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.