When I returned from a recent trip and went to pick up for my dogs Mina and Greco from the pet hotel where I had left them, they seemed unusually quiet. Despite showing joy at seeing me, as they always do, my cocker spaniel and my Dalmatian were not so eager to run to the car and return home.
I asked Barbara, the owner of the pet hotel, why they were acting differently this time. “I gave them a massage twice a day,” she explained.
She described in detail how my dogs— whom I thought I knew so well— had enjoyed their massages. She said that, because they seemed to suffer from stiffness in some areas, she had massaged over those areas, and that my Dalmatian had enjoyed it so much, he often sighed with pleasure.
I was impressed, but also skeptical. Then I decided to do some research and find out what animal behavior specialists think on the subject. I was surprised to discover they agreed that a pet massage can considerably reduce anxiety in dogs.
Photo: Anastasija Popova / 123RF Stock Photo.
Reduce stress and relieve pain
It has long been known that physical contact is soothing for people and animals, and now, there are studies to prove it. A recent study conducted in kennels in Dayton, Ohio, showed that petting avoided an increase of cortisol (an indicator of stress) in the blood of animals. So if caresses reduce their stress, wouldn’t it be even better to give them a massage?
In my research, I learned that many individuals licensed in human massage techniques have applied them not only in dogs, but also in cats and even horses. Experts say that massages improve circulation, reducing tension and muscle spasms, and also help with recovery after surgery. They also explain that a massage may help reduce chronic pain as well as hip dysplasia and arthritis, two common ailments in animals.
I’ve watched competition dog owners massage their animals before and after the events. I am not sure if medical claims about animal massages can be confirmed, but I was impressed to see how comfortable they seemed to be after they received one.
Another benefit of massage is that it provides the owners a pleasant way to check the health of their pets. Many veterinarians recommend that once a week, the owners should examine the animal’s body by slightly touching all areas.
What to look for: Nodules, injuries or painful areas.
How to do it: Make the massage fun, showing affection to the animal as you feel the animal. Start with the head and observe the response as you move through the body. Gently touch the skull and jaws. Check his eyes and examine his ears inside and out. Open his mouth and check the teeth and gums. Run a finger along the gums of your pet. Then turn your hands around his neck and spine, ribs and belly, and continue towards the legs.
Stroking your pet’s body will not only make him feel good, but you learn to spot the early signs of medical problems. As you examine the animal’s skin, you could detect problems with fleas or ticks.
If you decide to try the massage therapy, it would be a good idea to ask your veterinarian to examine your pet previously. He can find some sensitive areas you should avoid preventing the animal from becoming irritated due to pain and even biting you.
There are several types of massages for animals. But regardless of which technique you use, be guided by your pet’s reactions.
Pay close attention to the eyes. If he shows fear, stop. A relaxed and sleepy look means you can continue.
Never force an animal to undergo a massage. The sessions should only last as long as your pet enjoys it. If he shows resistance, stop.
If an animal has shown aggressive tendencies when held or petted, be extra cautious. Proceed slowly to avoid even the slightest cause of an aggressive response.
As a rule, cats are less inclined to receive massages than dogs, so you should watch more carefully to see if they are enjoying it.
Finally, if you think your pet may benefit from a massage but feel unable to do it yourself, hire an experienced animal massage therapist. You can ask for references from someone who trains dogs for competitions.
Now that I know how much my cocker spaniel and my Dalmatian appreciate a massage, I try to give them one every day. They fully enjoy it, and so do I. ■