Animal hospice care: How do I know what my dog needs?

Photo by Rebecca Robson-Doran

We are afraid of causing unnecessary suffering to our companion animals. We agonize can we know what they want? What they need? And equally important, what they don’t want and don’t need?

When I was a child I wanted to be Dr Dolittle’s apprentice to learn to speak to animals and help them when in need. I had a turtle and two budgies and we all seemed to live our separate lives, really. I fed them and I cleaned up after them but there was no deep and magical connection. Unlike Pippi Longstocking with her monkey, Mr Nilsson, and her dappled horse, Little Uncle. They too knew how to speak with each other. Then, of course, I learned that people can’t really talk with animals. So, I gave up that dream.

My fascination lasted though. Then there was the rise of animal communicators. It seemed like these were special people with a special gift, I certainly wasn’t one of them. But everyone can learn it, I read. As much as I believed that there were genuine animal communicators, I strongly doubted I would ever be one of them.

Then one day I was riding my horse in the nearby hills where I lived. We were on my favourite trail, it was so picturesque. However, there was this one spot where two trees stood close to either side of the path. Most horses and riders could pass through without a problem. My horse, Bro, though was unusually big (like a draft horse) and when we came to this spot, my legs painfully got squeezed between Bro’s body and the trees. As far as I could tell, there was no safe way around as the trail was on a steep hill and it seemed too treacherous to step off the trail and around the tree. It occurs to me right now that I could have dismounted and walked. Anyways, as we were riding along this trail and coming up to said spot I braced myself for the inevitable and thought, here we go again. Then Bro just stepped off the path and around a tree and on we went! I was flabbergasted. To me it was immediately clear he had empathized with my dilemma and showed me an easy solution. We had communicated with each other!

One of the great teachers in my life. You’ll hear about him again in at least one of the articles in the works in this series.

Years of mostly trying too hard to communicate with the animals in my care and not very successfully doing so left me frustrated. I had read several books, the instructions were all easy enough but I had so many doubts I thoroughly stood in my own way.

When I watched the inspirational and moving documentary about South African animal communicator, Anna Breytenbach, and saw she was coming to Melbourne I immediately signed up for her workshop. It was a mind-bending day, hearing her speak about interspecies communication. When it came to doing some practical exercises I ran into my same old road blocks of doubt again, it was disheartening.

Then along came The Trust Technique. Founders James French and Shelley Slingo started out practicing Reiki which naturally led them to animal communication. Deeply rooted in these two modalities The Trust Technique emerged as the essence of healing and communication combined.

Hope is passion for what is possible. (Soren Kierkegaard)

And finally there was a way for me to do the formerly impossible. Just to clarify – I still don’t have conversations with animals like other people do. But I have learned a way to be there for an animal when they are frightened or in any other kind of distress that is supportive of a process of letting go for them. The confidence found through this practice has allowed me to trust my intuition more readily and from it glean relevant information about an animal’s needs.

The first few days after Louie’s stroke were the most challenging. Being thrust into terra incognita my caretaking efforts felt a bit fumbly. I didn’t catch when he needed to toilet, consequently there were many soiled sheets to wash which isn’t a big deal. His upset about lying in a urine puddle was frustrating to him because of his very limited ability to move by himself. I was always right there and cleaned it up immediately but it was stressful for both of us. I soon discovered bellybands (nappies for male dogs) which keep everything cleaner but more importantly, I caught onto how he let me know he had to go. He would struggle to prop himself up on his elbows and start panting. Once I had figured that out, we worked out a better toileting routine which I’ll talk about in another blog article.

Louie could barely move at all in the first few days post-stroke. Any food or water he received via syringe. Wanting to make sure I didn’t accidentally force too much into him I watched him like a hawk. Did he look away? Did he try to move his head away? Had he stopped swallowing?

