Canine Massage: It’s More Than a Belly Rub

We all know dogs love to have their bellies rubbed, but did you know they might also appreciate an all-over massage? Massage has many benefits beside simple relaxation. It can have mental and emotional effects as well as physical muscle relaxation.
dog massage
Massage has many benefits beside simple relaxation.

Benefits of Dog Massage

According to Canine Therapeutic and Sports Massage in Columbus, OH, there are several unique benefits to giving your dog a massage.

  • Massage relaxes the body, reduces mental stress and anxiety, and calms the nervous system.
  • Massage reduces the heart rate and respiration which can induce mental relaxation.
  • Massage increases circulation of the blood causing better distribution of oxygen and nutrients. Metabolic waste is then more efficiently released from the body.
  • Massage improves flexibility and range of motion of the joints.
  • Massage succeeds in helping competition dogs show less fatigue, improve their extended performance and reduce delayed muscle soreness.
  • Massage can release endorphins, speed recovery from injury or illness and reduce swelling and scarring.
  • Massage can promote a feeling of well-being and improve concentration by reducing pain and distractions.
  • Massage helps an older or injured dog maintain posture and balance.
  • Massage can help a shy or abused animal develop a new level of calm and trust.

In addition, if you have a dog who gets overly nervous when visiting the vet or groomer, massage can help acclimate the animal to be touched.

dog massage
If your dog gets overly nervous when visiting the vet or groomer, massage can help acclimate the animal to be touched.

Are there different types of massage?

Just as humans may enjoy a hot stone massage, a deep tissue massage, or a Swedish massage, there are different types of massage for dogs, too. A general relaxation massage may be just perfect for a dog who is generally healthy and just looking for some pampering.

A dog who has lost flexibility due to joint pain, age, or injury might benefit from a range of motion massage, while a post-surgical massage can be used to help rid the body of any lingering anesthetic and speed the healing process by helping your dog manage his or her pain.

Senior dogs can gain muscle tone and enhance their circulation and immune system functioning with a massage for the aging.

Sports massages can be valuable both before and after competition. Before an event, your dog can get a light, quick massage to prepare his or her body to be more physically and mentally active. After competition, massage helps remove the higher quantity of metabolic waste that comes from heavy exercise and can help stave off muscle pain resulting from overuse.

Are canine massage therapists licensed?

Licensing rules vary by state. You’ll have to contact your state Attorney General’s office to find out if a license is required for animal massage in your state.

Regardless of whether or not your state requires a license, you want to make sure you are working with a massage therapist who knows his or her stuff. Certification is available from organizations such as Integrated Touch Therapy, Inc. This company also has a lot of great resources available on DVD if you want to learn more about massaging your own dog. They also offer wall charts to help you learn the anatomy you might need to help in your studies.

dog massage
Regardless of whether or not your state requires a license, you want to make sure you are working with a massage therapist who knows his or her stuff.

There is a National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Message which is establishing professional standards for massage practitioners. They are a new organization (founded in 2008), and currently list only 65 canine massage practitioners on their site. They do, however, have lots of study guides and other information if you want to learn to massage your own dog at home.

DIY Canine Massage

If there are no certified massage therapists in your area, or if it’s a luxury you can’t afford, or even if you just enjoy the idea of bonding with your dog through massage, there are several simple techniques you can try at home without going through a lot of training.

A simple touch of your palm, slowly moving over all areas of your dog’s body, gives a basic daily massage. It’s almost like simple petting, but you should move slowly, concentrating on what you feel under your hand. Your dog will enjoy the attention, and it also gives you a chance to get to know your dog’s “normal” feel. This can help you immensely in finding problems when they first crop up.

My Golden Retriever had gotten a clean bill of health from the vet about a week before I happened to notice a mass on her neck. It ended up she had thyroid cancer, but because of the early detection, the mass was easily removable before it had spread. If I hadn’t known what was normal, I never would have noticed when the tumor first developed.

To help relieve muscle soreness if your dog overindulges at the dog park (weekend warrior, anyone?), some gentle compressions over the sore muscles might be in order. Gently press and release the muscles that are achy. The pumping motion helps move fluids through the muscles and helps release tension in the tendons that attach muscles to bone around the joints.

If your dog is a sports enthusiast, you might want to use a little massage to help warm up his or her muscles before competition. Use the heel of your hand to rub the large muscles of the neck, shoulders, buttocks, and thighs. Gently lift and squeeze the muscles as if you were kneading bread dough. Wrap your fingers around each paw, starting with the lower leg and working your way up, squeezing as you go.

Be conscious of your dog’s reaction to the massage. Wincing and yipping can indicate that you’re pushing too hard on a painful area. Another sign of distress can be your dog licking at your hand. Although you may think the “kissing” means the dog is enjoying the massage, it often is a sign that he or she wants you to quit, but the animal is too polite and well-mannered to be more direct about telling you.

Whether you choose to take your dog to a professional or to do the massage yourself, your dog can realize many benefits from the experience and will certainly enjoy the extra attention.


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