Is An Animal Massage Therapist a Real a Job?
Yes, Animal Massage is Real and Your Pet Will Benefit
I provide holistic sports massage and aromatherapy for horses and dogs. When I tell people that I am a certified equine and canine massage therapist the response is usually this one……
Yes, that was an actual quote. And said by many, many different people. My non-equestrian friends are stunned that it is, in fact, an occupation. I’ll be the first to admit that we are certainly a niche market.I can’t blame them. After all, until I saw it with my own eyes I didn’t realize such a job existed. Animal massage therapy? When someone asks what I do for a living, I stumble on what to say. Forget the 30 second elevator pitch.
“I’m an animal massage therapist, I work on horses and dogs”.
This inevitably leads to follow-up questions that I love to answer. I LOVE my job. The questions are usually pretty funny though, especially from people who don’t own pets. For those who do have dogs, I usually get “I wish I had known about that when my dog had…..[insert one: arthritis, surgery, slipped disc, you get the picture]. And the thought going through my head is that, “Yes, I wish you knew that sports massage could benefit your dog, too.”
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Sports Massage and Dogs
Massage therapy is not yet a well-known treatment option for your dog. We don’t work in a spa and give pampered pooches relaxing massages (although who wouldn’t want to be that dog?). We supplement a wellness program that involves veterinarians, farriers, acupuncturists, and chiropractors. Massages should be relaxing, yes. Most importantly, they provide a multitude of health benefits, both mental and physical.
Canine massage benefits new puppies by desensitizing them to positive touch at an early age. When I adopted both Gonzo and Beau, I immediately began to touch them everywhere. I would massage their ears, paw pads, and teach them to sit quietly and calmly during the process. To this day, they are comfortable with groomers and veterinarians on any part of their bodies.
Sports massage therapy removes muscle spasms and releases tension that builds up and and can create problems like slipped discs or even cruciate ligament tears in dogs of all ages and sizes.
Canine massage therapy improves stiffness and back problems in older animals. Most animals will experience arthritis symptoms after the age of 6. Not only can massage remove toxins, improve synovial fluid in the joints, but it can also reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
The benefits of canine massage are both physical and behavioral. The process of receiving massage and acupressure serve to relax timid or anxious animals through the release of endorphins and cortisol.
Common Reactions to an Animal Massage Therapist
- I don’t believe in massage.
- Do you have a spa?
- I pet my dog every day.
- I only use a chiropractor.
- Can I make an appointment?
Who can blame any of them? Although we prefer the latter reaction (obviously), animal bodywork is not mainstream. Word of mouth and reputation is extremely important.
So here are my responses to those equestrians who question animal bodywork.
1. I don’t believe in massage
No problem. We’re not here to pressure anyone into doing anything they don’t believe in. But If I were trying to convince you I would say watch us work on your animal and you will see an immediate, positive reaction.
Recently I was at a pet blogger’s conference. After hours while hanging out with my friends and their dogs I offered free evaluations. We were in the moment. The gasps and exclamations when the dog owner’s saw a reaction with their own eyes, and their dogs were now my best friend, was priceless.
Human athletes receive sports massage to keep them in shape, prevent injury, and rehabilitate post-injury. Sports massage works on humans and it certainly works on animals. After all, horses and dogs are both 60% muscle.
2. Do you have a spa?
Not exactly. We don’t have a spa room where horses and dogs come to relax and meditate with soft music and incense. That does sound amazing though, and my holistic veterinarian does provide this very atmosphere. What my partner and I do is travel to your animal’s home, where our four-legged clients are most relaxed.
The only two ways where our services are similar to a spa is that we use aromatherapy to enhance the benefits of our massage sessions, and our clients become extremely relaxed by the end of the session.
3. I massage my dog every day
If you are a pet owner, daily massages (petting) is extremely important to the overall well being of your animal. It creates a bond of trust between you, as well as allows for early detection of changes in health. Sadly, petting is not the same as massage.
The difference is a certified equine and canine massage therapist trains to search for and treat all major muscle in the animal’s body. In doing so we are activating and releasing pressure points throughout the body to stimulate circulation, remove lymph fluid, and reduce toxins. These are only a handful of benefits. We also get into places where the owner would not necessarily or safely.
I often relate this to pet owner’s in human terms. My husband can give me a nice back rub. It feels great and it helps a little bit. But I go to a professional when I need a massage.
