Scratching the surface of science on Reiki, animal communication

Image by Daga_Roszkowska from Pixabay 

What does science say about the effectiveness of animal Reiki, or about the way we humans can communicate with animals?

What we know (or hypothesize) about anything today may only scratch the surface of what we’ll figure out tomorrow.

There are a few studies about Reiki, but not many about animal Reiki specifically. Here’s what I found in late 2021:

• The American Kennel Club recently published a story on the benefits of Reiki for pets, also citing a study you can find on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website. That 2017 (human) study, published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, indicates Reiki is better than a placebo. In particular, it “activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal body and mind. It has potential for broader use in management of chronic health conditions, and possibly in postoperative recovery. Research is needed to optimize the delivery of Reiki.”

• An Innovative Veterinary Care Journal article also touts the benefits of Reiki to animals, especially in clinical settings. This one cites an animal-specific 2008 study, “Reiki Improves Heart Rate Homeostasis in Laboratory Rats,” from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It showed Reiki reduced heart rate and blood pressure in noise-stressed rats.

• Kathleen Lester’s 2019 article in the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Association, “Reiki as Complementary Care in Veterinary Medicine,” cites numerous scholarly sources to discuss how Reiki can benefit not only animals but the veterinary staff caring for them. (With a shortage of veterinarians exacerbating an already stressful job, I think this will be increasingly important.)

I found a bit more research on human-animal communication:

Dogs have some understanding of what we say and how we say it, Hungarian scientists found. They trained a group of family dogs to enter an MRI machine and scanned the way their brains responded to not only words but their tone. The study appeared in the journal Current Biology in 2014.

Two books reviewed in the Christian Science Monitor further delve into research on how attuned our canine companions are to our emotions, speech, and behavior. Alexandra Horowitz, cognitive scientist and author of Inside of a Dog, followed that bestseller up with Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Singular Bond. Clive D.L. Wynne, a dog behavioral scientist examines that bond in Dog Is Love: The Science of Why and How Your Dog Loves You.

Cats react to the sound of their names, according to a group of Japanese scientists whose study appeared in the journal Scientific Reports. Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, told the Associated Press the study shows “cats are paying attention to you, what you say and what you do, and they’re learning from it.”

Goats prefer positive human facial expressions, says a UK-based study published by The Royal Society. “These findings suggest that the ability of animals to perceive human facial cues is not limited to those with a long history of domestication as companions, and therefore may be far more widespread than previously believed,” the authors concluded.

• Norwegian researchers taught 23 horses to express their needs using symbol boards — for example, to request a blanket on a cold day. “When horses realized that they were able to communicate with the trainers, i.e. to signal their wishes regarding blanketing, many became very eager in the training or testing situation,” the authors wrote in their study, which appeared in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. “Some even tried to attract the attention of the trainers prior to the test situation, by vocalizing and running towards the trainers, and follow their movements.”

When you look at any study, pay attention to who conducted the research, who paid for it, and whether any conflicts of interest are disclosed.

Also keep in mind that many factors influence what we believe about the legitimacy of animal communication, Reiki, or anything else.

Scientific inquiry, by nature, is ongoing, so please send or post a link to any animal Reiki or animal communication study you find that I didn’t!

And, as they used to say on television: Stay tuned.

Communication and Reiki are different animals

While animal Reiki and animal communication make a great pair, they are separate disciplines with unique benefits. The difference is essentially between meditation and conversation.

How they work

A Reiki session is a time of meditation, relaxation, and peace. Because I am certified in the Let Animals Lead® method, the animal is always in charge of whether and how he shares the energy.

During an in-person session, a cat or dog might curl up in my lap or settle across the room. A horse may stand on the other side of the pasture, hang out in a stall, or come to meet me at the fence. I’ve even had a donkey sidle up and nudge his head under my arm! Whatever the species or context might require, I go into a meditative state and let the energy do its work.

Distant sessions are much the same, except that the animal and I are not in the same physical space. She’s generally at home relaxing with her person, hanging out with the herd, or doing whatever, while I’m in my home office — again, in a meditative state, letting the energy do its work!

During an in-person or distant Reiki session, I may receive intuitive information — but that is not the objective of the session.

An animal communication session, on the other hand, is an exchange of information. I don’t need to be in the same physical space as the animal or on the phone with the animal’s person for this. I connect with the animal telepathically, focusing my attention on what he has to share. No appointment is necessary for this.

With the animal’s permission, I work to gain insights into behavior. Or I tell her about a change coming up and ask what would help her adjust. Or I ask him how he feels about anything from his food to his person’s new boyfriend. Once I’ve talked with the animal, I email the person a summary of what we discussed. The client is always encouraged to take only what resonates and is helpful, and leave the rest.

