Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Reiki for Animals: The Power of Peace to Heal

How meditating with animals helps us find healing, even in difficult situations.

For many years, I've followed the important and inspirational work of Kathleen Prasad, a meditation teacher, author, and Animal Reiki expert. After reading some of her recent material, I decided it was high time to interview her and to spread the word about her work to a wide audience. I asked if she could answer a few questions about what she does, and gladly, she said "Yes." Our interview went as follows.

Kathleen Prasad
Kathleen and Dolly.
Source: Kathleen Prasad

Please explain to readers what Reiki is all about and why you decided to provide it for nonhumans?

Reiki is a Japanese spiritual practice based in meditation that also has therapeutic applications. Reiki meditation practice for the practitioner helps him/her to let go of anger, worry, fear, and stress to uncover his/her best inner qualities of peace, gratitude, and compassion. The goal of Reiki self-practice is living a happier, healthier life. Daily Reiki practice also increases the practitioner’s ability to support others with peace and compassion, even in the cases of serious health issues or difficult situations. Sharing Reiki with others involves touch therapy in the case of humans, and sharing meditation in the case of animals. The goal of offering Reiki to others is to promote relaxation and stress-relief, which in turn promotes self-healing of body, mind, and spirit.

I first learned Reiki in my late 20s, as a self-healing practice to help with the anxiety and panic attacks I had suffered with since I was a young child. Reiki, both my own self-practice and the treatments I received from a Reiki practitioner, gave me great relief and peace. Eventually, after several years of dedicated practice, I was completely healed of anxiety. This was such a gift to my life, as I had resigned myself that I would always struggle with it, on some level, for my whole life.

When I would practice Reiki on myself, my dog and horse were drawn like magnets to me. My dog would lie awkwardly across my feet to be close, a behavior he had never shown before. My horse would come close and lean into me, often falling into a deep sleep. This was a behavior I had never experienced with him before.

It seemed that Reiki gave to them, as it did to me, a similar sense of wellbeing and peace. This was exciting because animals seemed to be able to benefit from the peaceful space of Reiki even when I wasn’t purposely “giving” them Reiki or even touching them. Just being in their presence while doing my self-practice created a strong and reproducible peaceful response from animals.

When I was first learning Reiki, I was also volunteering as a dog walker at a local shelter in San Francisco. I was very lucky that even though the staff didn’t understand what Reiki was, they felt it “couldn’t hurt,” and so gave me permission to share Reiki with the dogs after walking them.

I was initially drawn to volunteer in shelters because, due to my own anxiety issues, I related to the stress and fear rescued animals experienced in the shelter environment. I knew that shelter dogs felt so happy getting out of the kennels and walking. In addition, just as Reiki helped me to let go of my anxiety, I saw time and time again, stressed-out shelter dogs relax and go to sleep during the Reiki sessions.

Even in a loud and chaotic kennel environment, sharing Reiki created peace and relaxation, often for the entire kennel, not just the dog I was sitting with. It filled me with so much gratitude to be able to help animals with Reiki in the same way as I was able to help myself.

Even though at the time, “Animal Reiki” wasn’t its own specialty, I felt committed to sharing Reiki with as many animals, of as many species as possible, because I believed so much, because of my own personal experience, in the power of Reiki’s peace to heal.

How long have you been doing Reiki for animals and why is it effective?

I’ve been doing Reiki since 1998, so about 21 years. One of the wonderful aspects of the gentle, meditative approach of Reiki is that it can be shared with any animal, no matter their level of trust for humans. Reiki can help even the most traumatized animals relax and feel a strong sense of wellbeing. This is important in creating not only healing of body, mind, and spirit but also Reiki creates the first step in healing the animal/human relationship.

 Kathleen Prasad
Kathleen practicing Reiki with a shelter dog.
Source: Kathleen Prasad

Is Reiki more effective for certain animals and why so?

I have shared Reiki successfully with domesticated animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and horses. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing Reiki’s peace embrace rescued exotic and wild animals like tigers, monkeys, bears, elephants, leopards, alligators, and more. I’ve even seen wild animals like deer, squirrels, and hummingbirds stop for a moment in time to relax nearby to me during a Reiki meditation.

The most important ingredient in an effective Reiki session is that the animal feels safe to connect with the practitioner. For this reason, Reiki is most effective for animals when not approached in the same manner as we approach Reiki for humans.

For example, if we want to share Reiki with humans, the person would lie down on a massage table, and the practitioner would do a series of light hand positions on the head and torso of the person. The client will sometimes have a headache or other issue and ask the practitioner to place their hands on the painful area. In other words, the client relaxes and the practitioners will “do” a session using physical touch. This approach for humans works well and is extremely relaxing and peaceful. I’ve had many a headache or other ache or pain relieved by a Reiki session.

For animals, the Reiki approach is almost the opposite as it is with humans. It could be because animals seem more sensitive to our state of mind and emotions and are not dependent on touch to feel connected.

When I first learned Reiki, I tried doing Reiki with animals in the same way as I had learned for humans, and many animals got nervous or would walk away when I would try to touch a “problem” area, or when I would focus my mind on a behavioral issue that needed healing. At first, I thought that maybe they just needed “less” Reiki, but I soon began to experiment with my physical posture and distance from animals, as well as my thoughts during sessions. It took me many years and many thousands of animal sessions to hone the approach that I teach now to my students.

When approaching animals, it is best to focus inward on the Reiki meditation and let go of “doing” or “fixing.” If the animal has physical or emotional issues, the practitioner should not ruminate on these, but instead should look more deeply into the heart and spirit of the animal—that part of the animal that is always perfect and has infinite healing potential. In other words, we must keep our minds open and positive, and we must not force physical contact with the animal.

