Canine Massage Therapy

Oh no, don’t think that I didn’t hear your eyes roll back in your head when you read CANINE MASSAGE.  I bet I know what you’re thinking; “Massage, for my dog, you gotta be kiddin’ me!” Well, I’m not. If you will indulge me for a few minutes, I might be able to convince you that regular canine massage will not only compliment traditional veterinary care and help your dog live a long and healthy life, it might very well save you money, by preventing illness and injury, over the life of your dog.

Loretta massaging Beau at the
Dalmatian Rescue of Illinois 2011 Reunion

Physical Benefits of Canine Massage

  • Pre-event massage to warm-up muscle tissue to help prevent injury and promote focus in the athletic dog.
  • Post-event massage to help cool the dog down and aid in the prevention of lactic acid build-up that results in sore muscles.
  • Strains, wounds, or blows to soft tissue can cause fibrous tissue adhesions beneath the skin, which can impede the proper movement of muscles but can be reduced by massage.
  • Areas of muscle tension, swelling, and growths can be easily detected through regular massage.
  • Blood vessel dilation (which allows blood to flow more freely, which in turn encourages the removal of waste products such as lymph and lactic acid)
  • Stimulation of blood circulation which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching the bone and soft tissues. This is especially helpful in young animals, where the increased flow of blood to the bones will nourish the growing skeletal system.
  • But, did you know . . .?
    • Regular massage has been shown to reduce the output of stress hormones like ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and
      consequently aids in developing a resistance to infection in later life?
    • In a young dog, it has been shown to promote the
      development of nerve pathways in the cortex and subcortex of the brain, which can result in an increased rate of learning?
    • Massage aids in digestion, one of the most important functions of the dog’s body. Digestion can, quite literally, determine whether life continues or not. The stimulation of the vagus nerve through massage positively impacts digestion by:
      • Improving gastric motility
      • Decreasing gut permeability
      • Increasing availability of nutrients from food
      • Regulating blood insulin levels
      • Promoting weight gain and growth rate
      • Improving the outlook for puppies suffering from failure to thrive
    • Massage also has the potential to help older pets with digestive problems such as:
      • Post-operative ileus (temporary paralysis of a portion of the intestines after abdominal surgery)
      • Megaesophagus (a condition in which the muscles of the esophagus simply don’t work and don’t move food or liquid into the
      • Inflammatory bowel disease
      • Studies of obese rats indicate long-term vagal nerve stimulation through massage can lead to a reduction in food intake.  This suggests the vagal nerve network is capable of sending satiety (‘I’m full’) signals to the brain, effectively
        reducing appetite.  From this we can assume regular massage has the potential to:
        • Reduce food cravings in your pet
        • Stimulate desire for more physical activity because his or her body feels better

Psychological Benefits of Canine Massage

In addition to the physical, massage provides enormous benefits for a pet’s psychological well-being. Massage stimulates the release of beneficial neurotransmitters and reduces the production of stress hormones. The result is decreased anxiety and an enhanced sense of well-being.

Dogs will bark and make more noise when they are restless, tense, hyperactive, or aggressive. A good massage helps them relax and ultimately makes them quieter by stimulating the peripheral and central portions of the nervous system to affect behavior

Often, we overlook the psychological need of dogs to feel a soothing touch. This is especially true with rescue dogs that may not have ever felt the loving touch of a human. Regular massage also helps to build confidence in shy and fearful dogs. We can’t ignore the positive results for social and emotional health that massage provides. Consistent massage can help to build a dog’s self-confidence, sociability, and feelings of trust and belonging. These benefits are important to any dog, but priceless for those who have suffered abuse, neglect, or other emotional traumas.

How Does It Work?

Since massage looks and feels like pampering, many people automatically discount its value as a serious form of healthcare. Dog owners often fail to realize massage therapy is not merely glorified petting. The skilled manipulation of the soft tissues of the body can have a significant positive impact on virtually all of a dog’s biological systems.

Massage is a vehicle that stimulates receptors in the skin which then release the chemicals necessary for the body’s optimum performance. When skin receptors are stimulated they transmit messages to the brain. Once the brain receives these messages it initiates the production of chemicals that feed major body systems which include blood, muscles, nerve cells, tissues, and organs.

The pressure of massage of the skin reaches underlying subcutaneous tissue and myofascia (the fibrous tissue that encloses and separates layers of muscle) which stimulates vagal nerve endings (the vagus nerve is an extremely long cranial nerve that extends from the brain stem to the internal organs of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis). The vagal nerve endings send signals to the brain that improve homeostasis (balance) of the autonomic nervous system.  Balance between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (calming) nervous systems improve blood flow throughout the body and reduce inflammation, muscle tension, and spinal cord pain.

All of the benefits of canine massage are simply too numerous to list, but the end result is positive to every system of your dog’s body. Massage is a holistic form of care that acts upon the entire body in an effort to restore balance and increase the dog’s overall wellness. Used in combination with regular veterinary care, massage provides invaluable benefits for your favorite canine companions. Canine massage therapy should never be used as a substitute for veterinary medical care. However, when used in combination with regular veterinary medical care, it can help enhance the life of your dog.

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