Together but distinct

In some settings, such as a farm with multiple animals, I may do Reiki and animal communication in the same visit, but not in the same moment.

How this works might be compared to a chaplain’s rounds. Time with each animal could be spent in conversation to begin. Then we might share Reiki. After the session, we might talk a little more before I thank the animal and move to another. We wouldn’t be meditating and talking at the same time!

There is a time and a purpose to everything (Eccl. 3:1). When we let Reiki and animal communication function on their own, our animal friends get the best each has to offer.

Tough tasks can build trust

The pill you’re trying to give your outraged cat. The overdue hoof or nail trim. The drop-off at the boarding kennel.

The struggling, crying, kicking, flattened ears, and pleading eyes can leave us feeling incompetent. Or cruel.

My animal Reiki and animal communication practice is all about letting the animal choose, and of course that applies to the animals under my roof.

Yet there’s no escaping that some tasks aren’t optional.

“I’ve tried adding ‘because I said so’ to every command,” said Linda Lipp. “It works about as well on the dog as when my parents used it on me.”

Difficult tasks and events are opportunities to build our animals’ trust in us, our trust in the animals to learn and cope, and our trust in ourselves. From my experience and that of friends and clients, here are a few ways to do that.

Put your own leash on first

That’s a variation on the flight attendant’s instructions to put on your own oxygen mask before helping your child with theirs. Get any help you need to give injections, clean ears, handle hooves, etc. with confidence. If you are calm and clear, your animal is much more likely to be.

Allison Wheaton, director of Summit Equestrian Center, tends a crew of some 20 horses, many of them rescues; along with barn cats, her canine assistants, and more. “Honestly, it seems everyone does better when I am calm and deliberate while being sensitive to their needs,” she said.

I would add: leave enough time to trim the nails, get the cat into the carrier, get to the clinic, or whatever else with time to spare. If you are rushed, they will feel it.

Keep the good in mind

While you’re calm and unrushed, tell the animal what’s happening and what’s in it for them. You can speak out loud or silently. In either case, hold an image or feeling of what will be better once it’s done. Shorter nails mean less chance of painful snags and infections. The dog will feel cooler and more comfortable after being groomed. The cat will be able to urinate without pain, and everyone in the household will feel less anxious, if she swallows that pill. The horse can comfortably stand and move about with his herdmates if he cooperates with the farrier.

If you are about to travel, picture your dog having fun with the sitter who loves him, or at the boarding kennel you’ve carefully chosen. Show him a picture of how happy and relaxed you all will be when you’re together again. If your grandchildren are visiting, reassure your cat that you’ll provide her a safe space away from the kids and daily one-on-one time with you. (Then follow through.)

Treat ’em right

Positive reinforcement helps the animal associate good things with what we want him or her to do.

Demi Thomas has found it helpful to integrate new and potentially challenging tasks such as nail trims into the animal’s routine until it’s not a big deal. Then she immediately rewards with high-value treats, toys, and “favorite itchy-spot pets.”

For example, her dog Tucker didn’t like having his feet touched when he was a pup. “So, if he wanted on the couch, I played with his feet. He’s 3 now and it’s no issue!”

Rebecca and Jeff Cameron’s dog, Stella, is even less of a fan.

“Out of sheer desperation one day, I held a paper plate smeared with peanut butter in front of her while Jeff clipped nails,” Rebecca said. “I feel like we took the low road with straight-up bribery, but we’re working on actual training so she’ll allow the trimming sans PB distraction.” Stella will still get a tasty treat once it’s done, she added.

Think partnership

As with the Let Animals Lead® animal Reiki method I practice, things can go much better when the animal is allowed some agency.

Duke, a rescued draft horse at Summit Equestrian, lives with post-traumatic stress. Having his feet worked on or handled in any way is a potentially dangerous trigger. Allison has worked with him extensively on this.

“Duke is willing to let me wash his legs as long as I use minimal restraints, when he has more participation and things are not being done to him,” she said. “Otherwise he can get nervous and tries to get away or squish me.”

Squishing — not good. Building trust and confidence — excellent.

Watch for a follow-up to all of this. Because of my pro bono work and the generosity of Fear Free®, I am getting certified through the Fear Free Shelter Program. Fear Free educates veterinary professionals, trainers, groomers, and others in animal care methods that reduce fear, anxiety, and stress. In the meantime, here — from the Fear Free Happy Homes Program — is a four-minute video on nail trims.

(Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay)