Benefits of professional animal massage vs. petting your dog or horse

When I tell people that I am a certified animal masseuse, the first question I inevitably get is "So, does that mean you pet animals for a living?"  While petting, patting and scratching your pet has benefits for both people, and pets, animal massage involves so much more than a certified animal masseuse can provide including knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology, massage techniques and benefits, conformation, safety, breed characteristics, basic medical health, and issues, etc.  Just think about the difference you feel when someone gives you a quick squeeze on the shoulder versus the benefits received from a professional massage.

Although human massage has been around for years, most people aren’t aware that animal massage has been around for thousands of years.  For instance, Julius Cesar had a personal masseuse who would accompany him to massage his war dogs.  Massage has also been an inegral part of the health of racehorses, show horses, and competition horses.

Different types of massages

Animal massage is broken up into different categories (Creature Comfort Pet Services focuses mainly on Maintenance Massage, Relaxation Massage, and Stretching).

  • Maintenance massage is probably the most common type of massage. The intent of this type of massage is to help a healthy pet stay healthy. Its primary goal is to decrease muscular tension.

  • Relaxation massage concentrates on the nervous system only, using mostly pure nervous reflex massage over the spinal column to elicit the parasympathetic nervous response. Positive results are typically seen over the course of one to several treatments.  A relaxation massage won't put your pet to sleep, but it will induce relaxation and a strong sense of relief.  It will also clear nervous tension and blockages, regenerating the flow of vital energy through the spine to the rest of the body.  The relaxation massage is very effective in inducing deep relaxation in a short time, and is also good to use when massaging for the first time.

  • Stretching improves muscle tone and increases the elasticity of ligaments and joints. It also increases the animal's awareness of his body.  Fascia is the substance that gives us our shape. Fascial connective tissue forms the web from head to tail and surrounds and connects every muscle, bone, nerve, and cell. When an animal is injured, the fascia will tighten and thicken as a protective response.  Myofascial release is a sustained, gentle pressure which will elongate the tissue and free its movement.

  • Performance/Sports massage is ideal to optimize current performance and assist in the animal in reaching their next level. These improvements offer consistent performance, improved muscle memory and correcting poor posture. 

  • Rehabilitation massage is directed to any animal suffering from an illness. The intent is to help with natural healing or complement a treatment program already in place. Benefits from this type include:  Stimulating circulation, decreasing inflammation, helping the release of endorphins, increasing metabolism, assisting in healthy scar tissue formation, and all of the other benefits of maintenance massage. Rehabilitation massage should only be performed by a veterinarian or a specially trained certified animal masseuse working under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

Benefits of Massage

The benefit of massage to animals is equivalent to the benefit experienced by humans.  There is evidence pet massage affects mood, chronic anxieties, such as dog and food aggression and separation issues.  Animal massage therapy should not be used as a substitute for veterinary medical care. However, when used in combination with medical care, it can help enhance the recovery process in many medical cases. Animal massage used for rehabilitation purposes can include the following benefits:

  • Help to relieve age-related problems

  • Reverse muscle atrophy from inactivity or disuse

  • Provide relief from muscle tensionsorenessspasms, and weaknesses

  • Provide relief from chronic pain and discomfort from arthritiship dysplasia, etc. through the release of endorphins.

  • Promote bonding

  • Provide early detection of potential medical issues.  For example, finding a new lump, sore spot, or a wound that is slow to heal.

  • Faster recovery time.

  • In addition, animal massage can provide emotional well-being for the animal. Massage therapist often works with animals to calm hyperactivityanxiousness, and nervousness.  The benefits of which may include relaxation, increased oxygenation, relief from pain, improved joint flexibility, as well as miscellaneous benefits to the immune system

Prepare yourself and your pet for the massage.

Massaging animals is different from massaging humans. Animals dictate how long they are interested in receiving treatment - especially at the first session.  Massage is generally a new and different sensation for horses.  Plus, a new person touching them may take a while for the horse to adjust.  Animals are also more sensitive to touch than humans are.  For example, moving away, yipping, snapping and biting are natural responses.  Animals also have heightened senses, meaning they can be easily distracted by sounds, movement, and smells.  The ideal situation is to have a quiet area available with as few distractions as possible and to have your pet clean and dry. This doesn't mean you have to give them a bath before a massage, but it would be helpful to reduce dried on mud or any burrs.

What to look for in a professional animal masseuse

  • Certifications - If you’re looking to hire a certified and/or licensed animal masseuse, please check your state laws to determine who may perform animal massage vary. One resource to check the laws in your state as they pertain to animal massage is:  chart of state veterinary scope of practice laws

  • Prices – Prices range based on breed, length of massage, and treatment needed.  Smaller animals like dogs tend to be less expensive than larger breeds of horses.  Sessions tend to last 45-60 minutes, and a treatment plan regarding what was found, done, and what is scheduled next is usually provided.  In general, you can expect to spend anywhere between $45 - $75 per treatment session.

  • Experience – Determine what breeds a masseuse specializes in.  For instance, an animal masseuse could have a certification in small animal massage which includes cats and dogs, but an animal masseuse may choose to only work on dogs.  If an animal masseuse is certified in large animals, ask if they specialize in school horses, race horses, show horses, etc.  Also, ask how long the masseuse has been practicing and if they have references.

  • Location – Ask if the massage will be done in your home or an alternate location.  For example, even if a dog or cat is most comfortable in their own home, if there is a lot of excitement and chaos going on in the home at the time of the massage, it will be difficult for the pet to relax at home.

  • Expectations – One massage most likely won't be a fix all.  A treatment plan will need to be reviewed and agreed upon by the masseuse.