acupressure in shelters

How acupressure-massage can play a role in easing anxiety, fear and confusion in shelters.

Animal shelters are tough places no matter how hard staff and volunteers work to make them comfortable. Being in a shelter is terribly disorienting for a dog or cat, and in their confusion and fear, they may act out or retreat into themselves. Acupressure-massage is one way to offer these animals emotional and physical comfort and care until they are adopted into their forever homes.

Before you start, calm and center yourself

If you work or volunteer at an animal shelter, or want to try this technique on a newly-adopted dog or cat or other fearful and disoriented animal, be sure to start with yourself.  Working at a shelter is stressful, but you have to be present, calm, and thinking about what you want the dog or cat to experience during the session. For example, you could set an intention that the session will be loving, comforting and calming; every animal in a shelter needs this, no matter what.

To begin, the acupoint referred to as Large Intestine (LI4) can help you calm and center yourself. Located in the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, this point is known to help release pressure in the face, mouth and head. It’s used to mitigate migraines, dental pain, and feelings of stress, and to promote a sense of calm.

Hold the webbing between the thumb and forefinger of one hand between the thumb and pointer finger of the opposite hand, with the thumb on top and the finger below the webbing (pictured at left). While holding that point, think about what you want the animal to receive during his or her session. Slowly take three deep breaths. Then change hands and repeat the procedure.

Calming acupressure-massage session for dogs and cats

Once you feel present and focused, you are ready to begin the session. Animals know immediately when you are thinking about something else, like what you need to buy at the store on your way home. The session will be much more effective if you are grounded, caring and present.

Start by using the heel of your hand to slowly stroke down the animal’s body just to the side of his midline and spine from head to hind paw, following the Bladder Meridian Chart (pictured at right). Trace the meridian three times on each side of the animal’s body. This tells the dog or cat you are doing something other than petting him. Your intention is to be comforting and help him feel calm.

Once you have completed tracing the Bladder Meridian three times on each side of the animal’s body, you are ready to offer specific acupressure points to help restore a feeling of well-being (see charts below for the names and locations of these points). The acupressure points selected for animals in a shelter environment support general health, reduce fear, boost the spirit, and promote a sense of courage and well-being.

Shelter workers and volunteers are special people and the animals they serve are equally special. If it were a perfect world, all these animals would have their own safe and loving homes. In the meantime, while these scared dogs and cats wait to go home with their new families, the people who care for them can offer them peace with acupressure-massage.

Acupressure point techniques

While performing acupressure point work, always have both hands on the animal at the same time. One hand is doing the point work while the other rests gently and comfortably somewhere on the dog or cat’s body. The resting hand can feel any reactions the animal has to the point work, while offering grounding and comfort.

If you are unfamiliar with acupressure, you need to know that there are two basic techniques for stimulating acupoints – the Thumb Technique and the Two-Finger Technique. Both are considered direct pressure techniques, called An Fa in Chinese. There’s no need to press hard because the meridians and acupoints are just beneath the surface of the skin. In fact, gentler is better, so you won’t obstruct the flow of chi.

1.Thumb Technique – Gently place the soft tip of your thumb on the acupoint and count slowly to 20, then move to the next point. The Thumb Technique works best on larger dogs and on a medium-sized dog’s trunk, neck and larger muscle masses.


2. Two-Finger Technique – Place your middle finger on top of your index finger to create a little tent. Then lightly put the soft tip of your index finger on the acupoint and count slowly to 20. This technique is good for point work on small dogs or cats, and for the lower extremities on medium-sized to large dogs.


When you have completed the point work, trace the Bladder Meridian three times on each side of the animal just as you did at the beginning of the session. This gives the acupressure-massage session a finishing touch; it’s like smoothing a bedspread and tidying up the energy.

A short acupressure refresher

For those new to this modality, acupressure is a Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy that has been in use for at least 3,000 years. In ancient China, it was just as important to care for the animals as it was to care for people, because families depended on the health and strength of their animals for survival. Acupressure-massage techniques were used consistently to support the health and well-being of cattle, horses, and even small animals.

Chinese medicine works with the life-promoting energy of the body. This energy is called “chi” or “qi”. The idea is that chi needs to flow harmoniously through the body along channels or pathways called “meridians” to sustain physical and emotional health. When there’s a disruption or blockage in the flow of chi, the body and mind are not receiving the energy and nutrients needed to function properly. If the internal organs are not being nourished and energized, an imbalance occurs which can lead to physical and emotional illness.

By offering an acupressure-massage session, we can help restore and/or sustain a harmonious flow of chi throughout the animal’s body. Acupressure points, also called “acupoints”, are located along each of 12 Major Meridians and two Extraordinary Vessel pathways known to support the flow of chi in a specific manner.


Amy Snow is one of the authors of ACU-DOG: A Guide to Canine Acupressure, ACU-CAT: A Guide to Feline Acupressure, and ACU-HORSE: A Guide to Equine Acupressure. They founded Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Resources, which offers books, manuals, online training courses, DVDs, apps, meridian charts, consulting, and many more acupressure learning tools and opportunities. Email: tallgrass@animalacupressure