Using massage is a well-known form of therapy in a number of musculoskeletal conditions in dogs. Animal physiotherapists for example, use a combination of techniques in order to relieve muscle spasms, increase circulation and loosen fibrous tissues beneath the skin. Regular massage therapy can improve the range of motion in joints and increase mobility.
As well as all the scientific benefits of massage however, it also appears that dogs really love it and love the extra attention. Many dog owners are now adopting simple massage techniques as a bonding exercise to help their dogs relax and to give them a real treat!
We know that massage is a technique that is proven to relax and can even provide a natural form of pain relief. As your body is being massaged, it releases endorphins, or what I like to call ‘happy hormones’ which we know can be beneficial for both our doggy friends and ourselves. There are of course other health benefits, which include lymphatic drainage, improvement in circulation and muscle stretch.
So how do you get started? I’d always advise that you speak to an expert first and an animal physiotherapist should be able to get you started with some basic techniques. Before that however, just check in with your vet to make sure there aren’t any conditions with your dog that mean you should avoid any specific movements or areas. It’s not recommended to use massage with problems such as a fever, ill health or infectious disease. It also is not advised to massage on or around new surgical sites, broken bones, spinal injury or around certain growths.
There are three core techniques with massage that each has different functions;
Effleurage: Long, flowing strokes, which are usually done at the start and end of a massage session. Almost like a warm up and warm down as it helps to warm up and relax the tissue/muscles. I would always start any doggy massage with this technique, mostly in order to calm excitable dogs down! Try going in the direction of the fur as dogs find this a bit more comfortable than going against it. Use long light strokes along the back and flanks gradually increasing the pressure.
Petrissage: This is kneading and gentle twisting of the skin and underlying tissue which helps to break down adhesions and massage the tissues beneath the skin layers. Once your dog is relaxed then they should really enjoy this part of the massage. Use this technique to massage the large muscle groups around the chest, shoulder, hips and down the spine.
Compression: Applying compressions in a “pumping” motion helps to relieve muscle spasms and increase circulation by loosening the fibrous tissues underneath. Only use gentle motion for this technique, never use hard force. Some dogs tolerate it quite well but I would only recommend the use of this technique once your dog is familiar and comfortable with the two other massage techniques. Dogs seem to really like this along the muscles of the back.
In addition to canine massage you can also incorporate supplemental remedies and therapies, which can assist in the relief of pain or injury recovery. Hydrotherapy, nutritional supplements and hot and cold contact therapies are also great aids when practised or administered under professional guidance.
Paul Manktelow regularly appears in the media as one of the UKs leading veterinary surgeons. His accomplished career as a vet allows him to talk on a number of key animal subjects and he regularly provides valuable advice to pet owners across the UK. Appearing on TV shows such as Junior Vets, Animal Madhouse and This Morning, he also writes columns for the Times, Dogs Monthly and blogs on his popular website Vital Pet Health.