At-Home Guide to Massage Therapy for Dogs

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
At-Home Guide to Massage Therapy for Dogs

Who doesn’t enjoy a good massage?!. Learning how to properly give your dog a massage can be very helpful, especially when ailments are involved. And with all the benefits that massage has to offer, we felt it necessary to create this at-home guide to massage therapy for dogs. Read on to learn some canine massage techniques.

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Benefits of Massage

Canine massage offers almost the same benefits that we know in humans. Pets with health problems can experience physical pain, discomfort, emotional distress, or even depression. Physical contact with a caregiver as well as the physical effects of massage can provide relief of these symptoms and even promote healing.

In addition, massage is useful as a preventive or maintenance therapy. Full body massage helps keep muscles active, conditioned, and ready for daily movement. And, of course, it stimulates the bond between the caregiver and their pet through the release of hormones such as oxytocin.

When is the best time to massage my dog?

For most dogs, physical contact is usually easy and welcome. But beyond socialization and displays of affection, it is essential to learn to identify other moments in which a massage can be beneficial. In this way, we can collaborate both with their recovery (in the case of a physical condition) and with their mood.

1. Before Exercise

Physical exercise, by itself, is a relaxing activity for our canines, but we can always help ensure that it is. An excellent way to do this is by giving your dog a massage before starting a strenuous activity.

A good warm-up routine, before exercise, is always a good idea. This can stimulate blood circulation and improve blood supply to joints, muscles, and nerves, improving performance. In addition, it can help prevent injuries that might later require intensive treatments.

2. After Exercising

After we exercise, a massage session can help relax muscles and promote recovery. We can apply the same logic to our pets, especially if they are elderly or have had more exercise than they’re used to. Dog massages after physical activity can help prevent stiffness and pain that certain dogs may experience.

3. Anxiety

Some studies have revealed that dogs and their caretakers can experience stress simultaneously, feeding off of each other. Dogs may also express signs of stress even when we think all is well. Events like changes in routine, travel, and holiday activities might cause symptoms of separation anxiety or noise phobia for your dog. Knowing the correct massage techniques may help calm your dog in these situations.

4. Arthritis and Other Conditions

Dogs can also develop arthritis, a disease that affects the joints and causes chronic pain. Gently rubbing and kneading certain areas of the body can stimulate blood circulation and relieve this pain. Dog massage can be part of the treatment regimen for this and other conditions that involve pain and even weakness or paralysis.

Getting Started with Canine Massage

Below are a few tips for making this a positive experience for you and your pup.

1. Choose a Quiet and Comfortable Space

As humans, we often go to a spa for a treatment or receive a specialist in the comfort of our home. The idea is to pamper ourselves in a controlled and calm environment in which nothing can disturb us.

We should do the same with our pets, so choose a place in the house and a surface where you both feel comfortable. This might also reassure your dog if they have shown fear towards the procedure.

2. Use a Gentle Hand

Depending on your dog’s preferences regarding physical contact, you may need to start your massage routine slowly. If your pet is experiencing pain or has areas of the body where they don’t like to be touched, leave these zones for last. Begin with gentle strokes, making long, sweeping motions with your hands. Your palms are your best tool. The pressure should be increased gradually, being careful not to push on bones or joints.

Massage Techniques

So far, we have described the basic procedure for dog massages. But the following techniques may yield satisfactory results.

1. Effleurage

This technique consists of moving in a circular motion, using the palm of your hand.

2. Percussion

With your hands cupped, gently tap your pet's body in an up and down motion. You can also do this with your fingertips.

3. Friction

The friction massage technique is meant to increase circulation and release tension in muscles and joints. Move your fingers perpendicular (at right angles) to the group of muscles you are focusing on. Use pressure but be careful not to cause pain.

4. Massage the Back Legs

Dog massages can also focus on the hind legs and hips. This is recommended when pets are elderly or have an injury or illness that affects their mobility, such as arthritis. Gentle pressure is applied with both thumbs touching the thigh muscle and making a "C" or backward circle.

When to Contact a Vet

All the dog massage techniques described are validated by veterinary organizations and specialists in the field. However, many caregivers may find these difficult to apply, even more so when the pet becomes nervous or experiences pain.

In these cases, it is better to go to a veterinarian for the necessary guidance and to determine other treatment options to promote the animal's recovery. This way, it will be easier to carry out the therapy at home and enjoy its results.

Read more:

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The Power of Water! Hydrotherapy for Pets

Chiropractic Care for Pets

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s injury or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Published: 5/13/2022
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

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