Canine Massage Therapy: Many Benefits Beyond RelaxationPublished November 9, 2011
People mistakenly assume that canine massage therapy is an indulgence, but there are so many health and behavioral benefits. I spoke with Lola Michelin, the Director of Education from the Northwest School of Animal Massage, to learn more about this amazing therapy.
Victoria Schade: How is canine massage therapy different from regular petting?
Lori Michelin: I compare animal massage to good dental hygiene. You take responsibility for keeping your teeth clean and flossed, but it is still important to work with a professional hygienist from time to time to make sure you’re getting all the important spots. That helps you avoid having to actually visit the dentist too often, but when a problem arises, it is good to know they are there.
It is the same for your pets…I encourage all of my clients to massage their pets on a regular basis and even teach them some basic skills during our sessions. But depending on your pet’s health and activity level, regular visits from a professional massage therapist will attend to all of their needs and help to avoid injury and illness. A professional is well-trained to be able to see changes in your pet’s health early too, so you can have more options for caring for them.
Of course, a veterinarian is an important member of your pet’s health care team, but we want to do all that we can to ensure that our pets only need to visit for regular check-ups and care, rather than for major concerns. Another way to look at it is how you schedule your own massages…sure it is nice to have a friend or partner rub your back and shoulders, but it just isn’t the same as spending a relaxing hour under the skilled hands of a professional massage practitioner. So go ahead, pet your pets every chance you get, and treat them to the real deal at least once a month for better health and well-being.
Schade: Does every dog appreciate massage?
Michelin: Appreciate, not necessarily…but benefit from, most definitely.
Just like people, some dogs are more shy or uncertain about having someone else touching them. But I find that 3-5 sessions are all that is needed to change the mind of even the most stubborn pooch.
And it isn’t just dogs that benefit from massage; In my practice, I massage horses, people, cats, giraffes, primates and birds. They all receive massage a little differently, but I always notice an improvement in their well-being. And massage isn’t always about relaxation; We massage athletic animals to help performance, injured animals to speed healing and animals with behavioral challenges to support their training. Most pets recognize very quickly that massage feels great both during and after a session and relax more and more with each visit.
But expect to give your pet some time to build a relationship with their new therapist and don’t expect them to just lay down and fall asleep. Animals are kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn best by doing and moving…so sometimes their therapist will actually encourage them to move around or play during the session to help them learn better ways of moving and living.
Schade: What are some of the benefits of canine massage?
Michelin: Circulatory support, immune system support, respiratory support and digestive support are among my favorite benefits that regular massage provides my own pets. Massage can also be tailored to address specific muscle tension, break up poor postural habits, relieve boredom, address aggression or shyness and, of course, keep older pets comfortable and flexible as they age.
There are many more benefits as well…it lowers blood pressure and can help with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Best of all, time spent massaging your pets will increase the bond between you and them.
Schade: Would you describe an easy stroke that people at home can try on their dog?
Michelin: You are probably already doing more basic forms of massage than you realize.
For instance, run the flat palm of your hand along the animal’s spine from head to tail. This is called effleurage, a basic stroke that helps to calm nerves, smooth the coat by drawing oils out of the skin, and distribute blood and lymph for better circulation. Ten minutes of this type of purposeful “petting” at least three times each week will do a great deal to support your pet's overall health and bring a glow to their coat.
Schade: When should people seek professional canine massage therapy?
Michelin: Maintenance massage is valuable for any pet and should be done at least once per month. Twice a month is the ideal for a healthy, active pet.
If your pet is older or has specific concerns, you may want to consider more often, even weekly visits or learn some massage yourself to do in between professional visits. All animals benefit from massage, from puppies and kittens to senior pets. So seek out a relationship with a professional sooner rather than later. But it is never too late to start, so if you haven’t tried it yet, the best time is now.
Particularly good times to think about scheduling a massage would be whenever you have a new pet in the home, before your pet undergoes any medical procedures (such as dentals or spay/neuter surgery) or anytime you are going to increase their activity.
Underweight and overweight pets benefit from massage as well. About the only time your pet should not get a massage is if they have an active fever or infection or if they have a skin condition that is contagious or highly irritable. Massage is great for pets with cancer as well, but usually it is best to avoid massage for about 24 hours after any radiation or chemotherapy treatment.
Pretty amazing stuff, right? I wanted to run out to find a practitioner for Millie after I finished the interview!