5 Ways Reiki can benefit your senior dog and you
If you’re like me, your dogs have always been, from childhood through adulthood, the loves of your life and at the center of your heart! They never live long enough, and as they get older, it can be hard to admit that they are indeed “seniors,” entering their twilight years. Older dogs often develop certain chronic conditions, and besides finding the support of a caring, holistic vet, sharing Reiki meditations with your dog can help the both of you navigate the twists and turns of your aging dog’s health journey. In this article, I’d like to explore five common health conditions senior dogs often face, and how Reiki can help both your dog and you.
1. Loss of Appetite
Reiki Benefit: improved appetite for the dog; patience for the caregiver
There are many reasons dogs lose their appetites, and it’s important to always consult your vet if you notice any changes in eating habits. Over the years I’ve noticed that my dogs and with my friends’ dogs seem to get very finicky about eating in their old age. Besides getting creative with food choices, Reiki is a wonderful way to support senior dogs when they just don’t seem interested in food. Many times, I’ve had the beautiful experience of the dog going over to his food bowl and finally choosing to eat, either during or just after a Reiki session. It’s amazing! Reiki can also help us as caregivers develop patience and acceptance with our dogs as we work through the process of resolving their appetite challenges.
2. Vestibular Disease
Reiki Benefit: physical and emotional comfort for the dog; courage for the caregiver
A common condition for senior dogs is vestibular disease, when dogs lose their sense of balance. It’s important to consult your vet if your dog begins showing an unsteady gait or head tilt, but Reiki can also be a good support. Vestibular disease can cause nausea in the dog as well as anxiety for the person watching the struggle for balance; Reiki can address both. Sharing Reiki sessions can help the dog feel more comfortable as they heal from this disease. In addition, Reiki can help us to feel calmer as we support our dogs: it’s very scary to see them so off balance! When Dakota suffered from a bout of this disease when he was about 12, I remember sitting with him and sharing Reiki. Although it was very difficult to see him struggling, sharing a Reiki meditation with him each day gave me a way to keep a positive mental focus of peace and healing. He improved much quicker than the vet expected, and I was able to keep a much calmer state of mind throughout the healing process.
3. Hearing/Sight Loss
Reiki benefit: renewed sense of connection and belonging for the dog; deepened heart-to-heart communication and understanding for the caregiver
Loss of sight and hearing is a common problem in older dogs, and to be expected, but Reiki is a wonderful way to offer support. My first clue that my senior dog Dakota was beginning to lose his hearing was that he became less responsive to verbal cues. It was a gradual process until he was almost completely deaf for the last four years of his life. I learned to use sign language to help us communicate. He also began to get cataracts in both eyes and couldn’t see as well, especially in low light. Since he had always been a very visually oriented dog, this was another a difficult adjustment for him. The biggest change I sensed in him was that he felt more isolated from the family. He had always made every detail of our household his business, making sure to be right in the center of things. But when he lost his hearing, and his sight declined, he spent more time sleeping on his bed in the corner of the room, rather than taking part in everything.
For me it is the feeling of isolation that dogs experience that is the most difficult part of hearing/sight loss. This is where Reiki can play a very important role. Reiki meditation is about connecting from the heart. When we practice Reiki, we learn to breathe and focus into the heart of our being, to uncover the central core of who we are. When we remember our inner heart, we realize that although often rely on our eyes and ears to connect us to our world, these senses don’t define who we are. When these senses dim, Reiki helps us to heighten our most important awareness – the awareness that comes from an open heart – in order to stay connected. Through meditating with our dogs, Reiki shows us that connecting with our hearts is a much more profound way to communicate with and relate to our dogs!
Even if your dog isn’t able to hear you or see you very well anymore, they can certainly sense your open heart, feel your love and compassion, and step into the peaceful space of being together with you in a Reiki meditation. This renewed sense of heart-to-heart connection and reassurance of belonging are gifts that Reiki can bring when the 5 senses dim with the advancing of age.
