Pet massage isn't just for pampered pooches. It can calm your pet and promote healing - and you can learn the techniques to massage your pet at home.
Massage offers many health benefits for humans—and deep relaxation is an added bonus. But what about our dog and cat companions? At-home massage techniques will help you calm and relax your pets and provide them similar health benefits.
Why pet massage?
For both animals and humans, massage
- increases joint flexibility
- softens tired or overused muscles
- enhances immunity by stimulating lymph flow and endorphin release
- promotes tissue regeneration
- pumps oxygen and nutrients into vital organs
- improves circulation
- reduces post-surgery adhesions and swelling
- helps injury recovery
- eases neurological problems
- helps with palliative care
If you massage your pet regularly and learn his or her body, you’re more likely to discover changes or abnormalities that may signal a health problem. This will help you care for your pet before a disease or injury progresses too far.
Pet massage increases the connection between you and your critter.
“Massage is one of the most intimate bonding activities I can do with an animal,” says Krista Olson-Madill, who trained as a Caninology canine body worker in Calgary. “There is an incredible closeness and trust, and the energy shared is unmistakable. Sometimes I feel I’m one with the animal.”
Olson-Madill shared the following techniques for pet massage.
To begin, place your hands gently but securely on an area of your pet’s body, and hold still for a few minutes.
“Holding is a great way to begin any session, as it allows your pet to warm up to your touch, literally and figuratively, before you start massaging in possibly unfamiliar ways,” says Olson-Madill. “Holding can also help desensitize ticklish or painful areas, such as paws, before you work on them.” She adds that holding helps her get into the right space to massage an animal. “You want to be calm and centred before you begin.”
This technique closely resembles petting. It’s a light, gentle touch that moves along an animal’s body.
“Your strokes need to be fairly slow,” says Olson-Madill. “Faster motion will only excite and/or agitate your pet. This is especially important for anxious dogs, cats in general, and when working on any animal outside of its familiar environment.”
She plays soft music during her sessions, because it’s relaxing and helps establish a slow rhythm for the strokes.
Use one hand after another in long, gliding strokes in quick succession, and vary your pressure from light to moderately deep. This turns into a continuous stroke down the length of your pet’s body, positively affecting the circulatory system and muscle fibres.
This technique involves a pumping action, using the palm or heel of your hand to compact tissue against the underlying bone. It’s very effective for relieving muscle spasms in larger muscle groups and flushing the capillaries.
If you feel unsure about using these massage techniques, consult an animal massage practitioner. Generally, what feels good on you will feel good on your pet because our bodies react similarly. For instance, animals hold tension in their necks, shoulders, and back, just like humans do.
Play it by ear
“Each animal has their own preference for how much pressure to use, and where they like it best,” says Carolyn Kutchyera, a certified canine/equine massage practitioner in Errington, BC. “Always start light, and increase pressure as you see the massage being accepted.” Kneading with your thumbs is often welcome, depending on the size of your pet.
“Target the large muscles of the neck, shoulders, and haunches. Iron out the long back muscles on either side of the spine by running your fingers or thumbs slowly and firmly from the shoulder to the hind end. Some animals like it all the way to the tail, and others prefer you to stop around the hip region. Don’t apply pressure directly to the bony areas on your pet’s body.”
One side at a time
Most animals prefer to be massaged on one side of their bodies at a time. “Don’t forget the leg muscles!” says Kutchyera. “Use your thumb and tip of your forefinger to gently massage the muscles on the back and front of the muscles on the legs, and finish with another ironing technique from the lower leg upward.”
You can learn an animal’s anatomy by comparing it to your own body. “Find a bony landmark in your dog, such as the elbow, then find your own,” she says. “The muscling above the elbow in a dog is the same as on a human. The hock is equivalent to our heel; above our heel is the calf muscle. Above the hock is their calf muscle, and dogs love work on this as much as humans do.”
When to avoid pet massage
Massage is healing in most circumstances, but Olson-Madill cautions against it if your pet is suffering from shock, fever, acute inflammation, skin problems, heat stroke, broken bones, ruptured discs, torn muscles, open wounds, surgical sites, or swollen lymph glands (which signal an infection in the body).
“If your pet seems to be feeling under the weather or is under acute veterinary care, hold off on the massage,” says Olson-Madill. “Most massage practitioners screen for these types of issues before beginning any work.”
Your animal will melt in your hands if you keep your pressure steady, slow, and calm. Your own breathing will become deep and regular, and you’ll find your shoulders dropping and relaxing.
Now, if only you could teach your critter to massage your neck and shoulders.
Supplements for dogs and cats
Cats have slightly different supplement needs than dogs. For example, too much vitamin C can cause overly acidic urine in cats, which may lead to crystal formation and dangerous blockages in the urinary tract.
These supplements offer benefits for both our feline and canine friends:
- glucosamine-chondroitin may help osteoarthritis symptoms
- fish oils can help reduce inflammation
- fatty acids, such as omega-3, keep coats healthy and shiny
- probiotics promote good digestion
- for dogs: vitamins C and E may reduce inflammation and benefit older dogs with memory problems
- for cats: milk thistle helps remove toxins from the liver for cats with liver disease
Always check with a veterinarian for proper dosage recommendations before administering supplements to your pets.