved range of motion, reduced pain, and/or enhanced medication tolerance.

“Acupressure can be used to help to improve quality of life for an older pet suffering from arthritis, general aches and pains, hip dysplasia, even cancer,” notes Tallgrass co-founder Nancy Zidonis. “Yet it can also help soothe and calm a young puppy transitioning into a new family. There are an incredibly wide range of applications.”

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Acupressure has been employed successfully across a range of breeds at all ages and stages of life –and it’s also used with cats, horses, and other animals. (Tranquil twosome photo by Shutterstock).

I learned about acupressure when one of my own rescue pups began struggling with advanced age-related arthritis and chronic digestive issues. A specialist employed specific acupressure techniques to help ease stomach upset, while minimizing general pain and discomfort. The therapist was glad to work with my regular vet to help achieve these goals, which made my dog’s “golden years” much more vibrant. A wonderful side effect was the noticeable calming, soothing effect it seemed to have on my dog, who had exhibited lifelong anxiety.

“Many people think of acupressure as a way to help relieve general pain and discomfort, and that’s certainly a key application,” notes Snow. “But it can also be used as an integrative therapy to help strengthen the immune system, alleviate inflammation, relieve muscle spasms, promote relaxation, improve circulation, enhance digestion, or remove toxins from the body.”

Certified animal acupressure practitioners typically log extensive course time, plus additional hands-on time practicing specific therapeutic manipulations. The goal is to ensure the complete safety and well-being of every animal; while promoting a reassuring environment of trust that helps pets willingly submit to treatment on their own terms. Once a pet is calm and submissive, the practitioner is able to work along targeted meridian points that can deliver the most benefit over time.

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This overlapping finger technique is one popular way to gently hold an acupressure point (Photo courtesy Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute).

Want to help reduce anxiety in your own pet? You can even manipulate a key acupressure point at home. Zidonis makes special mention of the “Bai Hui” point,” also known among practitioners as the “point of a hundred convergences.” This is a small, soft area on the right side of the lumbar-sacral joint (back toward the tail). “It sort of feels like a little trampoline,” says Zidonis. Applying very gentle stimulation to this point with your thumb or finger — no digging or pushing, just a very light pressure — can help promote general calming and soothing, she explains. “We also work with this point in cases of lower-back soreness or hindquarter weakness in dogs, horses, and other animals,” she says.

Remember, the most important part of acupressure is establishing a calming atmosphere of trust, care, and love that puts your furry friend at ease. So always begin gradually, by simply petting your canine in a few of his favorite spots while speaking in a low, reassuring tones. You can touch an acupressure point in whatever position your pet seems to prefer: reclining, sitting, or standing.

If you’d like to learn more about acupressure techniques — or even sign up for actual classes — professional training centers such as Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute and Chicago School of Canine Massage can connect you with detailed professional insights and resources. Have you tried acupressure for your pet? Share your experience!

Top photo: Dog being massaged by Shutterstock.

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Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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