Reviewed for accuracy on May 1, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Whether you’re suffering from a sore back, stiff shoulder or busy brain, massage is one of the best ways for people to loosen up and relax.
But did you know that it can be beneficial for our four-legged friends as well? In veterinary medicine, dog massage therapy is used as a complementary therapy to help treat health issues from arthritis to certain injuries.
How Can Dog Massage Therapy Benefit Your Pet?
“Massage does wonders for dogs,” says Becky Brandenburg, B.A. ED., ESMT, CMT, an Ohio-based certified animal massage therapist and owner of Brandenburg Massage Therapy. “Full-body massage keeps the muscles moving and conditioned—touch can truly be healing.”
In addition to the physical benefits of dog massage therapy, it can also promote bonding between you and your pet.
“Not only is massaging your pet of benefit to them, but it is also of benefit to you,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack, a New York City-based veterinarian and founder of Animal Acupuncture.
“Studies have shown that petting a dog or cat can lower heart rate and blood pressure. Touching your pet will also cause your body to release oxytocin, a hormone that causes sensations of bonding and love,” says Dr. Barrack.
Dog Massage Therapy: What You Should Know
From puppies to seniors, all dogs can benefit from dog massage therapy, says Dr. Barrack.
However, it’s not quite as simple as giving your dog a shoulder rub. Dog massage therapy uses strategic, often intense pressure to manipulate the soft tissues of the body, so it’s important to have your dog seen by a professional.
“When you’re getting in and working with muscles, you want to work with someone who is trained and understands the anatomy and how much pressure is safe,” says Brandenburg.
If you’d like to try therapeutic massage for your pet, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a certified animal massage therapist.
Simpler Dog Massage Techniques to Try at Home
While full-body, deep tissue massage should be left to the professionals, here are some simpler, less intense dog massage therapy techniques that are safe to try at home.
To introduce your dog to canine massages, Brandenburg recommends a simple, gentle backstroke.
“You can do this sitting with your dog, watching TV,” she says.
Starting at the back of the head, stroke up and down either side of your dog’s spine using very gentle pressure. Be sure to stay off the bone.
This type of back rub is calming and relaxing for dogs, says Brandenburg. It can be a good dog massage for anxiety, particularly for dogs who are fearful of human touch.
“For rescue dogs, touch can be healing,” she says. “Massage helps them trust again—it’s wonderful to watch.”
For another calming massage technique, try giving your best bud a head rub.
“Calming points are primarily located on your pet’s head,” says Dr. Barrack.
Start at the top of your dog’s nose, where there’s an acupressure point associated with calming and healing, says Dr. Barrack. Using gentle pressure, run your thumb from the top of the nose and over the head, going back and forth slowly.
Thigh and Glute Rub
Many of Brandenburg’s clients are senior dogs suffering from age-related mobility issues.
“Dogs are like us—they’re living longer,” she says. “There are certain inevitabilities with age, but we can make our dogs more comfortable.”
Dog massage for arthritis should be done by a professional under the medical guidance of a veterinarian, says Brandenburg. However, some gentle compression can be done at home to keep muscles loose and flexible.
This dog massage therapy technique is intended for your dog’s back legs and glutes. Using gentle pressure, press both thumbs into the thigh or glute muscle, and make a backwards “c.” Slowly work your way across the entire muscle, making these clockwise thumb circles.
This thumb-circle technique can also be used to massage the base of the neck, says Brandenburg. “Dogs absolutely love it because they can’t reach their necks,” she says.
Most dogs love even the most basic ear rub. But with a little know-how, you can offer your pet a calming, therapeutic ear massage, says Brandenburg.
For this simple massage, start with your thumb on the inner side of your dog’s ear, at the base of the ear flap; your index finger should be outside the ear. Using gentle pressure, slowly stroke out towards the end of the ear and conclude with a gentle pull.
Stay Calm and Monitor Your Dog’s Reaction to the Massage
When massaging your dog, it’s important to have a calm, relaxed demeanor, as animals are quick to pick up on human energy, says Brandenburg.
“You want to use a low, calming voice,” she instructs. “You have to bring the animal into your quiet space.”
It’s also important to monitor your dog’s body language. A dog who is enjoying the massage will stretch, lean into your hands and be calm to the point of falling asleep, says Brandenburg.
Conversely, a dog who is uncomfortable will watch you closely or try to escape and may even growl, says Brandenburg. If this is the case, stop the massage and give your pet some space.
Over time, you’ll be able to communicate with your dog through your hands. “With massage, eventually your hands do the talking,” says Brandenburg. “It’s a very cool thing when that starts to happen, and that trust builds.”
By: John Plichter
Featured Image: iStock.com/stphillips