Dog massage is becoming more and more mainstream in many veterinary practices as way to help dogs with many different types of health issues, especially recovery from muscle and joint surgeries and treatments. There is also growing evidence that dogs, like people, may also benefit from routine massage therapy for stress, anxiety and relaxation, something that a busy lifestyle and lots of changes can certainly trigger. The holidays, with entertaining, kenneling and even traveling can be equally stressful for dogs, so booking a dog massage may be a perfect idea for your pet.
There are several different kinds of massage treatments that can be provided to dogs. One of the most commonly used for rehabilitation and therapy after surgery or recovery from an injury is a deep muscle type of massage. In this procedure the goal of the process is to stimulate all the muscles in a given region, resulting in increased nerve and muscle health and increased blood circulation to the region to promote healing and recovery.
Deep muscle massage is a specialized technique that only those trained in the process should attempt on a dog. The practitioner needs to know dog anatomy including the location of joints, tendons and muscles as they interact with the skeletal system. Deep massage techniques done incorrectly will cause the dog pain and discomfort and can actually result in increasing recovery time rather than promoting healing. Typically when this happens the dog is very unwilling to go back to the massage therapist again, a sure sign to the owner that something was not done right in the prior session.
In many cases professionals offering dog massage have completed training through human massage schools and then branched into specialized dog massage. In most areas of the United States there is no specific training required to be considered a dog massage therapist, but those that are working in vet clinics or animal rehabilitation or spa types of businesses often are certified massage therapists for humans. In addition some massage practitioners also provide other services such as hydrotherapy treatments and even aromatherapy treatments for dogs.
Dog massage is done differently than human massage, although the basic principles are the same. The dog is sometimes in the standing position, but they can also be sitting or down flat on their side. The massage therapist will determine the correct position of the dog based on the specific type of massage they are completing.
Massage starts at the top of a muscle, which is why an understanding of dog anatomy and musculature is so important. The therapist will use alternating pressure and release along the muscle to stimulate the tissue and nerves. This is pleasing for most dogs and generally all are very well behaved once they have been through one or more massage treatments.
Generally most doggy massage professionals work on a lighter type of massage that is designed to promote relaxation and blood circulation all over the body. In this type of massage the whole body of the dog is touched and massaged with an overall lighter, patterned type of motion. Starting at the face and head the massage therapist works down the neck of the dog, across the chest and down the front legs. From here he or she works through the girth and ribcage, along the back and down through the hips and lower legs.
Mobility issues are typically also a major feature of the massage process. The therapist will gently move each joint through a full range of motion, perfect for older dogs that may be experiencing some range of motion restriction. The therapist does not push or pull on the joint,; rather they relax the muscles to increase the ability to move within that particular area.
When aromatherapy is combined with massage, dogs may truly experience a relaxing sensation. Often these types of dog massage treatments are completed in dog salons or spas. These masseuses will use Bach Flowers and other natural and holistic types of treatments to stimulate mental relaxation in the dog to further promote muscle relaxation. These types of services may be offered through groomers, doggy day centers or even at boarding kennels.
In some cases, especially with older dogs that may be experiencing pain from arthritis, massage treatments can be combined with the application of gentle heat. This can be accomplished through mild exercise in a heated hydrotherapy bath before the massage treatment or by infrared or warming heaters on the massage table or used by the therapist. As with all types of heat sources they are designed to avoid overheating or causing any type of discomfort for the dog.
The use of heat in massage through specific types of lotions or through heat sources can help to stimulate blood flow to the area. This increased blood flow helps to remove waste material in the damaged joint of muscle, decrease inflammation and also reduce pain through natural and holistic means.
Finding a dog massage therapist in larger cities and centers is often a matter of asking your vet, groomer, breeder or kennel owner who they would recommend. Always be sure to check out the professional, especially if the area does not require any license and you are not working from a referral from someone you know and trust. Even if you do have a referral, plan to spend the first session with the massage therapist and the dog making sure the dog is not stressed or uncomfortable.
Reputable massage therapists that work with dogs for relaxation or therapeutic recovery will never object to the owner remaining in the session. Sometimes the dog will adjust much more readily to the massage process knowing that the owner is there, and it can also help to reduce stress for the dog at least for the first few sessions.
There are several websites as well as books and videos available on how to give your own dog a light, relaxing type of massage. It is important to realize that any type of deep muscle massage or massage for therapeutic reasons should only be done by someone that is trained in the procedure as you can cause pain and even further injury or damage to the dog if it is done incorrectly.