By Gene Rukavina, RVT, CCMT
The number one misconception I come across is the notion that only elderly dogs need massage therapy. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is certainly the case that massage is excellent for elderly dogs, since one important benefit is the reduction of discomfort from arthritis (painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints).
However, canine massage therapy has so many other benefits, with improved blood circulation being the most important. As with humans, a dog’s muscles and fascia undergo microscopic damage on a daily basis that needs to be repaired through increased blood flow (blood delivers oxygen and important nutrients throughout the body). Here are 10 other key benefits:
- Reduces stress and relaxes the body. Think about it, the typical city dwelling dog must deal with all types of external stressors in their environment. Stress is bad for your dog’s health just like it is for us.
- Increases the flexibility of soft tissue. Your dog’s ability to move its joints depends on the soft tissue that surrounds each joint. When this soft tissue becomes tight and loses flexibility, it can cause pain and injury.
- Aids in the elimination of bodily waste products and toxins. Through improved circulation, chemicals are released that help eliminate toxins from your dog’s muscles and other tissues throughout its body. Dogs must be encouraged to drink water after their massage, and they will most likely have to go to the bathroom sooner than expected.
- Helps to maintain good posture and body balance. Poor posture and body imbalance can have a domino effect on your dog’s body. I can always tell when a dog I am massaging is walked with a leash attached to their collar. One side of their body inevitably has more stress than the other. Dogs instinctively compensate for pain or injury by bearing less weight on the injured or painful area, while bearing additional weight on the opposite side. Proper posture and body balance can help avoid further injury to your dog, while also helping to reduce injuries in the future.
- Helps injured muscle heal faster. Dogs can’t tell you when or where their muscles hurt. Massage brings relief to injured muscles, and it’s very rewarding when a dog lets me know with a look or deliberate change in body position that I have hit the right spot!
- Improves athletic performance. This is particularly important for working dogs, show dogs, or dogs that compete on agility courses.
- Loosens and softens scar tissue. Scar tissue is a normal reaction to injury. Even simple everyday actions can lead to a buildup of scare tissue. Adhesions are small bits of scar tissue that bind the tissues around them, leading to stiffness and a reduction in strength and range of motion. It is important to remove these scar tissue adhesions on your dog in order to reduce pain and restore strength and good range of motion.
- Prevents atrophy in inactive muscles. Let’s face it, many city dogs spend much more time on soft cushions and pillows than they do walking and exercising. Increased blood flow delivers much needed oxygen and nutrients to these underused muscles.
- Releases endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkillers, sometimes called “nature’s Novocain”, that provide relief from chronic pain or discomfort (e.g., arthritis, hip dysplasia) your dog may be experiencing.
- Improves muscle tone and range of motion. I always marvel at how my own dogs instinctively stretch when they know they are about to go on a walk. They remind me of athletes stretching before their competition begins. Massage can help facilitate the return of full movement potential to a dog’s joints. Massage can also help prevent loss of tone (flaccidity) or exaggerated tone (spasticity) in a dog’s muscles. I often encounter muscle spasms during a canine massage therapy session that slowly dissipate as the massage therapy takes effect.
The bottom line is that ALL dogs certainly benefit from improved blood circulation, along with many of the other benefits mentioned in this article. It doesn’t matter if it’s a growing puppy or a pampered pooch. Whether it’s a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, their musculature is the same. Whether a dog is active or inactive, the benefits still apply.
Canine massage therapy also helps to socialize a dog (especially puppies and rescues) to the positive aspects of human touch. Canine massage isn’t just for the old dog with stiffness and arthritis– it can be an important prophylactic therapy that promotes health and wellness while extending a dog’s quality of life. If you’ve ever had a massage, then you know firsthand how good you feel afterwards. Your dog deserves to feel the same way!
We already know that one year for our dog equals seven years for us. But, there is more to it than that. A small dog with an average life expectancy of 14 years will reach middle age at seven, while a very large dog may only have an average life expectancy of 10 years with middle age coming at five. Should we, as humans, wait to receive the benefits of massage (which are the same for dogs) until we reach the age of 70? That’s the equivalent of a 10-year old dog! When I put it this way, most skeptical dog owners that have been experiencing the benefits of massage for themselves finally have that light bulb moment. They realize, in that moment, that they have been depriving their own dog of the many benefits that massage therapy provides. Give your dog the ultimate gift and seek out a certified canine massage therapist. Seeing the look on your dog’s face when that knot they couldn’t tell you about is massaged away, the signs of relief from their arthritis or stiffness, or that big doggie smile as their stress slowly melts away are well worth the cost of the massage session!
Gene Rukavina is a Registered Veterinary Technician, Certified Canine Massage Therapist, and owner of Dancing Dog Massage. For details visit: https://www.dancingdogmassage.com/ or follow Gene on Facebook @dancingdogmassage, Instagram @dancingdoggene, or Twitter @DancingDogGene.