I pat my dog everyday. Isn’t that the same as massage?

Petting your dog is wonderful. In fact, according to a University of Missouri–Columbia study, petting a dog for just 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. Nevertheless, current research conducted by Virginia Tech Veterinarian Zenithson Ng shows inconclusive evidence about the same health benefits for the dogs.

However, therapeutic massage is not the same as petting. Massage is the intentional manipulation of soft tissue to promote health and healing and is performed by a certified small animal massage therapist. It is used in various clinical settings such as veterinary rehabilitation centers, chiropractic clinics, and veterinary hospitals. More and more vets are using massage in their practices because of the therapeutic effects on all systems of the body. Massage increases lymphatic circulation and brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. The increased circulation helps to remove metabolic waste, promotes cardiac health, and boosts the immune system. Massage supports the dog’s overall health along with improvement to muscle functioning, reduced pain and stress.  Massage is best known for the way it releases muscle tension and helps muscles perform freely, without the kind of restrictions that limits an animal’s range of motion.


My dog lives a life of leisure, so why is massage needed?

Dogs do not have the same kinds of stressors as people, but they do have the same anatomical makeup to experience stress.  Their sympathetic nervous systems, like ours, will trigger the flight or fight response in the face of adverse stimuli, which will increase their heart rate, release adrenalin, and increase stress hormone levels. In my own dog, these responses most dramatically occur at the sight of strangers approaching the house, thunder, or a trip to the vet’s office. The chemicals produced by these stressors can build up in the body, produce metabolic wastes, and have negative effects.  Massage increases circulation and helps to reduce metabolic waste. In addition, massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system that lowers heart rate and creates the “rest and digest” response.


What do I do if my dog is injured or limping?

Massage is not a substitute for veterinary care. As with any change in your dog’s medical condition, consult your pet’s veterinarian. A massage therapist does not diagnose or prescribe treatment. However, massage can help your dog recover from injury. Treatment can reduce the pain associated with sprains, strains, and arthritic conditions.  Dogs will recover faster from injury as a result of the benefits of massage and many veterinarians will suggest massage as part of your dog’s treatment plan.


Isn’t massage just another over-indulgence for today’s dog?

Many dogs end up seeking veterinary care for problems associated with joint pain, arthritis, strains, sprains, and anxiety-related conditions such as phobias or separation anxiety.  Often medications will be prescribed that have negative side effects. So, it is a fact that these conditions exist and medication is one method of treatment. However, massage can be used as a compliment to your pet’s health care. And, by working to maintain proper musculoskeletal function, massage can help to prevent injury and expensive veterinary interventions.