The idea of scheduling a massage for your dog may seem luxurious, even frivolous. Yet those who have experienced it will agree that massage can be a valuable tool in managing a pet’s health and well-being.
The Many Benefits of Dog Massage Therapy
Research shows that massage benefits people by reducing muscle tension and improving flexibility and addressing emotional issues such as anxiety or depression.
So, why would the benefits of dog massage be any different?
As pet parents, we instinctively reach out to our furry friends with a gentle stroke or scratch, observing how they lean into our touch with a contented purr or thump of the tail. But what if this simple act of touch could offer even more profound benefits than just shared affection?
Massage, animal acupressure and other touch therapies have been shown to be effective in the management of pain. The same is true for animals, whether they are companions, working animals or competitive athletes.
The Touch Research Institute based in Miami, Florida has spent years collecting and conducting research regarding the benefits of massage. You might be surprised at some of the ways massage supports the body’s proper function like circulation and digestion.
Enter the world of animal massage—a therapeutic practice that’s not just about pampering, but about promoting optimal health and well-being for our furry companions. From enhancing circulation and lowering blood pressure to relieving stress, the perks of this hands-on approach stretch far beyond a happy sigh or purr. Here are some of the benefits of dog massage therapy and why it might just be the next best thing for your pet’s wellness journey.
Digestive Health Boost: How Dog Massage Aids the Gut
Did you know that massage can support better digestion by relaxing and strengthening the smooth muscles of the intestines and helping direct the flow of blood and fluids to the organs of digestion?
For our pets, better digestion and metabolism helps maintain proper weight and body condition and can support dogs with digestive conditions. For instance, stimulating massage can encourage appetite and reduce depression that can lead to inappetence, particularly in older cats and senior dogs that become more finicky as their sense of smell diminishes.
Shiny Coat, Healthy Skin: External Rewards of Pet Massage Therapy
Dog massage also benefits the skin and coat by improving circulation, removing dead skin cells and dead hair and restoring the elasticity to the skin and its underlying connective tissue. Since the skin is the first line of defense for the immune system, this can help reduce the risk of disease-causing pathogens invading the body. For example, an animal with healthy skin is less appealing to fleas and biting insects since they have difficulty piercing the skin or holding onto the hair.
Working Dogs: Alleviating Workplace Stress Through Massage
Working dogs such as service dogs, police or military dogs and therapy dogs experience workplace stress both physically and mentally. Dog massage therapy can be a tool in managing their stress levels and monitoring their health so they can stay on the job longer.
Canine Athletes: Enhancing Performance and Safety
Athletic dogs often need help recovering from extreme efforts and maintaining fitness both during training and competition. Some athletic dogs get so excited when competing that they burn most of their calories before they even get on course; for these dogs, massage therapy can be a tool in managing their energy, sore muscles and helping them perform more efficiently and safely.
Travel associated with work and competition can be its own stress and exposure to other dogs and situations puts these animals at greater risk for illness. Massage can help to mitigate the stress of travel through relaxation and immune system support.
Geriatric Pets: Massage Therapy as a Tool for Aging Gracefully
Perhaps one of the most rewarding areas of massage is for geriatric pets or pets entering the final stages of their life. It is empowering for owners to learn basic massage therapy techniques they can use to help manage the common signs of aging such as reduced mobility, arthritis and painful joints and sensory or cognitive loss.
Petting vs. Professional Massage Therapy: The Intricate Differences
But, many people ask, how is professional dog massage therapy different from the petting and grooming that I already provide for my pets? Therapeutic massage at the hands of a trained professional who understands anatomy and physiology can add a level of sophistication. Knowing the specific strokes and pressures that can achieve specific results will enhance the massage you are already doing with your pets at home. A trained eye will also pick up on subtle cues of potential problems before they become a bigger problem.
Of course, both are valuable, just like getting a backrub from friends or family feels great but cannot substitute for a full massage at the hands of a professional. If you want to try your hand with some at-home massage techniques , here are some quick steps:
Step 1: hoose a serene spot in your home. Begin with an ear rub. Using the entirety of your palm, glide your hands over your dog’s back and sides and along all four limbs. During the process, be alert to any signs of heightened sensitivity, or discomfort. If your dog shows any sign of pain, try to slow your movements and lighten your touch. If they still seem uncomfortable, stop the massage.
Step 2: Use a gentle kneading stroke to massage your pet’s neck and shoulders. Refrain from applying pressure directly on the bones or joints. Repeat for the hind end and limbs. Light and slow is always better for relaxation.
Step 3: End by resting your one hand softly near base of the skull and the other hand at the top of the tail to promote a sense of calm. Again, ensure the session remains pleasant for your pet — halt the massage if your dog appears uncomfortable.
Ancient Healing: Tradition of Dog Massage Therapy
“Massage is one of the oldest forms of healing and believe it or not, there is documentation that exists from China as far back as 2700 B.C. of humans massaging their animals,” says Karen Parnall with Angel Care Animal Massage in Everett, Wash.
“Today in veterinary medicine, massage is an accepted modality veterinarians incorporate into the health care plans for their patients. Not only does it support the body of an active, healthy animal, but gentle massage can facilitate recovery from surgery or trauma as well as ease the symptoms associated with old age,” she adds.
However, it is important to recognize that massage therapy is not a substitute for proper veterinary medicine and a massage practitioner cannot diagnose specific conditions or prescribe treatment for your pet. However, they can help monitor your pet on a regular basis to recognize when things aren’t quite right early in the game and add to your pet’s quality of life.
In Washington State, animal massage therapy practitioners are professionally licensed health care providers. When seeking the services of an animal massage practitioner, be sure that they are licensed to practice. Or take a basic animal massage class yourself and find out firsthand how a small animal massage practitioner can improve the bond between you and your best friend.
about the author
Lola Michelin has been a Licensed Massage Practitioner for people and animals for over 25 years. She is the Director of Education at the Northwest School of Animal Massage (nwsam.com), which she founded in 2001. When not practicing massage or teaching, she runs Paxhia Farm, an equine rehabilitation and retirement facility on Vashon Island.