acupressure for hospice

Used within the context of hospice or palliative care, acupressure is a wonderful way to alleviate discomfort and help dogs pass more easily when their time comes.

A growing number of people are turning to hospice and palliative care for their terminally ill and/or aging dogs. Acupressure, when used in a hospice setting, is a very effective way to alleviate discomfort and ease the dying process in dogs.

“A major goal of hospice care is to neither hasten nor prolong the dying process, while providing for the greatest possible care,” writes Dr. Ella Bittel, holistic veterinarian and animal hospice specialist. “This requires that the animal’s condition is correctly recognized as being terminal, and that medical goals are redirected from treatment for a cure to supportive or comfort care.”

Many people want their dogs to pass as naturally as possible, and this is what hospice and palliative care offer. Euthanasia is always an option, but with the hospice and palliative movement, it has become a last resort.

Many veterinarians and complementary therapy practitioners are turning to an integrative approach to provide support and comfort care during the final phase of a dog’s life. One of the primary complementary modalities being used is acupressure, because it’s perfectly safe, non-invasive, gentle, and always available.

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Figure 1

Acupressure to support pain management  

Acupressure has been used by Chinese medicine practitioners for centuries to ease pain and allow an individual to die comfortably. Acupressure also lets you participate in creating a loving, caring experience for your dog in the final stages of his life.

The most important benefit acupressure can provide is pain mitigation. Specific acupressure points or “acupoints” are known to help reduce pain throughout the body. You can stimulate these acupoints by applying gentle pressure. Acupoints selected for pain reduction also include calming points to help your dog enjoy being touched with your caring intent.

Apply pressure slowly and gently using the soft tip of your thumb or pointer finger. Rest your other hand softly on your dog’s body. Breathe slowly and calmly while counting to 20 before moving on to the next point shown in Figure 1. When you have completed the acupoints on one side of your dog, repeat these points on his opposite side, if you are able to and your dog is comfortable enough. Be tender and loving; it will help your dog relax and know you are there for him.

Acupressure to support the dying process

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Figure 2

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, the Kidney organ system is responsible for the body’s constitution and original energy, also called chi. The Kidney is considered the “Root of Life”. As the dog’s body ages, Kidney chi wanes until there’s not enough chi to sustain life, and death ensues. When your dog gives you indications that his time of passing is near, it’s time for you to shift your intention with your acupressure and allow him to leave.

In TCM, the organ systems are energetic pathways, or meridians, and the acupoints are pools of chi along these meridians. The last acupoint on the Kidney meridian is Kidney 27 (Ki 27) which can be added to the pain management acupressure session when your dog is ready to depart (see Figure 2). Kidney 27 is located on both sides of your dog’s sternum in front of the first rib. You can hold Ki 27 on both sides of the sternum at the same time.

In acupressure, Ki 27 is known as the “all that is, was, and will ever be” acupount. This saying reflects how important Ki 27 is in connecting the animal to the essence of his life as he lets go with his final breath. By adding Ki 24 to your pain mitigation acupressure session, you are letting your dog know he can choose to either continue with life or peacefully pass on. During the end-of-life phase, in the moments before passing, stimulating this acupoint is the best support you can offer your dog.

As your dog’s guardian, the best you can do is to be there with all your heart during the end stage of his life. Dogs know when you are being present. The end-of-life stage of our dogs’ lives isn’t easy for us; we all wish our dogs could live as long as we do. But they don’t, sadly, so as tough as it is, it’s our job to provide support and comfort care to them during this time. Along with hospice and palliative care, acupressure can help you do that. You will know you did your absolute best, and that your dog knew you loved him as much as he loved you.