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Alternative Therapies Can Zen Out Your Pet, Too

Wellness treatments like acupuncture, Reiki, and sound baths are helping pets heal and bond with their parents.

by Daria Solovieva
October 31, 2021
Dog sitting in a tent surrounded by candles and crystals

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Olivia Rae, an energy healer and animal communicator at the Los Angeles-based DEN Urban Dog Retreat, spoke in a slow, soothing voice over the flute music playing in the background via Zoom, surrounded by glistening white crystals and soft pink hues. As Rae tuned in and gradually moved through each chakra point, it turned out my one-year-old German Shepherd / Husky mix, Zoya, had some traumatic childhood memories that she was ready to let go.

Getting a reading with an animal communicator or receiving insights into Akashic records for your dog may appear to be a “peak California” moment for some, but it’s just one of the increasingly popular services and alternative treatments that boomed during the pandemic all around the country — Covid’s been stressful for everyone, including our pets. More pet owners than ever before are turning to these services, either to complement traditional veterinary treatments for serious medical conditions or deepen their bonds with their pets in trying times.

“There’s much higher demand for wellness services right now,” says Victorious Solomon, co-founder of Los Angeles-based DEN Urban Dog Retreat, which offers a range of holistic animal services from boarding and grooming to sound baths and crystal healings. “We see a lot more mindfulness, like, ‘Hey things are going great; I want to book a massage for my dog.’ Pet parents are pausing for a moment, where they would normally just race through their life.”

Alternative Therapies Growing in Popularity

While alternative holistic offerings for animals like acupuncture and massage have existed for decades, the popularity of alternative providers and wellness treatments has grown rapidly since the pandemic. The new spectrum of alternative, holistic services for animals is vast — from rehabilitation veterinary medicine to acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs to crystal healings and reiki — and many practices are struggling to keep up with demand. “We really exploded in the last year and a half,” says Dr. Claire Sosna, founder of Animal Acupuncture and Rehabilitation Center in San Diego, who has had her practice for almost two decades and is now adding a new location. “I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Practitioners are even seeing higher demand for broader services like animal communication. “Especially over the last couple of months, there’s a whole group of people who are like, ‘Okay, what I’ve been doing isn’t working, so I’m going to turn to more alternative methods and see how I can find wholeness and peace in my life,’” says Rae. “As a collective, we are just accessing a higher level of consciousness right now.”

A combination of factors have fueled this recent holistic pet services boom: increased pet ownership over the last year and a half (especially among millennial pet owners), more people having work flexibility and time to take their pets to these appointments, as well as the rising popularity of self-described animal communicators and intuitives on platforms like TikTok. As more humans have experienced a wider range of these treatments in recent years, they’ve also wanted to extend the benefits to the animals in their care.

These treatments are aimed to help senior dogs and those with rare or inoperable conditions that cannot be assisted with traditional veterinary medicine, or they can act as supplemental therapies. These conditions include back injuries, allergies, arthritis, kidney issues, heart disease, and more. “I have a lot of clients who get these services for their dogs and I think it is extremely beneficial,” says Leanna Gregory, a dog trainer in San Diego and founder of Doggy Dialogue. Gregory’s own dog, a 13-year-old German Shepherd, has been receiving regular massages, laser therapy, and chiropractic treatments for the past two years. “He looks and acts much younger than many dogs his age and I contribute that to the fact that he has a lot of additional support.”

Sought-After Pet Wellness Services

Rehabilitation & Hydrotherapy

Who doesn’t need some rehabilitation after the last 18 months — both mentally and physically? Practices like Animal Acupuncture and Rehabilitation Center, run by licensed veterinarians, offer a range of rehabilitation services like hydrotherapy and underwater treadmills — the latter of which Dr. Sosna says have been a core of her business. While hydrotherapy for humans runs the gamut from swimming to water aerobics to soaking in mineral baths, water therapy for dogs is a low-impact treatment for dogs that involves swimming or walking in water, which eases joint pain in arthritic dogs and strengthens muscle in pets recovering from surgeries such as ACL tears and those with muscle atrophy due to diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

Cold Laser Therapy

Cold laser therapy was actually developed 20 years ago but is just now gaining momentum in the animal wellness world. Highly concentrated, coherent light is aimed at a pet’s muscles, tissues, and organs, reducing inflammation, muscle spasms, and accelerating the healing of disc and spine issues — all within minutes. Laser therapy for dogs is painless and non-invasive, and boasts similar results to non-steroidal medication (without the side effects). Numerous veterinarians offer this service.

Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine

Chi University for Traditional Veterinary Medicine, which provides online and in-person training to veterinarians and active veterinary students in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) and other modalities, is one of the schools that offers acupuncture training. They have an online database of certified practitioners across the United States. Some providers like the Animal Acupuncture and Rehabilitation Center in San Diego also offer herbal medicine and nutritional consultations for animals.

Reiki, Energy & Sound Healing

Philosophical questions aside, humans are not the only animals who experience the weight of consciousness and can benefit from improving it. Den Urban Dog Retreat in Los Angeles, which is “dedicated to elevating dogs and their humans to higher states of consciousness,” offers a variety of services. Energy healing encompass therapies that improve the flow of energy in an animal’s body — pets included. It’s gentle, natural, and nonphysical; and treats the mind, body, and spirit.

For example: sound healing employs quartz crystal singing bowls and other instruments to “significantly reduce stress and anxiety, assist with chakra cleansing and balancing, help to calm the overactive mind, transmute stuck emotions in the body, and allow for natural pain relief.” Reiki and Qi-Gong have been practiced for centuries, in the shadow of Western medicine, and their benefits include releasing endorphins, relaxing muscles, increasing circulation, and promoting pain relief. Not only is reiki for dogs a great way to soothe achy older pets and easing the end of life transition, it can also help heal rescue dogs suffering from emotional trauma.

Not convinced? Pet parents have even been known to feel better after their pups’ treatments. “People will come in here and do Reiki or a sound bath healing experience — they’ll do it for their dog but not themselves,” says Lindsay Velez, co-founder of the retreat. “Then they will get back to us about a week later saying they’re in a new place, their relationships with their dogs are deeper, more bonded, they’re looking each other in the eyes more, they’re putting their phones away...”

Akashic Records

You wouldn’t be faulted for wondering, What are Akashic records?! Well, it involves far less cataloging than you may assume. Some spirituality enthusiasts and metaphysics students believe these records hold our higher purpose on Earth, each human has them and so do the animals. An Akashic Records reading session is often marketed as a “bonding” session with your pet to gain deeper insights into your relationship with your pet, like getting psychic readings with a friend or your family member.

Typically these types of services have been offered by solo practitioners at their own homes or at their clients’ homes, but are becoming more mainstream and offered as a part of the overall menu of services at centers like the Den Urban Dog Retreat.

Ready to Book a Service? Read This First

While some complementary and alternative medical treatments for animals, such as pet massage, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture, have been around for some time, there is still skepticism in the veterinary community about the efficacy of some of the non-scientifically backed modalities. It’s important to do your own research into each holistic center and practitioner to make sure your pet will receive qualified care (as well as be covered by your pet insurance provider or pet wellness plan), and talk to your veterinarian. Regulatory supervision of these alternative veterinary practices varies from state to state. “Regulation needs to take into account what kind of training people have,” says Dr. Sosna, who says some holistic centers open up without a supervising veterinarian in sight.

For many pet owners who turn to alternative treatments, the benefits far outweigh any potential risks. Irene Vanhulsentop, who now lives in Solana Beach, CA, saw the benefits of alternative medicine first-hand when she worked as a librarian at Chi University in Florida. She saw the impact these practices had on dogs and horses treated at the facility, so when her dog was diagnosed with a liver shunt, causing low liver function that could not be treated through Western medicine, she decided to turn to traditional Chinese reflexology and massage techniques.

“This dog had a happier and longer life with that condition because of alternative medicine,” she says now, noting the benefits of the practice for blood circulation as well as the animal’s sense of safety and trust. “Dogs and cats are mammals, and as we’re practicing a healthier lifestyle — better nutrition exercise, no stress — I think it’s really important for people to realize how important that is for their pets as well, and how much that changes them in their relationship and their disposition.”

Daria Solovieva

Daria Solovieva

Daria Solovieva is a business journalist and a certified meditation teacher based in California.