4. I only use a chiropractor
That’s great! I’m so glad that you are working with someone you trust who has benefitted your animal. We are not looking to replace your chiropractor. In fact, sports massage can supplement chiropractic work and acupuncture beautifully.
We work in tandem with health providers to improve your animal’s health. Sports massage relieves muscle tension and spasms, keeping the skeleton in proper alignment. Regular sports massage prevents misalignment of the skeleton and the resulting problems. There is no down time after massage. Your dog is encouraged to stretch, run, and play after a massage session. In addition, my personal experience with horses is turnout or light walk/trot/canter after a massage session continues the stretches and allows for them to further relieve tension and remove toxins.
5. Can I make an appointment?
More than obtaining a new client, I love when someone is open to new things. Try sports massage for your pet. At the very least your horse or dog will be happier and relaxed. Our favorite thing is building a relationship with our animal clients.
Each animal reacts differently to massage. Often when your animal is in pain they give you subtle cues, that become bigger and become major behavioral problems. Animals are instinctually stoic, hiding their pain. Animal massage therapists are trained to recognize these subtle (and not so subtle) cues, find the problem areas, and improve them.
Sometimes multiple sessions are necessary and regular care is always recommended to prevent injury. It’s about building a relationship of trust. Usually you can see and feel an immediate change in tension and demeanor after a massage session. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words. But how about a video?
The word is spreading! I get excited that more and more people are learning about the benefits of sports massage on animals. Don’t wait until your animal is injured.
Meesha and Bruce Wayne
I really wish we lived closer to each other. I think Bruce Wayne could benefit from massage. I got him a massage for his birthday, but 1) he didn’t really enjoy it. I think it was because he wasn’t comfortable with the girl. I think he’d need multiple sessions so that he knew what to expect. and 2) she was young and I think don’t really know what she was doing. I think she was just rubbing him in various places.
Great read! 🙂 Hope you are doing well.
I wish we lived closer too! Next time I’m in Baltimore we’ll have to connect. Many dogs need multiple sessions to get used to massage. It’s not something they are used to- especially by strangers. I called it the three time rule. First time is a getting to know you period with light touching to build trust. Second time is a little more massage and some play, and the third time they plop right down and show you where it hurts. It’s hilarious. The trick is giving them what they ask for. Dogs generally need more patience than horses, who are generally used to standing still and letting people handle them.
Lola The Rescued Cat
As you know, I LOVE this topic! The day that New York changes its massage laws is the day I have a new profession. Paws crossed!
It all starts with one voice, my friend. Paws crossed! Due to recent happenings in Tennessee this has become a much talked about issue, especially in the equestrian world. It is an important conversation to have.
Some people are just unknowingly ignorant about all the types of services that animals can have. I’ve heard of everything from animal massage to hypnotherapy to acupuncture too. I never took my cats to have a massage. However the closest thing I did do was massage their neck area above their shoulder blades. They both seemed to like that as their eyes got all sleepy eyed and droopy. LOL Keep doing what you do and sharing.
Thanks Kamira! I confess I did not know much about animal massage as a career until I had a chance encounter at the barn. Hopefully I can help spread the word about the benefits and takes this a little more mainstream.
Tenacious Little Terrier
I admit the first time I heard about it I wasn’t sure about it either! Mr. N had a quick demo one once and he was pretty wriggly but it was in the middle of a pet store and distracting.
Pet stores are tough. That’s why I don’t like to do demos at pet walks or pet fairs. You really don’t get a relaxed dog at those events. Someone asked me which is easier- massaging horses or dogs. By far and away horses are easier.
I do admit I am one of those pet owners who gives their dogs a puppy massage daily. While I am NO professional we do not have a professional doggie massage person local to me that I have been able to find yet. With that said I have done some studying the best I can to be sure to get the right pressure points. I have also talked to her vet about what she needs for her arthritis and such. Still I would LOVE to find a professional for my sweet Lyla. I know she loves her mommy massages – but she could sure use a professional’s touch.
Yay! I love that you massage your dog daily. It can be hard to find a professional who is certified and insured, and that you can trust with your pet. I’d be happy to try and find someone for you if you email me more information.
Thank you Heather! I will send you a message through your contact page! 🙂
I think this sounds amazing. None of my animals have had massages (nor have I), but it sounds great and I’m sure is very helpful. There was a cat at the shelter where I volunteer who had both acupuncture and massage for some past injuries and it really helped him.
I love combining the use of acupuncture and massage for animals. It’s is even more effective when they work together. I know of some shelters that bring in massage therapy volunteers to work with animals up for adoption- isn’t that an amazing idea?
