The Benefits of Canine Massage

Karen Garza, Canine Massage Therapist & Pet Tech Instructor

For many years, massage has been generally considered as a mainstream option to promote healing in a wide variety of conditions in humans. The equine community has also embraced the use of massage for pleasure and race horses alike. Now, massage is becoming more widely available as a valuable therapy for our canine companions.

Dr. Michael W. Fox is a well-known veterinarian and former vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, In his book, The Healing Touch for Dogs, Dr. Fox addresses head-on the common perception that dog massage is “pampering” and does not have any real health benefits.

“On the surface, massage may seem like a frivolous idea, but the fact is that massage has so many physical and psychological benefits for your dog that you could almost call it an essential of health care, like grooming, feeding, exercise, etc. In fact, I might go so far as to say that, for certain reasons … pets benefit more from massage than human beings do (page 7).”

So, what are some of the benefits of massage therapy for dogs? There are two main types of massage, depending on the individual needs of the dog. A therapeutic massage is designed to enhance and support the general wellness and comfort of the animal. This approach boosts the immune system by increasing the flow of lymphatic fluid and increases circulation of blood through the tissues to foster overall health. In addition, range of movement is improved and muscle function is enhanced. Therapeutic massage is particularly beneficial for older dogs and puppies.

A sports massage is designed to precisely identify and appropriately treat problem areas – like stress points, trigger points and muscle strains. The techniques used work both superficial and deeper muscles, with more individual attention given to common tension or injury sites. Active dogs and retired racers are ideal candidates for this approach.

According to Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound by Linda L. Blythe, et al, “Muscle injuries in the Greyhound may occur if the Greyhound is underconditioned for the performance undertaken, or, when the Greyhound comes to a sudden stop, slips, stumbles, or collides with another Greyhound. One can divide muscle problems into either a) injuries to specific muscles or muscle groups, or b) generalized metabolic muscle damage … Both categories have degrees of injury which are important to understand … Individual muscle injuries in the Greyhound may be arbitrarily divided into three stages (page 31).”

The authors define a stage 1 injury as a “myositis – a simple contusion, bruising or inflammation of the muscle cells (page 31).” Stages 2 and 3 are progressively more serious and require medical attention. “These stages could be thought of as a progression of dysfunction in a muscle if detection, correction and healing are not allowed to occur at each of the earlier stages (page 32).” So, it is very important to recognize and treat stage 1 injuries as soon as possible. “Stage 1 muscle injuries are very common, but not commonly recognized … One can believe that it would be extremely rare for a Greyhound to have two races, or one trial and one race, without sustaining stage 1 muscle injuries (page 37). Massage and laser therapy are identified as two of the six treatment alternatives for stage 1 injuries.

These two types of massage can also be combined in certain situations. For example, a dog that has a lame leg due to arthritis or a knee injury would benefit from therapeutic massage strokes on the problem side. However, the other side and shoulders are likely to be over-worked from compensating for the weaker muscles and would benefit from the deeper techniques of sports massage.

A trained therapist will do a history and assessment to recommend the best treatment approach for your pet. Improvements are usually observed after 3 or 4 weekly sessions. If not, then another therapeutic modality may be incorporated or recommended such as low level laser phototherapy or acupressure. Further, the importance of good nutrition and appropriate supplementation cannot be underemphasized. It is a critical component of an overall plan to heal and prevent muscle injuries.

Canine Massage: A Complete Reference Manual, Second Edition by Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, L.M.T. is a comprehensive resource for massage professionals and dog owners alike. While the benefits of massage to our four-legged companions are many, there are also specific contraindications or certain situations to NOT massage a dog at all or avoid a specific site (page 8-9). In summary, these are :

Fever or shock
Broken skin or bleeding wound
Directly over an infected area
Acute trauma or injury
Acute nerve problems or irritation
Active colitis, diarrhea or infectious disease
Pregnancy or hernia
Acute arthritics
Tumors or cysts of cancerous origin
Fungal skin infections

If any of these conditions are present, consult your veterinarian first. Massage is always a complement, never a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed veterinarian. In general, it is always best to consult your own veterinarian and ensure that there are no other considerations preventing your pet from experience the benefits of massage.

Coming next issue … a review of low level laser phototherapy.

Karen Garza is the co-owner of AllWays Dogz, a business that offers serious treatment options to help dogs live longer, healthier lives – including canine massage, low level laser phototherapy, pet first aid training and nutritional information. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She completed her massage training at the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage, a nationally-recognized program. Karen is also a certified instructor for the Pet Tech workshops. Pet Tech, Inc. is the first international training center dedicated to per CPR, first aid, care and safety. For more information, please feel free contact her directly at 949-283-6873.

Note from Sharyn Deeringer, editor of the CalGAP newsletter:
Running counter-clockwise and being involved in track accidents may leave some Ex-Racing Greyhounds with muscle and skeletal problems. The adoption coordinator for SoCalGAL and I have seen first hand the results of massage for dogs in need of structural help. As I stated for a newspaper article, “Massage is not pampering; massage is a necessary treatment to keep dogs healthy and feeling their best.” Even the CalGAP Chiropractor, Dr. Butch Quay, agrees that message complements chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture. The treatment trio is similar to the combination of diet, exercise and emotional well-being techniques for people. Massage brings the Greyhound’s body and mind into balance. A healthy dog is a happier dog and a better family member.

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