Q: Do pets benefit from massage therapy? I’m a massage therapist, and after decades of living with pets I’ve found that cats and dogs with arthritis experienced increased mobility with massage. Is this something veterinarians routinely recommend for their patients? If not, why?
A: Pets are not so different from us when it comes to massage. In fact, massage has been used to soothe tired and sore muscles in racehorses for decades now (if not longer). So why should it be any different for dogs and cats?
It’s not. All domesticated mammals seem to respond to massage to some degree. Dogs, especially, seem amenable to gentle palpation and manipulation of their muscles. They tend to welcome this ministration almost as an extension of the affectionate petting you’d normally lavish on them.
Just as for humans, massage can be therapeutic. It works by increasing blood and lymph circulation, relaxing the muscles and other skeletal tissues to calm nerves and de-stress deeper structures. There’s no doubt this therapeutic modality works for both post-exercise recovery and chronic pain relief.
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Indeed, given our understanding of massage therapy’s therapeutic benefits, it’s a wonder it isn’t more commonly prescribed for humans. But then, to your question, it’s perhaps this very reticence that keeps massage from being more widely adopted in animal medicine.
It seems, however, that times are changing across all medical disciplines, since massage therapy is increasingly viewed as a way to reduce dependence on drugs for those with chronic pain. And while it’s always best administered by a credentialed professional, the rudiments of massage can be transferred to an at-home environment.
Here are a few tips:
1: Go slow. They need a gentle intro to this completely new version of “petting” lest they become frightened by the intensity of your attention or the force of your hands.
2: Be patient. The trick is not to approach a pet with a “let’s take your medicine” attitude. Be natural about your massage, starting with normal petting and increasing pressure gently only if the pet accepts it. If he moves away, the session is over.
3: Cats are not small dogs. They won’t always let you get in a good massage. Others have only specific anatomic zones of tolerance.
Ask your veterinarian if they offer this service. And if you’re willing to try this at home, ask for DIY pointers specific to your pets.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.