How do pet massages really work?

As a veterinarian, I am often asked by animal guardians if pet massages really help their pets. In many cases the answer to this is a resounding —yes! This is especially true if you are using a gentle massage technique. The reason why pet massages help is due to the many conditions, especially in our pets’ nervous and musculoskelatal systems, that can lead to severe muscle tension and straining, which often results in severe stiffness and pain of the affected muscles. This may occur anywhere on the body, but it’s especially common over the neck and spine, as well as over the legs, and it’s especially common in older animals. When muscles become tight in spasm, movement is often very difficult, so massaging can help. Pets who are very anxious or emotionally nervous also bear much tension in their body systems, and will typically benefit from a gentle massage too. One of the other benefits of  a gentle massage is the beautiful bonding time that is achieved between you and your pet.

I find that one of the best times and places to try and massage your pet is during a time of day when you both are typically relaxing, such as in the evening while watching TV or unwinding from the day. It is recommended to first invite your pet to lie down and pet him or her reassuredly at the same time. It is usually best to initially pet with long strokes in order to facilitate relaxation. To do this, gently move your hands in small circles beginning at the head, and then go from the shoulders, to the back, and then to the abdomen. Massage your pet using this technique all over his or her body.  I find that using the fingertips in this circular motion allows the best possible contact with the circles drawn in the tight muscles below.  Start with just a few seconds per location doing the entire massage over a few minutes, but then increasing the times in future sessions as your pet becomes more comfortable. Not only will the human/animal bond be enhanced by practicing regular massage on your animals, but improvement in relaxation and often pain relief can be achieved, along with appropriate medical therapies for specific conditions. If you want to learn more pet massage techniques, there are an increasing numbers of schools around the country offering massage classes to animal guardians to give instruction on more specific techniques that are quite therapeutic.