“How can I better care for my senior pet?”
This is an EXCELLENT question that veterinary professionals hear time and time again. As a member of both the traditional and integrative veterinary community, I have seen many holistic therapies better the quality of life in our senior companion animals. When we think of complimentary therapies for our aging animal(s), we often overlook the ability to heal through our own hands, through our own touch, through our own intention- through massage therapy.
Here are just a few of the positive results your senior pet may receive through massage therapy:
-Decreased muscle atrophy (muscle wasting).
-Reduced pain from arthritis and overall stiffness of joints.
-Increased lymph movement, boosted immune system.
-Increased healing time.
-Increased blood flow and circulation, increased flexibility.
Massage can actually be quite invigorating and aerobic for our senior pets. Aerobic activities (often thought of as running, hiking, swimming, etc) help to improve the body’s ability to absorb and transport oxygen. The increase in blood flow, combined with certain strokes and techniques, can actually produce youth-like stimulation and awareness that a senior pet may otherwise not achieve. Without a doubt, this energetic feeling helps further enhance our geriatric animal’s quality of life in a way that many therapies cannot.
Therapeutic massage consists primarily of long and kneading strokes. The increase in blood flow and lymph movement increases our animal’s overall comfort, strength, and immune system. An overall increase in circulation is an overall increase in well-being. As a canine massage therapist, our hands become our assessment tool. We evaluate for structural imbalances, general range of motion, arthritis, tension or tightness, lumps or bumps, and temperature (heat can be an indication of inflammation, whereas coolness can be an indication of decreased blood flow).
The strokes and direction of strokes, as well as the canine massage therapist’s intention, helps determine the massage outcome. Intention and technique are everything when it comes to massage. While massage has very energetic and aerobic properties for our senior pets, as discussed, it can also be a calming tool used to aid in decreasing anxiety. Like some humans, senior pets may experience a period of depression or confusion during the aging process. The transition is not always emotionally easy on our pets, and massage therapy’s nonverbal communication can aid in allowing this transition to feel easier.
Whether your senior companion animal can benefit from the stimulating or calming properties of massage (or likely both!), there is a place for this therapy in your aging pet’s life. While this bodywork is most commonly utilized for horses and dogs, our practice has seen incredible results using this modality on senior cats as well. Click here to read our previous blog, all about massage for cats.
One last thing!
Remember to care for yourself! Assisting and helping your pet during this aging process is hard for you too, and a good animal massage therapist knows, honors and respects these natural emotions. Staying grounded before, during and after your animal’s massage is incredibly important for both of you. You and your senior pet are in this together, and that is a beautiful thing. A senior pet is wiser and more intuitive than ever, and your grounded awareness will help them to be more comfortable and receptive to the therapy. Take care and honor yourself, and communicate with the massage practitioner. By caring for yourself, you will be more able to care for your animal – ultimately deepening and strengthening your human-animal bond.
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