Animal massage can benefit all animals from companion pets such as cats and dogs to horses and livestock and even zoo animals. The benefits of massage for animals mirror those for people, including decreased stress and improved circulation.
For many, pet massage sounds like a luxury for pampered pets only. However, many canines receive massage to help recover from surgery or injury and athletes such as racehorses or agility dogs receive sport massage to improve performance. Service dogs and dogs used in police or military service have high stress jobs where massage can mean the difference between early retirement and more time on the job.
Many studies have been conducted to verify the benefits of massage. For instance, massage has been proven to lower blood pressure, increase appetite and reduce the perceived pain and discomfort of arthritis.
For those with aging dogs and cats, animal massage therapy provides one more tool in the management of age-related conditions and helps to improve the quality of their pet’s life. Pet health care has moved beyond the age of grocery-store dog food and once-a-year vaccinations. Today, pet health supplies include vitamins, specialty food and treats, hydrotherapy, acupuncture and chiropractic and, yes, pet massage therapy.
The focus of animal massage for many years was horses, particularly racing and show horses. The benefit of massage for horses is well recognized among horse owners. Massage certification has been offered in equine massage therapy for years, but only recently has the focused turned toward pet massage certification. With literally billions of dollars flowing into the pet care industry and pets living longer and more active lives, pet massage therapy is now being offered at veterinarian clinics, grooming salons and doggie daycare establishments all over the country.
One of the benefits of massage for animals mentioned was improved circulation. Better circulation can contribute to improved digestion and better metabolism, a tremendous benefit for the large number of pets suffering from obesity and gastrointestinal disorders. Additionally, improved circulation can slow the degenerative process of arthritis and improve energy levels in geriatric pets. Better circulation means better immune function, helping to reduce the risk of infection or illness and assisting in the rapid recovery from injury or illness. Better blood flow also contributes to improve healing post-surgically.
Two of the most common conditions plaguing our dog population today are hip dysplasia and soft tissue injuries to the knee such as ACL tears (ruptures or strains of the anterior cruciate ligament in the stifle joint). Both are generally corrected by surgery and, particularly body to body massage in the case of ACL tears, have a high rate of recurrence and post-surgical development of arthritis. Pet massage therapy can play a crucial role in optimal and rapid recovery from such surgeries and may play a role in reducing the risk of re-injury. Post-surgical confinement also causes boredom and restlessness for many animals and diminished the health of the immune system which is dependent on activity for optimal health . Animal massage can be used to reduce boredom, decrease stress and increase relaxation for dogs and cats during periods of confinement.
Equine massage therapy has a long history in the United States and abroad. For racehorses, massage can mean reduced recovery time between races and reduced incidence of injury due to improved flexibility of soft tissues. For investors, time off for recovery or lay-up due to injury is expensive and can reduce the career of a horse dramatically. In this case, the benefits of massage for animals is not only physical and psychological, it is also economical.
Even exotic species and wild animals have experienced benefits from animal massage therapy under the skilled hands of specialized animal massage therapists. The benefits of massage for animals in a zoological park fall under three categories: training, enrichment and health. Veterinarian staff can use massage to minimize the time that an exotic species spends in the hospital following surgery or illness, a critical element in the success of the animal’s return to the wild or onto exhibit. Specific massage techniques can be used to improve the production and movement of lymphatic fluid and assist in metabolism of anesthesia and related medications.
Animal trainers can use certain massage techniques as reinforcement for performed behaviors when food rewards are not safe or effective. Massage can improve nerve function and brain function as well, making training easier. Enrichment involves providing activities to captive animals that stimulate them physically and psychologically and improve their quality of life. Studies indicate that enrichment programs in zoological parks may contribute to the longevity of individual animals and may reduce safety concerns with animals that may become aggressive due to stress or boredom. Massage can be a valuable tool in enrichment programs for many species.
In closing, the benefits of massage for animals are as numerous and varied as those for people. In the last decade more and more people have added massage to their own health care regimen and seen tremendous benefit. Many of these same people have seen the power of massage add quality and time to the lives of their adored pets. Considering all that animals contribute to our lives through companionship, sport and service; a massage now and then serves as a powerful sign of gratitude.