Animals respond to Reiki more like human children do—in that they move around, connect often from a distance, and prefer a more flexible and open approach. I have developed a specific method of sharing Reiki with animals that is called the Let Animals Lead™ approach, honoring animals’ sensitivities, wisdom, and preferences. I have taught this method to thousands of animal lovers around the world!

Is Reiki more effective for certain conditions and why so?

I have seen Reiki bring peace and comfort to animals who are in physical pain, lessen and relieve emotional stress, and even bring peace to the dying process.

Reiki brings healing in the form of peace and balance—in other words, it is not a “cure” for this or that problem, but don’t our bodies, minds and spirits heal at their best when we aren’t stressed and uncomfortable?

Reiki practitioners do not diagnose issues, and in fact, do not need to know what the problem is because our approach and purpose are always the same. This is because healing is about “becoming whole,” and this is something that we all can do—even in the presence of disease. It is this wholeness and harmony of the entire being that Reiki uncovers, and that makes our self-healing abilities shine. In this way, it also makes any and every condition more manageable.

Animals are also affected by their people’s health issues, and in fact, sometimes an animal’s issue is really their person’s issue. By sharing Reiki with animals' people, we can help create a healing possibility between the person and their animal, deepen their bond and nurture their heart-to-heart connection. When we are present with our animals, with an open heart and mind, this is the ideal space for us to nurture healthy relationships, to learn from one another and to support each other to live a happier and healthier life. In shelter settings, sharing Reiki with shelter staff can support healing from compassion fatigue, which is very common in animal rescuers.

Are there scientific studies that assess its effectiveness for individuals of different species and for different conditions?

Physiologically, Reiki has been shown to be effective in activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Two scientific studies were also conducted with rats and produced clear, objective evidence of a benefit of Reiki for stress reduction, however, I personally find these studies unethical (inducing stress to prove you can reduce stress).

For human patients with chronic health conditions, Reiki has been found to be more effective than placebo for reducing pain and anxiety, depression, and for improving self-esteem and quality of life. Reiki should be regarded as a complement (not an alternative) to conventional medicine and other therapies. (See "Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy" for more details about 13 peer-reviewed scientific studies of Reiki from 1998-2016.)

Are you hopeful that more people will look to Reiki for "problem" animals?

I try to help my students see deeper than the “problems” with animals. As humans, it is our nature, I suppose, to always focus on what is wrong. We are fixers, aren’t we? But in the spiritual sense, there is nothing to fix and nothing to do—rather we should focus more on “being” with each other in a space of peace and acceptance.

Also, I teach about seeing your animal with your “Reiki eyes”—in other words, with your heart. When we see with our hearts, we stop focusing on what is “wrong” and see that in this moment, all is well. We can find peace in this moment if we look deeply enough. When we can see that "all is well" in this moment, our animals can sense this peace and find great comfort and support in it as they walk the path of healing. This is also something that I experienced when going through breast cancer, with the help of my animals and Reiki. In order to find true healing, we must learn to find our inner peace, even in the most difficult times.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

My nonprofit has just celebrated its 10-year anniversary! Ten years ago, inspired by the positive responses to Reiki that I’d seen from so many rescued animals, I co-founded (with my friend Leah D’Ambrosio) a 501(c)3 nonprofit, The Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA). Our goal is to create a peaceful, healing environment within shelters and other animal care settings. We work closely with staff and volunteers of shelter/rescues, veterinarians, and service organizations to help create a positive healing space for all.

In the beginning, we had just 20 members, 5 shelters, and my goal was to bring Animal Reiki meditation to shelters around the world to help animals find peace and to support their caregivers. Today, we are a global community of more than 250 members and 75 shelters/sanctuaries/rescues who all practice the meditative practice of Let Animals Lead™ Animal Reiki!

Animal care professionals and animal organizations around the world respect SARA members’ high ethics and professionalism. Our members all use the ethical and effective Let Animals Lead™ approach. My Animal Reiki curriculum is the first in the world that teaches meditation as the foundation for healing connections with animals. This meditative method is ideal for rescued animals who have suffered from stress, abuse or trauma because it never pushes or forces anything on an animal.

SARA is proud to be not only a community service organization but also a philanthropic one. In the past 10 years, our teachers and practitioners have donated over $200,000 to shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries. In addition to monetary donations, SARA members have donated thousands of volunteer hours.

SARA has a new book coming out very soon, called Vets on Animal Reiki: The Power of Animal Reiki Healing in Veterinary Practice. In the book, I interview four well-respected and experienced vets as well as the founder and lead veterinarian at TOLFA (Tree of Life for Animals), an animal sanctuary in India that has implemented the Let Animals Lead™ method in caring for their animals, about their experiences with Animal Reiki. This is the first book of its kind, and I’m so proud to be a part of this project!

As we head into our next 10 years, SARA’s goal is to work tirelessly to make animal meditation for peace and healing as common as human-centered healing practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation are today. Thank you, Marc, for allowing me to raise awareness about the wonderful benefits of Animal Reiki!

Thank you Kathleen for a fascinating interview. I've learned a lot more about the practice and importance of Reiki for animals, and I'm sure other readers also will find your answers to be very informative. I look forward both to the time when Reiki will be used more and more to connect deeply with many different animals in a wide variety of contexts and additional scientific studies of its effectiveness. There's still much to learn.

More from Marc Bekoff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Marc Bekoff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today