Animal Massage Therapy:
The benefits and what to expect.
Those of us who have deeply loved our companion animals know that we care for them as we would care for any other family member or close friend. We advocate for their optimal health, and we recognize the integral role that we play in their day-to-day lives. What we choose for them helps form their world for the rest of their lives.
What we feed our animals, how we engage with them, and the physical and mental stimulation that we provide all impact the way that we are supporting our pets. We are constantly striving to help comfort them during the transitions in life. Keeping a comfortable body is essential for keeping a sound mind. This is true for animals in the same ways that it’s true for ourselves. This is where massage therapy comes in.
Just like humans, almost any animal can benefit from massage therapy.
Here are some of the main ways that massage therapy can help your pet:
Reduces muscle tension or discomfort
For our practice, this is usually associated with age related arthritis or soft tissue strains. For those of us who have muscle tension that responds well to massage therapy, you know exactly what I’m talking about! Massage helps break up scar tissue, loosen tight muscles, and decrease inflammation.
Reduces muscle wasting or atrophy
Muscle wasting is commonly seen in senior animals, and leads to muscle weakness. For our senior pets, it is often caused by a lack of physical activity and is commonly seen in their hind legs and hips. A lack of movement due to chronic illness or long term recoveries can also contribute to muscle atrophy. There are some illnesses that cause muscle atrophy, so it’s a good idea to reach out to your veterinarian first if you are noticing this change in your pet.
Improves blood circulation
This hugely important! Good blood circulation brings oxygen-rich blood to sore muscles, which helps promote healing and ultimately improve comfort. Manipulating soft tissue during a massage promotes and increases this circulation, which is also great for reducing further muscle atrophy!
Improves lymphatic circulation
Another biggie! Like humans, our animal’s lymphatic system is designed to help remove toxins and wastes, by transporting lymph (fluid filled with white blood cells) throughout our body. Unlike blood, the lymphatic circulation does not have a pump, and therefore relies greatly on movement. If your animal isn’t moving as much as they used to, for example if they’re older and arthritic, this could have a direct impact on their immune function.
Side story: When I was younger, and was sick with a cold or stomach bug, my mom would always say “Imagine that your white blood cells are your body’s soldiers. They are moving through your body to fight off your illness”. I didn’t realize that she was actually describing the lymphatic system and lymph fluid. Kind of cool, huh?
Promotes mental well-being
It is my firm belief that we communicate and share emotion through touch. Our skin is our largest organ, so why wouldn’t it hold with it incredible healing properties. Touch can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, which reduces stress levels. Touch also increases the release of Oxytocin, a neurotransmitter in the brain commonly known as “the love hormone” and “the cuddle hormone”. This is the same hormone involved in childbirth! This hormone helps promote feelings of peace, trust, and connection. This opening in connection allows for deep healing, on an entirely different level. Touch also increases endorphins, a feel-good-happy neurotransmitter. We will eventually write an entire blog on this!
The list of benefits truly goes on and on and on, but I want to honor your time and get to the next topic.
Okay, so maybe you’ve already called and scheduled a massage appointment for your pet (who wouldn’t after reading some of the benefits?). Or maybe you are planning to, or considering it for the future.
Here is what to expect for your animal’s first massage therapy session:
Meeting and connection
Your pet’s first session may look a little different than their follow up sessions in a few ways. It’s hugely important that you feel a connection to your animal’s massage practitioner. This person may very well become a part of your pet’s wellness team, and therefore you should feel comfortable with them. How is their communication with you, and how is their communication with your pet? How do they handle themselves? What is their energy telling you? How does your pet respond to their presence? How is their response to your animal’s behavior and vice versa? If you are not comfortable, keep looking for the perfect fit!
Pet parent tip: Make sure you know what your goals are for the session and communicate these goals clearly. This will ensure you and the therapist are on the same page, and ultimately creates a better team and vision for your pet!
Your animal’s massage therapist will take the time to collect detailed information on your animal, including what/how often they eat, what supplements and medications they take, medical history including past injuries, illnesses, and surgeries. They will ask you about environmental and emotional influences/changes (such as new animals, new people, a recent move, a recent death, etc).
Gait analysis (visual observation of your animal moving) will allow the animal massage practitioner to assess your pet’s conformation and identify any structural imbalances. Massage practitioners do not diagnose injuries or lameness, and would refer to your veterinarian if this was a problem. A gait analysis can help the practitioner identify muscles that may likely be holding more tension than other areas. A good gait analysis is truly an art form! This is also a great time for your animal to take a potty break, before the massage session gets started.
The massage sequence
A massage sequence will generally start at the head, and end at the tail, and will usually last 45-60 minutes. It’s possible your animal has never experienced bodywork before, and for the first few sessions, they will likely need some breaks throughout the sequence. In fact, there are animals in our practice that I have been working on for 1-2 years that still need breaks. It’s important that the practitioner honor these breaks, as this is a way for your pet to communicate their needs. Depending on your animal’s condition and needs will depend on the types of strokes used during the massage. If your animal has a medical condition, your practitioner will want to get veterinary approval before working on your dog or cat. There are some contraindications, where massage should not be used, and it’s important to establish this communication before starting with the therapy.
Post massage needs
Your animal should drink plenty of water after the session, and be offered as many potty breaks as they need. Your practitioner will likely follow up with you, to see how your pet did. For optimal results, or to see how your animal responds, it is recommended to schedule weekly massages for 3-6 weeks. From there, you will find a perfect maintenance schedule for your pet. Maintenance schedules vary greatly for all animals, from weekly to quarterly visits.
Massage therapy can be a game changer for your pet. It pairs great with other bodywork like cold laser therapy, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, cranial sacral therapy and reiki. Finding the best combination and schedule can take time, is unique to every animal, and is very rewarding!
Have you ever tried massage therapy for you pet? How did it go? We want to hear from you! Most of all, thank you for loving and caring for your animals with all of your heart! YOU make a difference.