by Gretchen Dietz, Tallgrass Blogger
If you want to find Mocha, her family says, just locate the nearest heater. A 15-year-old Cairn Terrier, Mocha’s youthful, fiery nature has faded with age. Once a dog who sought out a cool corner on the patio, Mocha now curls up under blankets, next to Truman, her Golden-Pyrenees companion, or by the closest furnace vent.
As an elderly citizen, Mocha is Yang Deficient. Her paws and ears are often cold to the touch, her tongue is pale and her pulse is steady but weak. While she still bosses her animal siblings around from time to time, she is no longer the boisterous terrier she once was. Stiff and achy, Mocha hobbles around her house with her back rigid, her knees unbending, and her head held low.
A rather cantankerous girl, Mocha enjoys her acupressure sessions. What Mocha loves more than the point work, though, is Moxa. Moxa is dried mugwort rolled into a tight stick that looks like a black cigar . When the end of the stick is lit, a burning ember produces a deep and penetrating heat encouraging a smoother flow of blood and chi throughout the body. Especially helpful in chronic and deficient conditions, burning the Moxa and holding the heat over specific acupressure points adds Yang Chi; something Mocha clearly needs given her affinity for warmth.
For an elderly dog like Mocha, Bl 23 (Shen Shu), GV 4 (Ming Men) and Bai Hui are a wonderful combination to provide energy to her waning Ancestral Chi and weakening back end. An effective technique is to create a figure eight with Ming Men as the center, Shen Shu as the top of the loop and Bai Hui as the bottom.
The warm Moxa should be held about 3-5 inches from the body and moved slowly, but not so slowly that it lingers too long over any one point. Placing the non-moxa hand on the animal’s body will provide a good sense of how much heat the animal is receiving. A significant amount of warmth can be generated in just 2-3 minutes.
Moxa has a distinct odor. While smokeless Moxa is not as strong as regular Moxa, some animals shy away from the scent at first. Allowing the animal to smell the unlit and lit stick is a great way to familiarize them with the odor. It’s important to explain the smell to guardians as well and provide proper ventilation if working in an enclosed space.
During Mocha’s first exposure to Moxa she was a bit uncertain, but even after a short-five minute session, her guardian reported Mocha had a kick in her step the next morning as well as an increased appetite and happier disposition. Now Mocha lies fairly still (for a terrier) during her sessions and the Moxa has clearly helped decrease her arthritic pain, increased her mobility, and help tonify her Yang Chi.
Dr. Lena McCullough, D.V.M., of Seattle, uses Moxa for a variety of conditions, but she also recommends the use of Infrared Heat/Light. You can read about her recommendations on her blog, A Path With Paws (a wonderful resource for more than just Moxa).
Dr. McCullough lists a number of precautions (included in the list below) with Infrared Heat and they hold true for Moxa too.
- There is smokeless Moxa (recommended by Dr. McCullough) but it still has a smell. Some clients (human and animal) like it; others do not. Before using it, explain the smell and let the client sniff the unlit stick. Let them be the judge if they want it to be burned or not.
- If possible, provide ventilation if the smell is too strong.
- Demonstrate the level of heat by using the Moxa with the human client first (if willing) so they can feel the degree of warmth and understand what their animal is experiencing.
- When using the Moxa on the animal, keep one hand near the area to feel the level of warmth being applied. Adjust the distance as needed.
- Keep the Moxa moving. Do not linger on points for too long. A circular movement helps with chi and blood flow while a slow sweeping motion can pull energy down through the the legs, a benefit to elderly animals.
- Store the Moxa stick in a dry, airtight container. A Mason jar filled about halfway with rice or grain works well. When done using the stick, push the burning ember into the grain and tighten the lid on the jar. This not only puts out the ember, but it keeps the Moxa dry and ready to use for the next client.
- Every minute or so, flick the ash off the stick into the Mason jar.
- If after using the Moxa the condition worsens, clearly stop using it.
- Never use on Bl 18 (Gan Shu -Liver) because liver dislikes heat
- If the animal runs hot, avoid using Moxa – it can make a hot condition even hotter increasing inflammation in an area that needs cooling instead.
- Don’t use moxa for animals who are prone to seizures or who have cancer.
*Gretchen is a Tallgrass Certified Small Animal Acupressure Practitioner, a Small Animal Massage Therapist, and NBCAAM certified in both. As the owner of TripleDog Pet Services, she and her faithful companion, Rubin divide their time providing dog walking, pet sitting, and acupressure, massage and swim therapy in the Seattle area.