Massage For Your Dog? ~ Melanie Hampton, RVT, Certified Canine and Equine Massage Therapist

I’m honored that Shiloh Animal Hospital invited me to be a guest blogger and excited to write about the many benefits of massage therapy for dogs.

What are the benefits of Canine Massage?

The history of massage therapy dates back thousands of years to ancient cultures who understood and believed in its medical benefits for humans. Massage helps people cope with and alleviate the effects of stress, physical ailments, and emotional imbalances. Now, we are finally using massage to comfort and help our furry friends!

The benefits that dogs get from massage are similar to the benefits that we get. I like to share some examples of dogs that I’ve worked with and the difference it has made for them and their people.

Massage helps alleviate pain:

  • Sam is an 11 year old golden retriever who suffers from arthritis pain. He’s on anti-inflammatory medication but his owner is concerned about his pain level and decreased mobility. After his first session, he came bouncing out of the room, running up to his mom. She was thrilled by his energy level and the fact that he was holding his head up for the first time in months.

  • Stella is a 4 month old puppy with anxiety issues. Two days before our next scheduled session, she was playing on her owner’s bed and took a tumble off of it. Their veterinarian  diagnosed her with neck strain. They put her on anti-inflammatory and pain medications. As soon as I walked into the house I knew something was wrong. She was very stiff and not moving her head much. Her mom explained what had happened, and after checking her range of motion, I began working on her. At the end of her session, full range of motion in her neck had returned. Less than five minutes after I left her mom sent me a text that Stella was running around in the backyard like a puppy again!

Massage reduces swelling:

  • Duncan was hit by a car and suffered multiple fractures. After surgery he had significant swelling in both his rear legs. The day after his massage session, the swelling was almost non-existent and he was able to get up and walk outside to relieve himself.

  • Lukas was diagnosed with a torn cruciate ligament that required surgery to repair.  Massage sessions alleviated the swelling, reduced scar tissue, and helped with his range of motion after surgery.

Massage alleviates stress and anxiety:

  • My husband and I adopted Gypsy last year. She’s a terrier mix that suffers from extreme fear anxieties. It doesn’t matter if it’s a person or an object, if it’s new, she’s afraid of it. I use massage techniques, Healing Touch for Animals®, essential oils, and training to calm her and help her cope with accepting new things in her life. It’s been a wonderful learning experience for me as we journey together and I’m able to see the differences that massage has made in her life. When she begins to get scared and tense, and I start to massage her, I can see and feel her visibly relax under my hands.

I work with a lot of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, thunderstorm and loud noise phobias, and fear anxieties with great results. If our animals are alive, they have stress.  Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to both good and bad experiences that can be beneficial to their health and safety. However, chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and can affect the overall health and well-being of our animals. It can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

The central nervous system (CNS) is in charge of  the “fight or flight” response. Once the perceived fear is gone, the CNS should tell all systems to go back to normal. If the CNS fails to return to normal, or if the stressor does not go away, it takes a toll on the body. Massage stimulates the nervous system to produce hormones that have tremendous benefit on the entire body while at the same time reducing or balancing chemical levels to prevent a detrimental effect. Massage increases the available levels of dopamine (the happy hormone), serotonin (the calming hormone), and endorphins (the body's pain reliever) while decreasing cortisol (the fight or flight hormone). High levels of cortisol have been linked to many stress-related symptoms and illnesses such as anxiety, inflammation, and aggression. For example, a dog who feels the need to "patrol and protect" their owner’s property will have increased levels of cortisol and could suffer from a variety of stress-related symptoms.

Massage should be thought of as preventative medicine...

Think about changing the oil in your car or brushing your teeth; animal massage works much the same way. You're making a small investment to prevent larger costs in the future. Massage is not a “cure-all” or a replacement for Veterinary care, but when used in conjunction with regular exercise, good nutrition, and regular wellness checks, massage therapy can be a vital tool in increasing the quality of our pets’ lives.

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