Reiki benefit: physical and emotional comfort for the dog; stress-relief for the caregiver
Arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions present in senior dogs, but Reiki can offer comfort and support. As my parents’ aging Lab “Midnight Cali” got older, she got more and more stiff, until she couldn’t stand up or lie down without help. This caused anxiety for Cali, as she got less independent, and for my parents as well, as they worried about her discomfort. Each time I would visit, I would sit with Cali and offer Reiki, and even if she initially looked uncomfortable or anxious, most of the time within a few minutes she would slip into a relaxed and peaceful nap. Seeing her so peaceful was a great relief to my parents.
Often dogs who receive Reiki will show significant signs of improvement in comfort and mobility. It brings me great joy to see many of my arthritic clients getting a spring back into their steps after Reiki treatments. Some clients will show a renewed emotional sparkle, bringing me toys to play with after a Reiki session, even if they haven’t shown interest in play for a very long time. Reiki can also help to bring a sense of peace and calm to caregivers. Reiki is always a wonderful gentle support for mind, body and spirit.
Reiki benefit: physical and emotional comfort for the dog; a sense of peace and emotional strength for the caregiver
According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, cancer is the cause of death for about half of all dogs over 10 years old. There are many types of cancer, some that can be treated conventionally and others that can be treated holistically, but for all kinds and stages of canine cancer, Reiki is a wonderful support. I remember how devastated I was when my dear companion Dakota was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 16. With a combination of conventional drugs and holistic therapies such as Chinese herbs and acupuncture, I did everything I could to help him. I also shared Reiki with him every single day. Reiki was a wonderful way to improve his comfort level during hospice as well as my own mental/emotional state in caring for him.
The anxiety and sadness I felt at his condition was a very heavy weight to bear. Some of the only times I felt peace during his illness was during the Reiki sessions we shared. The medications he was on supposedly caused stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea, but he never showed any of these symptoms. In fact, to his vet’s amazement, had a wonderful appetite and digestion up until the day he died. I firmly believe that Reiki was key in helping him fight against the side effects of the medications.
Although Dakota eventually passed away from the cancer, I know that he had a good quality of life up until the end. The peacefulness that surrounded us as he took his last breath is a gift of Reiki that I will never forget. I am so grateful that I was able to share the peace of Reiki with him at this precious last moment.
With everything we “do” for our dogs throughout there lives, as they wind down towards their final days, it can be difficult to navigate the many challenges they may face in their elder years. As much as we work hard to “do” our best for our dogs, Reiki helps us remember also the importance of the way we can “be” with our dogs. We can be Reiki with our dogs, no matter their age or condition. Reiki meditation can help us to create a strong sense of peace, harmony, love and compassion, every day, through every condition, and even as we support our dogs in their final journeys over the rainbow bridge.
Practice to Try: The Reiki Precepts Meditation
Sit in a comfortable position near your dog, spine straight, with your shoulders and arms relaxed. Place your hands palms up on your lap. Relax your entire body as you breathe deeply a few times.
Now take 10 breaths, and on each inhale, feel the energy of the earth coming up into your heart. On each exhale, release any emotions, fears or worries about your dog. With each successive breath, feel more and more stillness and stability within you. Once you have completed 10 breaths, allow yourself to sit for several minutes in the space of earth energy and stability that you have created with your breath. Once you feel yourself fully calm and connected to the earth, invite your dog to share this space with you. Simply set your intent to open your heart and share this calm, grounded space.
Now, recite the Reiki precepts in your mind and heart:
For today only, do not anger.
Do not worry.
Be compassionate to yourself and others.
Bring these precepts into your heart and allow yourself to contemplate what they mean to your life. How does your dog teach you these precepts? Does he model them for you? How can following these precepts help you to be truly present as a helpful caretaker for your dog?
Now take a moment to thank your dog for being a teacher of healing in your life. Feel gratitude embracing both you and your dog. Let go of your expectations (along with any worries about what needs to be healed) and continue to breathe the calm and strength of earth energy into your heart as you share this space of gratitude with your dog for 20-30 minutes.
Tips: As you practice this meditation, remember to let go of the “doing” of healing; the most powerful healing you can offer to your dog right now is to bring all your awareness and energy here to this moment, open your heart, and just “be.” If you find your mind becoming distracted, recite the precepts again or repeat the 10 breaths to help you to re-focus.
Photo credit: Kathleen Prasad
You can learn more about Kathleen here.