How Dog Massage Can Help Your Dog And How To Do It
Every now and again, I come across dogs that really don’t enjoy being petted, and of course we should respect that and not impose ourselves on them. But most dogs love to be touched, and just like us, many dogs really like massage. So why would you massage a dog, what type of dog benefits from massage, and how do you massage a dog?
The Benefits Of Canine Massage
There are many general benefits to canine massage, but it can be especially helpful if your dog is elderly, has had an injury or is due to have treatment.
Reduce Stress And Increase Relaxation
We humans have been using massage to help to reduce stress and encourage relaxation for centuries. In recent times, it’s become recognised as being a valuable tool for achieving the same in our pets.
Not only will your dog relax when you massage her, but you are likely to relax too – it’s a win-win situation! We get so much from our pooches – their wonderful, unconditional love, their non-judgemental company: they deserve to be treated!
When your dog gets a massage, endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good drug – are released too, making your pooch even more relaxed and happier.
Improve Your Relationship With Your Dog
Massage is a great way to improve the bond you have with your favourite furry friend. My eldest, a 12 year old dobermann, is very demanding and insists on being petted all the time. When I just absent-mindedly stroke him, he’s never satisfied with that. He seems to know that whilst I may have one hand on him, 90% of my focus is elsewhere. He responds by pushing at me for more fuss.
When I massage him though, I’ve noticed that he immediately chills out. He leans into the massage, clearly enjoying it, but that sense of pushy frustration has gone. Straight away, he senses that this is quality time together, not simply fobbing him off with a quick pat on the head.
Be There For Your Dog
In addition, massaging him helps me monitor other potential problems with him, for instance, where he might have any new cuts or growths, whether he has ticks or fleas.
When you first start massaging your dog, you might be surprised to discover that there are things about her that you didn’t know – little lumps here, hardness there, greater sensitivity in one area, reduced mobility in another.
This is all super valuable insight into her health and wellbeing. It may well enable you to give better information to your vet about your dog’s situation, or to flag up potential problems early on.
Massage is also a useful treatment in healing injuries and relieving pain. During massage, there is an increase in blood flow to the muscles, improving oxygenation to the area.
Toxins that have built up in tight, spasming muscles will be flushed out of the muscle. At the same time, the spasming muscles will relax, which will help with pain relief.
Improve Muscle Tone
When muscles are tight, movement is limited since the dog can’t move its limbs fully. By making the muscles relax, the range of movement will improve.
Massage is especially useful in cases of dogs that have restricted movement – for instance during bed rest after a treatment, or following an injury.
Entire Body Benefits
Karen Becker DVM explains that ‘therapeutic massage can benefit your pet’s entire body because it acts on the vagal nerve network’. The vagal nerve network affects most of the systems in your dog’s body. During massage, the vagal nerve endings are stimulated and this results in improvement in many of the body’s functions, including balancing the autonomic nervous system, improving digestive function, improving immune function and pain control.
What Type Of Dog Benefits From Massage?
If for nothing more than increased bonding and relaxation, massage is potentially great for all dogs.
However, if your pet dislikes being petted, unless he has a particular injury or ailment that would benefit from massage, there is really no point in making him have one. The experience would just upset and stress him.
There are certain injuries and ailments though that especially benefit from massage, and they include:
- Arthritis and hip dysplasia
- Old age
- Muscle strain and muscle injuries
- High activity working dogs
Is It Okay To Massage Your Dog Yourself?
Whilst it is possible – and easy – to do some light, generalised massage on your dog, you should of course get your vet’s advise concerning professional massage for particular ailments or problems that your dog may have.
A trained animal therapist who is qualified to do animal massage will be able to properly examine your dog and present a treatment plan. In many cases, this may involve showing you how to massage your dog so you can do further exercises at home.
You can find a qualified animal therapist in the International Association of Animal Therapists (link) and the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork (link). Alternatively, talk to your vet who may already work with a local practitioner. Either way, all therapists require veterinary referrals before embarking on treatment.
There are also plenty of training courses – both online and in-person workshops – where pet parents can learn some simple and safe massage techniques. The Canine Massage Therapy Centre offers one day workshops for dog parents (in the UK). Alternatively, they have a very affordable Canine Massage Video course, ‘Essential Guide To Safe, Effective Canine Massage At Home’, which you can download.
Dog Massage Tips
The pressure used to massage your dog is not the same as the pressure we humans feel when we get a massage. When massaging your dog, you need to use a much lighter pressure than you would on a human.
Dog Massage For Arthritis
My beautiful, older dog adores any kind of contact – he’s never happier than when he’s getting his ears rubbed or being cuddled.
I started to do some physio exercises that I had learned with him to help him with his gradually stiffening joints – he suffers from arthritis. In addition, I now regularly give him massages. Not only does he love the attention, but it also helps him with improved mobility and pain relief.
