We all know that wonderful feeling of relaxation you get after a really good massage, but massage therapy can do so much more than that – and it’s not just for humans. Canine massage provides a wide range of physical and psychological benefits for your dog, and a basic massage you can do at home only takes a few minutes. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to build and strengthen the bond you share with your canine companion.
Here are five reasons to pamper your pup with canine massage:
1. It Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Massage is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, which is a huge plus for any dog and especially helpful for pups that are easily stressed or worried. Just like humans who experience anxiety, anxious dogs can benefit from a consistent, reassuring routine. Incorporating massage into your dog’s daily routine – perhaps as a nighttime ritual – can provide a comforting form of relaxation.
2. It Decreases Pain
The act of massaging muscles stimulates the release of endorphins, which helps to alleviate pain. If your dog has spent a long day running, playing, or swimming, this exertion can lead to soreness and stiffness in the joints and muscles. Massage will help to relax those muscles and release tense areas. Dogs with conditions like arthritis will also appreciate massage for this reason. If your dog is recovering from a painful injury, you can ask your veterinarian if there are any specific massage techniques you can perform at home to provide pain relief.
3. It Improves Circulation and Lymphatic Flow
Massage increases circulation and lymphatic flow, which in turn benefits the entire body. Good circulation ensures your pup is getting a healthy supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to their brain and other organs, and keeps their skin and coat healthy. Improving the flow of the lymph fluid helps carry metabolic waste away from their muscles and internal organs. All this means your dog will have a better chance of avoiding certain health conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and edema (an excess of watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body).
4. It Assists in the Recovery Process
Canine massage can be a wonderful form of therapy for animals who are rehabilitating from an injury or surgery. Your vet may be able to show you specific massage techniques to help your dog along in the recovery process. Plus, it’s not only the injured area that can benefit from healing touch, so it’s helpful to take a holistic approach to massage in recovering dogs. For example, to compensate for an injured leg, over time a dog will have put excessive stress and strain on many of the other muscle groups throughout the body. Therefore, their whole body can benefit from massage during the recovery process.
5. It Helps You Identify Potential Health Issues
Another added benefit of regular canine massage is that you become familiar with your dog’s body and can better recognize what is normal and not normal. This allows you to identify any trouble spots that you could then bring to your veterinaries attention for further investigation. As you massage your pup, look for any unusual swelling or lumps, changes in surface temperature, sensitivity to touch, or quality of skin or hair. Early detection is one way that regular massage can add to the length and quality of your dog’s life.
How to Massage Your Dog
The main thing to keep in mind when massaging your dog is that you want to use gentle motions and techniques to make sure they’re comfortable throughout the entire process. While some humans may enjoy deep tissue massage, with dogs it’s best to use light pressure and avoid anything fast, hard, or abrupt to prevent any adverse effects.
Three techniques are simple enough for you to do at home, while still providing your dog with the wonderful health benefits canine massage has to offer:
- Effleurage – Long, soothing strokes are used to begin and end the massage. This technique helps the dog relax, warms up the underlying tissues, and encourages blood flow throughout the body.
- Petrissage – Kneading or rolling motions that increase blood flow and lymphatic drainage and stimulate the removal of any toxins that may be trapped in the tissues.
- Compression – This is done by gently pressing the muscle against the bone to help spread muscle fibers and increase circulation. Applying two hands on opposite sides of the limbs, not pressing very hard at all.
Step-by-Step: Daily “Maintenance” Massage
Here are simple step-by-step instructions for a basic “maintenance” massage that can be done daily and incorporates all three of the techniques above.
- Have your dog lie down on their side on a soft but even surface.
- Start by using the effleurage technique to initiate relaxation. With your entire palm, gently stroke your dog’s back using continuous gliding motions. Start at the head, and with smooth, sweeping strokes, move down towards the tail and then down each of the limbs. Repeat this about four or five times.
- Once your dog is relaxed, move into petrissage. Massage your dog’s neck using circular motions. Just like humans, dogs can hold stress and tension here too.
- Continue massaging in circular motions down towards your dog’s shoulders. Since your pup can’t reach this area of their body, they should especially enjoy this!
- Move down to their chest and front legs, still using circular motions.
- Massage your dog’s back using circular motions, moving up and down both sides of the spine. Not on the spine, but the muscles on either side. Remember to keep the pressure gentle and comfortable.
- Move down to the back legs and tail area using the same circular motions.
- Squeeze the tail gently and firmly without pulling, from base to tip.
- If during the massage, you feel there is a tight ball of muscle – what we commonly refer to as a knot – you can perform a gentle compression to help release it. Use your thumb to apply even pressure over the top of the knot, hold for about twenty seconds, then release.
- End the massage with more effleurage, making long gliding strokes down the length of the body.
- Throughout the massage, take your time but be sure to honor your pup’s wishes if they let you know they’ve had enough.
Tips to Keep in Mind
Be gentle. Throughout the massage, you don’t want to apply much pressure at all. This will help prevent any damage to your dog’s internal organs.
- Go slow. As you approach your first canine massage, remember that it may be a somewhat foreign concept to your pup. Go slowly at first, and chances are your dog will grow to look forward to this time with you.
- Make sure your dog is enjoying it. While most dogs love massage, pay attention to any negative reactions and honor them. For example, some dogs don’t like their having their paws handled, in which case you could skip this part of the massage.
- Don’t overstay your welcome. We all know when our dog has had enough. When you can see your pup is ready to get up and go, perhaps becoming restless or uncooperative, let them leave and ensure massage is always something they willingly look forward to.
- Seek out a certified canine massage therapist for dogs with serious health issues. If your dog has a medical condition, be sure to ask your veterinarian if these techniques are safe to perform at home. If you’re looking to address any serious health problems in your pup, it’s best to seek out a certified canine massage therapist who will know how to best treat your dog.
Canine massage not only provides numerous health and therapeutic benefits, but it also makes your dog feel good! Start pampering your pup and you will have a happier, healthier, and more balanced canine companion on your hands in no time.