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Does Your Dog Need a Massage? Benefits of the Canine Massage


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Canine massage may sound like an activity for pampered dogs. But it’s not just a day at the spa. A dog massage is an effective way of dealing with pain, aiding recovery from injuries or surgery, and providing psychological relief. Learn about the important benefits of canine massage, whether your dog is a good candidate, and how to choose a canine massage therapist.

What Is a Dog Massage?

As with people, a dog massage involves manipulation of soft tissues (muscles, tendons, fascia, and ligaments) using a variety of touching techniques like kneading, pressing, and tapping. Just as there are different types of human massage such as Swedish or deep tissue, those same types exist for dogs. Potential benefits include reducing pain levels, increasing circulation, and aiding mobility. Massage may also help dogs psychologically through reducing their stress and anxiety.

Bulldog puppy getting a check-up at the vet.
©mutluproject - stock.adobe.com

According to Dr. Sarah Blotevogel, DPT, CCRT, CMFT, a certified canine massage and rehabilitation therapist and owner of Pawsitive Touch Canine Therapy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, “Massage is an underutilized but valuable tool to maintain or restore function in your canine companion. Not only does it help reduce pain, make muscles more supple and limber, and assist your dog in returning to the activities they love, but it also plays a crucial role in strengthening the bond with your faithful friend.”

Dr. Blotevogel believes that canine massage can be a critical part of keeping your dog happy and healthy. For example, behavioral issues are often a dog’s way of communicating pain to their owner. “When a dog is in pain, their mental state is adversely affected, often manifesting in changes in behavior alongside physical symptoms. They may become depressed, lethargic, or exhibit unusual behavior,” she explains.

Can Canine Massage Relieve Your Dog’s Pain?

Thankfully, canine massage is a powerful way to ease a dog’s pain. In fact, Dr. Blotevogel says she has yet to hear a client say that their dog wasn’t moving better or acting more energetic and engaged following a massage. However, she points out the need for rigorous studies to validate what she’s seen.

One such study in the journal Vet Record looked at 527 dogs including mixed breed dogs, Greyhounds, German Shepherd Dogs, English Springer Spaniels, and Border Collies that were undergoing massage therapy. The researchers found that after massage treatment, a dog was significantly more likely to have a positive quality of life as rated by the massage practitioner. They concluded that massage therapy may be a valid treatment for the type of pain that typically arises from muscular injuries, arthritis, and other orthopedic conditions.

While the above study lacked certain controls such as a non-treatment comparison group, it points to the potential good that canine massage can do. Dr. Blotevogel points out that the study also found a cumulative benefit to massage. In other words, it’s not a one-and-done treatment. She also tells clients to remember that massage is only one tool. The benefits are enhanced when you combine it with other techniques like stretching, strengthening, and balance work. Although massage may reduce pain levels enough to decrease dosage of your dog’s pain medications, Dr. Blotevogel warns not to change or eliminate any medication without first consulting with your veterinarian.

Which Dogs Would Benefit From Canine Massages?

All kinds of dogs can benefit from massages. It’s a great tool for dog athletes to help them warm up before a high-intensity event like running through an agility course, or leaping long distances for dock diving. And massages after the event can be equally beneficial to address potentially stressed tissues.

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©GreatDanePhotos

It can also help a dog recover after an operation. For senior dogs, massage can improve range of motion and decrease stiffness allowing the dog an easier time going to the bathroom and getting up and down from the ground. For puppies, massage teaches them to see touch as a positive experience. This helps with future vet visits and grooming, as well as preparation for a career as a therapy or service dog. Finally, massage can help a skittish or traumatized dog build trust in human connection.

Do Dogs Like Canine Massages?

In Dr. Blotevogel’s experience, most dogs enjoy massage. High-energy dogs can be a challenge as they have a hard time sitting still, but she does her best with what the dog is willing to give. She emphasizes that she never forces a dog to stay put for the procedure. “I’ll massage a dog in the position that they find most comfortable at that moment. If they want to sit, then I’ll position myself appropriately and work on them sitting,” she says. “Small dogs may need to be held during their massage. If that’s where they are happiest, then we meet them at that place and adjust accordingly based on what the dog is telling us.”

The only dogs she would advise against massaging are those with certain medical conditions like an infection, open wound, or cancerous tumor. It’s important to discuss your dog’s eligibility for a massage with your veterinarian. And of course, reactive dogs may not be good candidates. Dr. Blotevogel recommends a team approach between the dog’s vet, a behavior consultant or trainer, and the massage therapist to find the best methods to help that dog. “While massage can work to calm and relax a dog, if they are clearly showing signs of stress, and I’m going to make that worse, then I’m not going to force it. The therapist also needs to make sure they aren’t putting themselves in a situation to potentially be hurt,” she adds.

How to Choose a Canine Massage Therapist

It’s important to research the laws of your state to understand the regulations canine massage therapists must follow. Depending on where you live, you might need a referral from your dog’s vet for canine massage. Your vet may also have to directly supervise the sessions.

When looking for a canine massage therapist, ask where they received their certification and be sure it was from a reputable organization, such as a preferred educational provider with the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork. Also, look at the therapist’s experience and any additional skills they bring to the table. Some might also be vet techs or canine chiropractors, for example. “In addition to hands-on skills, it’s essential to seek a massage therapist who displays a calming energy around your pup and who you jibe with as well,” Dr. Blotevogel adds.

Dachshund with its owner getting checked by a veterinarian.
Alexander Raths via Getty Images

At-Home Dog Massages to Try

Following sessions with her clients, Dr. Blotevogel spends time with the dog’s owners teaching them different strokes and techniques to use on their dogs. She also believes massage is a great preemptive tool for healthy dogs, as you can feel changes in the tissues before they become significant problems. If you want to learn basic massage techniques to do at home, look for online or in-person classes.

A simple starting technique is “effleurage,” which is a long, sweeping stroke. Dr. Blotevogel says to move in a gentle hand-over-hand motion starting at your dog’s head and working down their back, along their legs, to the tail. She says you can also move in circular, sweeping motions from the head down to the tail with broad, flat hands. Finally, try gently picking up and releasing the skin as if you’re kneading dough. This works best on the neck and body where there is more loose skin to work with.

Whichever technique you try, choose a quiet environment that is free from distractions. And keep things light and enjoyable for your dog. If they seem antsy or try to move away, you might be using too much force. Finally, Dr. Blotevogel advises never forcing your dog. “If they indicate they’ve had enough, it’s best to stop and end on a positive note.”

The post Does Your Dog Need a Massage? Benefits of the Canine Massage appeared first on American Kennel Club.

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