As I prepared to head to a local spa to make good use of a gift card the other day, I got to thinking about pet massage and how many animals can benefit from and enjoy a massage as much as I – and many other humans – do. More than just a quick belly rub or gentle strokes with a brush, a massage session is a more purposeful form of touch that relaxes both participants.
As with people, the potential benefits of massage are varied and abundant. An article on SFgate.com explains that its direct health benefits can include flexibility and circulation. Jonathan Rudinger, founder of PetMassage Training and Research Institute, further explains that massage also improves lymphatic circulation, which improves the body’s immune system. Through the deep breathing massage encourages, oxygen exchange is improved, moving inhaled toxins out of the body. Some additional benefits Jonathan talks about are the change in attitude/calmness that can come from massage, weight loss because the dog feels so much better, and pain management.
When to massage?
Just like with people and stretching, a quick massage before or after exercise is a great habit to get into to prevent injury or strain. My pups each get a massage with lots of gentle circulating pressure focusing on the shoulders, chest, and upper legs after a long dayhike. They’re seniors and wake up the next morning ready to go again!
Done properly, massage can help ease anxiety in nervous dogs. This is not the same as patting a dog when they are scared, which reinforces the fear, essentially by praising it. An article in Modern Dog Magazine describes a technique that utilizes steady, full length, open-handed strokes along the dog’s spine that has a direct, calming effect on the nervous system.
Ailing pets can benefit from massage. It’s no surprise soreness due to activity and arthritis pain can be alleviated but massage can also be used as a very mild form of post-op physical therapy according to Jonathan Rudinger on his website.
How to massage:
Anytime your pet wants attention, specifically touch, is a good time to introduce massage. It may be easiest to begin when she is already relaxed and comfortable. Begin slowly. When one of my pups, Ty, had a professional session, the therapist began with long, slow, broad strokes down her body and along her spine as a warm-up for Ty to acclimate and settle.
The American Animal Hospital Association has a very helpful video on different techniques.
Massage can be done anytime and will bring your pet (and you!) tranquility and happiness while enhancing your knowledge of your pet’s body (which will help you notice changes and potential issues early). It is a good idea to spend some time researching techniques and consult your pet’s veterinarian if there is a specific health concern involved in your decision to begin massage therapy. In many areas, you can now find professional pet massage therapists too. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong knowing your pet is becoming healthier while thoroughly enjoying this “luxury!”