by Heather Mishefske
The Ancient Greek historian and writer Flavius Arrianus, recommended massage to all the horses and dogs under his care. He maintained that it would “knit and strengthen the limbs — make the hair soft and glossy, and — cleanse the impurities of the skin.”
Several centuries later, canine massage has gained momentum as an adjunct therapy to mainstream veterinary care. While many people conjure up images of expensive linens, lavender scented candles, and mystical music, massage on your own dogs can be done anywhere and anytime.
There are many reasons that a dog could benefit from massage. Many dogs who compete in performance events receive regular massages for muscle maintenance. The massage helps to warm up muscles for competition, and to cool them down in post-event bodywork. Geriatric dogs benefit immensely from regular massage. Compensation in muscles comes from lack of strength in joints, whether it be arthritis, or prior injuries.
Dogs that have had recent surgeries, injuries, or chronic muscle issues can benefit from massage as well.
Massage therapy prevents injury and speeds the healing process. Manually working muscle tissue relieves spasms, increases circulation, relieves congestion, stimulates the lymphatic system, releases tension, hastens the elimination of waste, prevents muscle adhesions, encourages healing, lengthens connective tissue, increases range of motion, and enhances muscle tone. Just as in human massage therapy, canine massage can be relaxing, or more therapeutic in nature.
Always consult your veterinarian about contraindications to massaging your dog.
Massage can be performed in any environment in which the dog is comfortable. While many practitioners prefer to have the dog on a table, massage can be performed with your dog on the couch, on your bed, on the floor, or on any soft surface. Start by getting your dog used to you touching him/her. Always start with light touch, and work your way into deeper pressure as your dog tolerates. Begin your work behind your dog’s head, at the beginning of the spine. The only absolute rule in canine massage is to NOT work over a boney prominence. This means to never push/massage across a bone — especially the spine. Work your hands down your dog’s neck. A dog’s neck houses muscles that are connected to the forelimbs. Dogs that are not using their rear end due to arthritis, surgery, etc — typically are using their front end more than a healthy dog.
Dogs carry 60-70% of their weight on their front limbs. Dogs that are compensating for rear end issues may carry up to 85% of their weight on their front end. This creates muscle spasms and shortened muscles in the front end. Then move down the dog’s chest, down the front limbs, making sure to touch all the toes and tendons down the forelimbs. Then move down the dog’s back, checking where there may be tight spots. The rear end and rear limbs are heavily muscled, so work into the muscles of the hind end and limbs. Use small circles all over the body while being thoughtful and intuitive of your dog’s reactions. Once you have become knowledgeable of your dog’s muscles, you will be able to recognize areas that may be palpably tight or different, prior to that area being clinically symptomatic, thus giving you more insight to your dog’s health.
All the information that you gather while working on your dog will give you valuable clues to his/her health. Getting to know your dog’s body will benefit both you and your dog’s health care team over your dog’s life. It will also create a trust and bonding with your dog that will benefit BOTH of you.
Heather Mishefske- owner, emBARK Doggie Daycare, Certified Canine Massage Practitioner, Member – International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork www.embarkdog.com 715-864-3263.