Almost everyone enjoys and benefits from massage, even dogs. In both humans and animals, a good massage can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and promote overall health. For these and other reasons, massage is gaining acceptance in veterinary circles as a noninvasive way to manage chronic pain and other health conditions in dogs.
Pet parents interested in incorporating massage into their dog’s daily routine can seek the help of a professional massage therapist or learn basic massage techniques to use at home. And, since you may be wondering if massage therapy can be used on your favorite feline, the answer is “YES!” But that’s another story…here.
Benefits of Canine Massage Therapy
Whether used to care for your family pet or to relieve the stress experienced by law enforcement or service dogs, there are many benefits to canine massage:
- Massage reduces muscle stiffness, spasms, and pain, thereby improving performance, mobility and quality of life.
- Older dogs with muscle atrophy due to inactivity may experience improved circulation, tissue oxygenation and symptom recovery.
- Older dogs with joint stiffness and soreness associated with aging and arthritis can benefit greatly from targeted massage to ease pain and discomfort.
- Gentle stroking and massage relaxes the nervous system to ease anxiety caused by storms, fireworks, travel, and other common sources of canine stress.
- Massage prior to running or other physical activity can boost performance and reduce injury in competition, similar to the effect warming up has for humans.
- A thorough massage is a great way to detect any bumps, swelling or other physical issues your pup may be experiencing.
- Regular massage helps flush the body of lactic acid and other toxins.
- Daily massage therapy for your dog makes chronic pain conditions more manageable and may reduce the need for pain medication.
- Massage and other forms of physical contact promote bonding between you and your pup, which enhances health and lengthens life, for both of you.
Professional Massage Therapy for Dogs
Although canine massage therapists are not currently required to obtain a specific certification or state licensure of any kind, there are professional organizations which do provide training and certification for things like animal massage and acupressure. The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage lists its certified members, located both in the US and internationally. The AVMA website lists the massage therapy courses and certification provided by The Pet Massage Training and Research Institute. Please note that some states allow only licensed veterinarians to offer professional animal massage services.
Several schools exist in the US that offer training in animal massage therapy, and many dog therapists are trained in human massage techniques. If you choose to work with a professional canine massage therapist, be sure to request references and get recommendations from friends, your veterinarian and/or local animal care groups.
Can You Do it Yourself?
Many pet owners choose to massage their dog at home, and this can be a rewarding experience for all involved. A thorough maintenance massage can be done in as few as ten minutes a day and is appropriate for those with little to no experience. Canine masseuse, Jenn Schaaff, provided Onpets with massage technique specifics you can use on your favorite pup. The same general techniques practiced in human massage can be used for dogs.
- passive touch;
- gentle hand-over-hand stroking with flat palms (also called effleurage);
- kneading and gentle manipulation of skin and muscles (also called petrissage);
- friction with smaller but stronger manipulation of specific muscles through digital pressure;
- skin rolling or digital circles;
- tapping or patting to stimulate particular body functions (also called tapotement); and
- compression on the muscles.
If you are going to perform a general full-body massage, follow this general routine:
- Start the massage by making sure your fur baby is comfortable.
- Then stroke his whole body with flat palms in a hand-over-hand motion.
- Next, gently knead and manipulate the soft tissues (skin and the muscles underneath) and pay attention to your dog’s cues and the feel of his body.
- When you are done with the kneading, you may want to gently stretch your dog’s legs in a very gradual up and down motion until you reach the natural range of motion for the area you are stretching.
- You may then finish up with a repeat of the effleurage technique.
Massage for Problem Areas
If you are performing a massage to address a particular problem area or issue, you will want to start slowly but then pay additional attention to the area in question, using slightly stronger manipulation techniques like tapotement but not in a way that inflicts pain on your pup. You’ll quickly learn what your pup enjoys and what he doesn’t. As you are massaging take the time to notice any muscle tension, localized swelling, lumps or bumps, or other issues that may require additional attention or veterinary intervention. Be very careful about applying much pressure on your dog’s back and, when in doubt, go gently.
If your pup is like most, the more contact and loving from you, the better. Taylor your massage to your fur baby’s specific physical needs, including age-related issues, pay attention to his reactions and enjoy the process!
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