This was just a few days after his stroke. Louie hadn’t recovered much ability to coordinate, his body was very floppy and he needed a lot of support. I found that offering the syringe at the front of his mouth gave him more control. He could decide to lick (in which case I would dispense some water) or not to. It felt more appropriate as just poking the syringe in at the corner of his mouth and pushing the plunger which forces him to swallow.

As I relaxed more into my hospice care giver role, I decided to give telepathic communication another go. Expecting absolutely nothing, I experimented with Louie telling me if he wanted more (food or water). In my mind I asked him to lick his nose for a yes and he did! Next I asked him to look at the syringe if he wanted more and he did. Then I asked him to touch my hand and he did. Each and every time!

Taking all the pressure away silenced the inner critic’s doubts and created the space for our communication. I knew I was tuned in enough by then to understand his body language cues of “no more” and that I couldn’t do anything wrong. The worst that could happen would be that Louie would not respond to my telepathic questions. In which case I would have just continued as before, offering and waiting for his “that’s enough”.

Probably the most conventional way to communicate with an animal is by watching and responding to their behaviour. For me that includes watching for body symptoms. I’ve almost entirely relied on homeopathy as a way of responding to my animal’s injuries or sicknesses for the past five years. Thanks to my experienced holistic vet I have been able to provide care that far supersedes what I was able to achieve when only relying on conventional medicine.

Knowing how to identify symptoms and then give the appropriate remedy is also a form of communicating. In Louie’s case: the particular eye movements indicating dizziness, the worsening of his head tremor because of blood clots from the stroke, edema caused by the lymphoma, to just name a few. And then his body’s response of reducing and/or completely stopping the symptom.

One of the symptoms of lymphoma is edema (swelling). The top photo shows excessive edema that had come up from Louie’s throat into his face and was really bothering him. The bottom photo shows it completely gone. The time difference between photos taken was 16 hours, the means to achieve this change was homeopathy.
Louie’s bottom lip was swollen too and was turned outside, sensitive ulcers had formed. Using the appropriate homeopathic remedy, 16 hours later his mouth was back to looking normal.

A common condition among the dying is agitation. That state of inner unrest and anxiety shows up as behaviour such as whimpering, panting, breathing faster or shivering. The conventional treatment is sedation which works well in many cases but usually makes the mind drowsy. And perhaps that’s a well-worth payoff.

Homeopathy and also Australian Bach Flower Essences offer efficacious treatment for this syndrome also known as terminal restlessness, terminal agitation or terminal delirium. Without the resulting drowsy mind.

The absolute hardest part for me during hospice care for Louie was the few occurrences of this type of agitation. It was difficult to witness the first time and immediately, panic-like the question arose, “Wouldn’t euthanasia be the kinder thing?” The homeopathic remedy worked very fast, however, and within a few minutes Louie was peaceful and relaxed again. With this experience under my belt, I was able to stay calm the next time it happened. Just to clarify any misunderstanding – I am not against euthanasia. It was always there as an option if it felt like it was the appropriate choice for that moment.

I’d like to finish by returning to the main topic of this article – how to communicate with your dying animal. Of course, there is also the possibility of employing the help of a professional animal communicator though likely that is not a very practical solution for moment to moment care. It might put your mind at ease, however, with the question to euthanize or not euthanize, to hear your animal’s wish. Notwithstanding, I’d like to offer this caution: Choose the person to work with wisely so that their own opinions don’t get mixed up in what your animal is saying.

I’d like to encourage you to trust your own intuition. There are two things that helped me in this endeavor. Keeping my mind as quiet as possible and practice. And hopefully both start way before your animal’s end of life so you are confident in your ability to communicate with your beloved companion by then.

Photo by Tanya Critchell

A little note at the end
For an in-depth introduction of what The Trust Technique is about I highly recommend purchasing the mini-course Messages of Trust. I am a certified Trust Technique Practitioner and the above is my affiliated link. If you have any questions, please email me at or leave a comment below.


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