This article first appeared in the May/June 2008 issue of Dogs Life.
A massage, whether it be relaxing or therapeutic, is just as indispensable for our four-legged friends as it is for their human owners. Renata Gortan looks at how your pet can benefit from a professional touch.
A massage is a wonderful thing; it can be a relaxing, luxurious experience, but it is also much more than that. A massage can be used as a powerful therapeutic tool, helping to loosen tense muscles, increase oxygen flow and aid with healing injuries. This is as true for dogs as it is for humans.
Massage for dogs, otherwise known as Canine Myofunctional Therapy (CMT), is a wonderful holistic treatment that can improve your dogs overall health and wellbeing. The benefits include an increase in your pets range of movement, increase of the amount of fluid in the muscle, increase in blood circulation, and an increase in flexibility and length of connective tissue.
It can also provide pain relief, a decrease in anxiety and tension, and a decrease in inflammation, adhesions and spasms, as well as working to eliminate waste and toxins. Just like humans have a variety of massage options available to us from deep tissue and Swedish, to aromatherapy and hot-stone massage there are also a few options available to your pet. Each form of massage is undertaken with a specific purpose in mind, and some are more applicable to your dog than others.
Dogs Life speaks to Mal Lynch, a fully qualified canine/feline masseuse from Melbourne, who practises a range of massage techniques specially tailored to your pooch. She is a firm believer in this form of alternative therapy, saying massage works well on all dogs, regardless of breed or age, yet there are certain breeds that will benefit more from a therapeutic massage.
Labradors and Golden Retrievers are predisposed to hip dysplasia, while Jack Russells are prone to luxating patells (slipped kneecaps), so massaging these limbs can assist the dog both pre- and post-operatively. Meanwhile, Pugs and Greyhounds benefit from massaging the scalenes or muscles of inspiration as Lynch refers to - as this helps them with their intake of air.
Whether your dog has suffered a serious injury, is prone to certain ailments or you see its posture isnt right and it doesn’t display the same range of movement it once did, there is a massage technique available to restore its health and increase general wellbeing.
Remedial massage is particularly beneficial to dogs pre- and post-surgery. It is a therapeutic, deep-tissue massage that can be used to treat injuries and relieve muscular aches, and is an excellent adjunct to veterinary care.
This form of massage is often used pre-surgery to fatten up muscles, then comes into its own post-surgery, when the pet has not been able to walk for a few weeks and its muscles have decreased. This is a wonderful way to build muscles up again, Lynch says.
Lynch has successfully used remedial massage on her own dog, Daisy, who has had two hips and two knees replaced. Lynch works Daisys deep-layer muscles in order to keep her hip joints freely moving and flexible and, as well as ensuring she receives the right nutrition, works remedially to keep her muscles in good condition.
Relaxation massage involves the gentle and slow stroking of an animals muscles to slowly relax them physically and induce a tranquil mental state.
Lynch says this is a great way to calm your dog in stressful situations, such as when taking it to the vet, on a trip, during thunderstorms or when there are nearby fireworks.
Show-Ring massage is a technique used specifically for dogs that are regularly shown at competitions.
You need the dog to have flexible muscles, a great prance and a flat top line, Lynch says. Really, that means that the dog must have a good relaxation massage, with particular emphasis on the leg and hip muscles in order to promote good posture and leg elevation.
Remember, a massage will relax your dog both physically and mentally, so it is important that this form of massage is carried out approximately three days before the event. This gives your dog time to relish the physical benefits of the massage, while providing it with enough time to recover and be mentally alert for the competition.
A maintenance massage is one that is administered after a long course of massage therapy has been completed. This is a massage where I have been working on a dog for a number of sessions, have achieved a good result either pre- or post-surgery, and now the owner and/or vet wishes for the dog to continue to be free of the problem, Lynch says. This form of massage is especially good when your animal has undergone surgery or if you have a working dog, for example, a tracking or herding dog.
Professional CMT differs from an at-home massage that the owner gives their pets. It is very important to realise that if you incorrectly massage your pet, you are liable to do more harm than good. Lynch says she is all in favour of the animals owner gently massaging or stroking their pet, as the bond which is built between the two through touch is just so powerful but she does not suggest that owners conduct a remedial massage on their animal, as damage to the muscles can easily occur.
I will sometimes ask my clients to continue gentle massage on their pets after seeing me in order to continue breaking down scar tissue and improve the fluid within the muscle, and I will sometimes give my clients exercises for their animal, she says. However, this will be in extreme surgical cases where I need the animals muscles to be gently stretched on a daily basis in order for the surgery recovery to continue, and will only be done in consultation with the animals vet.
Lynch says if massage on an animal is undertaken by a fully qualified, practising animal masseuse, there should be no danger at all to the animal, bearing in mind that there are occasions when an animal should not be massaged. These instances include when an animal has a heart condition, is on blood-thinning medication, has burns or stitches, is suffering from fractures, cancer, inflammation or infection.
It is possible to massage a dog suffering from arthritis, but care must be taken. Lynch has performed massages on arthritic dogs and warns that it must be gentle, with corresponding gentle stretching.
Benefits of canine massage
Increase in the dogs range of movement.
Increase in amount of fluid in the muscle.
Increase in blood circulation.
Increase in flexibility.
Provides pain relief.
Decrease in anxiety and tension.
Eliminates waste and toxins.
Improves general health and wellbeing.