However, we need to be especially gentle when massaging sore and injured muscles and joints such as in older dogs. Be careful not to do any exercises that your dog is not strong enough to manage, or that will harm him.
The pressure and range of movement that you can do with a young dog is totally different from what you should do with an older or injured dog. Any movements that are too aggressive are likely to result in hurting your dog, not helping it.
Similarly, keep your pressure light when working in sore or painful areas.
Warm-up before massage
You should warm up the muscles on an older or arthritic dog before giving any direct pressure massage, especially if you will be doing any joint or limb movements that involve a range of motion. Also, you might like to put a folded towel or small cushion between the limbs to keep the limb more parallel to the floor during the massage – this will help to avoid strain on arthritic joints.
For Successful Older Dog Massage
Find a warm and comfortable place to do the massage – this will help your pooch to relax.
Give your dog a soft cushion or blanket so that he can lie down comfortably. My pups love to be covered up with a blanket too – if yours also likes this, go ahead and cover up any areas you’re not immediately working on.
If he likes being spoken to, talk to him. If he seems calmer in silence, leave it that way.
Dog Massage Techniques
Now that you’ve got him in a relaxed environment, begin by gentle, all-over stroking. Note any areas where he seems to flinch away or seems uncomfortable. Don’t work into those areas, but observe where they are. Rub gently each area to warm it up before you start doing any firmer massaging or limb / joint movements.
Begin to focus on different areas – start at his ears and rub them gently. If your dog is like mine, he will push into your hand for more. Take one ear at a time and really focus on it. Stroke it gently, as well as rubbing it more firmly.
Move on to the neck. With my boy, I use the heels of my hands to rub the muscles along the sides and back of his neck, almost like I’m kneading bread, but my girl prefers a gentler approach. With her, I use my fingertips to massage her neck muscles. Either way, be careful not to massage near your dog’s windpipe.
Next, run your palm lightly down the length of his spine, all the way to the tip of the tail. Don’t rush it, and do this several times. You can gradually apply more pressure as long as he doesn’t move away from it, but don’t put a lot of pressure on his lower back.
Now for the legs: rub the large thigh muscles to warm them up. Then begin to knead into them. Next, gently squeeze your hand open and closed around the lower legs – this ‘press and release’ action helps to move the blood through the area. Be careful not to apply pressure over bones.
If you think that your pooch shows any discomfort when massaging him, pull back. Try less pressure, or a different area. As long as we are attentive to what our pups tell us, the massage should be beneficial for us and them.
Finally, gently stroke your dog all over to finish the massage.
Essential Oils For Dog Massage
If you plan to use essential oils topically on your dog during his massage, be sure to use pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils. Many of the essential oils available to buy are adulterated and could be harmful to both our dogs and us.
All essential oils should be diluted first with a carrier oil before using them. This is the formula that I use when giving my dog a massage:
I don’t lather my dog in it – it’s not like a human massage. I just rub a few drops between my hands before massaging each area of my dog.
Demonstration Videos Of Dog Massages
This video with Pet Massager Melanie Phillips shows several simple massage techniques that you can do at home with your dog.
Another video showing us how to massage our dogs at home – skip to minute 5’30 for the massage demonstration
Massage therapist Christine Sutherland shows us some massage techniques that we can try with our dogs in the next video.
In the following video, the lucky dog gets a pretty thorough, all-over massage. The massage section of the video starts at 3 minutes 40. This is the kind of massage done by a professional, though there are some simple elements of it that we could safely do at home with our own dogs.
I found this next video, by Marc Smith DVM, useful for its information and techniques. However, it is not advisable to massage an older dog, suffering with arthritis, in this manner. The techniques and range of movement shown in the video would be more appropriate for a young, healthy dog (which is, in fact, exactly the kind of dog they used in the video – not an arthritic pooch at all).
Massage offers many potential benefits for our dogs, from relaxation to pain relief. There are simple massages that we can easily do at home, or alternatively, we can take our dogs to qualified Canine Massage Therapists – especially for specific ailments and injuries.
Have you given the gift of dog massage to your pup yet?
Mental Stimulation For Older Dogs
Gentle massage is great to help our older dogs with their aches and pains, but what about their minds? As they age, and can’t walk as much, we need to make sure they are getting plenty of mental stimulation. My older beastie loves to lie down sniffing around for treats in his snuffle mat. Sign up below to get a free, 5 page instruction guide for how to make your own Snuffle Mats for your beastie
Other articles that may interest you:
Essential oils that you can use in a burner or diffuser to help relax your dog during a massage – plus ones you SHOULDN’T use!
You can learn the most important life lessons from dogs
It’s official: owning a dog is good for you!
International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork
Holistic Aromatherapy For Animals, Kristen Leigh Bell