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While it dates back to ancient times, canine massage has recently seen an increase in popularity among owners and canine rehabilitators. In the US, canine massage has been gaining popularity in the past ten years, while in other countries, massage became more popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In some countries such as India, canine massage has been around for thousands of years! Massage has its benefits in people, and the same benefits can be seen in our canine companions as well. Keep reading to learn more about what canine massage is, ways to do it at home, and how it can help your dog live a longer, healthier life.
Massage, in its simplest definition, is: “the rubbing and kneading of muscles and joints of the body with the hands, especially to relieve tension or pain”. Massage helps to reduce stress in the body, help the joints, muscles and bones heal, provides basic pain relief, and may assist in the rehabilitation and regeneration of muscle tissue .
For dogs, canine massage has similar benefits. It can be used at home for relaxation and stress relief, to help dogs with anxiety or nervous disorders, to provide relief for arthritis, and to aid in the healing of muscles, joints and bones.
Canine massage is often prescribed by many veterinarians to assist in post-surgical recovery, and is part of canine physical therapies to help improve function, reduce pain and aid in rehabilitation .
The popularity of canine massage is growing so quickly that canine rehabilitation has become its own certification, and veterinary staff can obtain certifications in canine massage along with therapy .
The benefits of canine therapy can have a wide range, from basic stress and pain relief, to full-blown surgical recovery. Goals of canine massage therapy include: relief of pain, reduction of tissue swelling, reduction of muscle tension, improvement of circulation and tissue healing, reduction of fibrous adhesions and improvement of range of motion .
Pain relief and reduction of muscle tension are important factors in calming down a nervous or anxious dog. Dogs that have had trauma in a previous home, are dealing with the stress of a shelter environment, have separation anxiety and more can all benefit from these effects. Massaging your dog is also a great bonding experience to help bring the two of you closer together.
Improvement of circulation, tissue healing and reduction of adhesions are all important factors in surgical recovery. Massage will help circulate blood better, bringing nutrients and tissue healing factors that speed up recovery and allow the injury to heal. Reduction of adhesions means the recovered limb will have greater range of motion with less chances for arthritis and pain.
Improving the range of motion is an important factor in any dog. It can help elderly or senior pets improve function with less pain, reduce the need for medications, can help athletic dogs recover from injury more quickly, and can help any pet stay healthy and fit.
While there are hundreds of different ways to perform massage, there are three main techniques that can be used to help your dog improve his or her health. In addition to the techniques, some basic massage terminology may be helpful. (All technique definitions adapted from Pawsitively Peaceful Canine Massage .)
Long, flowing strokes that are usually done at the start and end of a massage sessions. This helps to warm up the tissues.
Kneading and twisting the skin and tissue to help remove adhesions, and massage the underlying tissues beneath the skin.
Applying compression in a “pumping” motion to help with the fibrous tissues underneath. Used to help relieve muscle spasms and increase circulation.
While there are many other techniques used during the massage, the basics are all that is needed for an at-home session. For a more detailed look at canine massage techniques, check out the sources at the bottom of this article.
Gentle, slow, calming strokes are important in the massage of a stressed or anxious dog. Starting at the neck and working downward, long, soft strokes can be used. Placing a hand on the back of the neck while stroking may also help to calm your dog. Do not hug or squeeze, just stay calm, pet and rub gently, and focus on finding where your dog is tense. Once he is calmer, you can feel the muscles relax under your touch .
Start with a slow and gentle massage as noted in the above Stress Relief technique, and then begin to use pumping and compression motions. These motions will help to soften up the tense tissues and muscles, and help them to relax and uncoil. Do not use hard force, and go gently on any areas that may be very sore or painful. Finish the massage with gentle stroking and petting motions to help relax your dog .
Rehabilitation techniques will vary depending on the injury, and many vets and therapy clinics will provide you with a handout of the techniques specific to your dog’s injury and recovery. Be sure not to start a canine massage session for injury rehabilitation unless instructed by your veterinarian or canine physical therapist. Most techniques will involve gentle motion exercises. You can start by first using a calming stroking technique over your dog’s entire body to help relax him, and then gently begin to move the limb in a normal range of motion. If the limb is too stiff or painful, return to a more soothing and gentle massage to help the muscles relax and stimulate circulation.
In some cases, massage may not be beneficial to your dog or may even be harmful. These can include systemic problems such as fever, organ dysfunction or infectious disease, as well as problems including fractured/sprained limbs or masses of unknown type and origin. Massage of surgical sites should also be avoided unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian as part of a rehabilitation program .
In addition to canine massage, supplemental medications, therapies and remedies may be useful in relief of pain and injury recovery. Canine massage can help reduce the need for these additional aids, however using both together may provide a better whole-body treatment plan. Be sure to always talk to your veterinarian prior to starting a medication or supplement regimen.
Medications that provide pain relief such as canine non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) as well as pain medications can help to relieve the pain for surgery or severe arthritis. Examples of medications can include tramadol, and opioid pain reliever, gabapentin to target the nervous system, and adequan to help relieve pain while repairing the affected tissues . These medications are often used in conjunction with natural supplements, exercise and massage.
Natural supplements are also beneficial to the relief of pain and repair of tissues. Most owners know of supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin, which are in most arthritis medications as well as diets formulated for senior or large breed dogs. There's also research that suggests omega-3 supplementation can help support dogs with osteoarthritis.
Other supplements to consider include astaxanthin, creatine, MSM and green lipped mussel . Check out or other article on various canine joint supplements!
Physical therapy is a growing sector of canine veterinary treatment, and certifications of both veterinary technicians, canine massage therapists and veterinary professionals has increased. In addition to massage, therapy techniques can include the use of treadmills, especially underwater treadmills that help reduce weight bearing while allowing the joints to move, and the use of shallow pools for swimming with reduced impact.
Many veterinary teaching hospitals associated with veterinary schools are now adding and increasing the size of their therapy programs. In addition to professional therapies, simple increases in exercise can help to relieve arthritis, improve health and mobility and help you bond with your dog.
Canine massage is a great bonding experience that can have many wonderful health benefits for your dog (and for you!) Pain relief, arthritis relief, injury recovery and more are all just some of the benefits of this non-invasive procedure. Help your dog feel his or her best and enjoy spending some quality time together!
All photos courtesy Creative Commons
 “Canine Massage, Pawsitively Peaceful Canine Massage Techniques Used.” Pawsitively Peaceful Canine Massage. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. http://www.pawsitivelypeacefulcaninemassage.com/techniquesused.html
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 Davieds, Kathy, DVM. “Relieving Arthritis.” The Bark. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. http://thebark.com/content/relieving-arthritis?page=2
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 “International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork/ Association of Canine Water Therapy.” IAAMB/ ACWT. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. http://www.iaamb.org/
 Michelin, Lola. “How to Massage Your Dog.” Modern Dog Magazine. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. http://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/how-massage-your-dog/2028
 Rivera, Michelle. “Veterinary Massage.” IVC Journal, Winter 2012. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. http://ivcjournal.com/veterinary-massage/
 “Canine Massage.” Wikipedia Foundation. 4 Dec. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canine_massage
 Van Dyke, Janet, DVM. “Canine Rehabilitation: An Inside Look at a Fast-growing Market Segment.” DVM 360, 1 July 2009. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/canine-rehabilitation-inside-look-fast-growing-market-segment