Yeah massage is a thing. We use it in conjunction with other modalities such as the mentioned chiropractor. Cookie loves massages and quite often the tech is able to massage out all kinds of kinks.
That’s wonderful. Massage can help to complement chiropractic work as you say and makes each modality that much more effective. I am sure Cookie appreciates getting all those spasms worked out!
Massage can be a big help to a pet, large or small. I know TTouch and acupressure are things I have read about. I am so over this ‘who knew’ about such ordinary thinkgs! Yes, really pets, like people can benefit hugely from massage and touch techniques. Thank you for posting this – let’s hope plenty of people read it!
I hope so too! There are so many benefits to massage that most pet owners don’t realize.
Kitty Cat Chronicles
I will admit that I hadn’t heard of sports massage for animals before I started reading your blog. But I think it’s an awesome thing! I love alternative/homeopathic treatments for myself and my animals, so if my pets were ever in need of something like this, I would definitely look into it! Thanks for educating me about it!
I’m so glad to spread the word one at a time! If I can show even one person how amazing the benefits are then that makes me happy.
What a great post. It’s so important to continue to bring awareness to all the great natural treatments for pets. Love what you are doing for the community.
Thank you, Tonya! High praise coming from you. 🙂
I never thought about horses and dogs getting massages but it definitely makes sense. I had a vet who used to do adjustments to my cat every time she went to see him. It was amazing to see how much she’d relax
That’s wonderful! I work with a veterinarian who does chiropractic adjustments as well. Massage is a wonderful complement to this as it helps to keep the skeleton aligned properly.
I’d love to be able to take my dogs to a pet massage therapist. My niece is a massage therapist and she works wonders for people. I feel it would be a similar experience for animals.
It’s a very similar experience. In some states animal bodyworkers are not legally allowed to work because it violates the veterinary board guidelines- although veterinarians are not trained in massage so there is no overlap. If your state allows it, you should definitely make an appointment!
I have a close friend who is a dog massage therapist and she works wonders, so I do believe in them big time.. Thanks for this great article
That’s awesome! I love that you already know someone who is an animal bodyworker.
I think it is awesome that you massage pets for a living! Personally, I believe that massage is a great way to influence healing in your body or your pet’s body. Being touched by another living creature definitely has an important effect on our bodies. We are social creatures and so are many of our pets.
Thank you! The power of touch is amazing and building that connection is immediately beneficial for me as well. I love making animals feel better.
I’ve never heard of massaging animals before I met you. It’s very interesting and I’m glad you are getting the word out there. Super informative post! I wonder if Simba would love a massage…he loves attention.
Only one way to find out- I’ll have to massage Simba! Most animals really enjoy it, it’s relaxing and they feel better afterward.
Dolly the Doxie
I’ve heard of massage for dogs of course, but not horses. But I can understand the benefits for them especially race horses. If I thought a massage or acupuncture would help Dolly with something I’d do it in a second.
I love that you have heard of canine massage- usually massage is more accepted in equestrian circles. But I would say are clients are pretty evenly split down the middle.
What a great post that I hope will better inform folks who don’t know about the benefits of the services you provide. When I was studying Physical Therapy, I obtained my massage therapy licence, so I am aware of many of the benefits massage can provide. I’m so glad that there are folks like you that exist that can help to provide massages to horses and dogs too!
You are a jack of all trades- what can’t you do? It is honestly the best job ever. I get to help animals feel better and I often get kisses and affection in return. Win-win!
It is great to learn more about massages for dogs! It is not something I had thought about before meeting you, but it does make a lot of sense! I think Echo, being an agility dog, could benefit from a massage occasionally.
Oh, I miss Echo’s face! He is so sweet. Yes, agility dogs receive many amazing benefits from massage. It even helps their flexibility and muscle tone.
There is no question in my mind that animal massage has tremendous benefits! My 14- year old lab, Zora, has gotten noticeable relief from her arthritic symptoms through massage and a friend who is an animal massage therapist here in Boulder, taught me how to do some simple massage on Piper, who is pretty much all muscle, to help ease some of her anxiety. I’m absolutely a believer in the power of touch. Fantastic post!
Thank you Alison! Yes, heavily muscled breeds like Piper are at risk for muscle pulls and CCL tears. Massage is a good preventative option for that as well as for anxiety. I’m so glad that Zora is benefitting as well with her arthritis. Isn’t it amazing to see and feel the difference?
Great article, i love the content.