When you hear the word “massage,” the first thing that comes to mind may be relaxation. It makes us feel happy in the moment, which leads us to associate it with other luxuries such as getting our hair done or going to the nail salon. We often think of massage as a privilege that we sometimes treat ourselves to, but the benefits of massage go way beyond momentary relaxation.
Here is a quick view of the general benefits of massage besides providing comfort and relaxation:
• Improves circulation (speeds up metabolism)
• Promotes healing (increases the flow of nutrients to the muscles, carrying away excessive fluids and toxins)
• Alleviates pain (promotes release of endorphins, which are natural pain killers)
• Loosens tight muscles and releases knots for a better range of motion
• Often leads to early discovery of abnormal growths
As a canine massage therapist, I’ve witnessed a fair share of dogs whose lives have significantly improved since implementing regular massage sessions.
A 15-year-old client of mine named Sassy has weakened hind legs and greatly benefits from the increase in circulation that massage provides, as it yields similar benefits to regular walks/exercises. During a massage session, Klo-ee, another pup, had a tumor that was discovered at an early stage. The mom of Duke, a 12-year-old, emphasized his energy boost after massages despite his age and a diagnosis of advanced arthritis.
Let’s say you and your dog enjoy outdoor activities. I’m sure a lot of you run, bike, or swim with your dog. However, when muscles are overworked or not rested enough in between activities, muscles get tight. You may notice some knots or even the skin twitching on your dog’s body occasionally. When muscles are tight, there is no elasticity in the tissues, and they cannot withhold the impact of jumping, twisting or falling. In other words, your dog is more likely to get injured.
So this is where massage comes in. By loosening muscles and stretching joints, we help to restore the tired muscles. Healthy, normal muscles are supple and are more likely to handle impact.
Regularly scheduled massage paired with exercise is the most effective in terms of muscle maintenance and injury prevention.
Besides the forward movement of regular walking alone, it is also beneficial to target specific muscles using exercise equipment. Dachshund girls Guri and Gura use a balance ball at home to strengthen the iliopsoas (major hip flexor muscle) in hopes of preventing herniated discs. Milo gets proprioceptive stimulation by going over cavaletti bars as a part of relearning how to use his hind legs after an episode of a ruptured disc.
Although there is still a notion that dog massage is just a cute novelty that you treat your dog to on a special occasion or for pain relief in senior dogs, my clients of many years have a different perspective. They see the benefits of maintenance, so they are, in other words, providing their dogs’ preventative care proactively. Caring for a dog proactively (before getting injured or spotting an abnormality) is far more effective than reactively (after injuries or damage has taken place).
So take a look at your own dog; do any of these situations sound familiar?
• Anxious or timid? Does your dog often bark out of fear or excitement while standing firmly with their hind legs wide apart. Check to see if the flank and thigh areas are tight. Perhaps the shoulder and chest are tight as well.
• Patellar luxation? The forearm that is diagonal from the affected knee may be over-worked and tight. Are the elbow and pastern flexible?
• Long torso? Compare how tight the shoulder, the loin and the thigh area are with the rest of the body.
• Cropped ear or docked tail? Dogs are meant to balance their bodies with the ears and tails. The lower back may be over-worked and tight as well as the shoulder and the topline.
These hidden compensations from everyday life can be maintained by regularly scheduled massage and if appropriate, combined with core strengthening exercises. Look into physical maintenance early in your dog’s life so that you can enjoy many more walks and outdoor activities with them even in their golden years!
Eri Suzaki is a canine massage therapist (Canine Therapeutics – www.k9therapeutics.com) based in San Jose. Her dog, Dewey wonders why she comes home every day smelling like other dogs. The other members of her family include her daughter Natasha, Angel the cat, and Hooty the hamster.
Main article photo by: Frances Cayao