Does Massage Benefit Pets?

canine-massage-300x199The practice of holistic and integrative veterinary medicine has increased over the years as more veterinarians and pet owners shift their focus from the treatment of disease to overall health and wellness.

The benefits of massage to humans has been studied and documented, but do those benefits apply to cats and dogs? For people, the benefits include: stress reduction, increased circulation and mobility, better digestion, lower blood pressure, and a boost in immunity. There have been few clinical studies including animals, and the medical evidence, so far, is not conclusive. However, that has not deterred an increasing population of veterinarians, pet care professionals, and pet owners from offering alternative therapies as part of pet wellness—massage being a popular form of therapy.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) classifies massage as a rehabilitation therapy, which also includes acupuncture, chiropractic and therapeutic exercise, and defines these therapies as “being used to return a patient to normal function following surgery or trauma, or as part of a long-term strategy to manage pain.

Comprehensive pet wellness has long been a primary objective of the medical team at Doylestown Veterinary Hospital with special interest in pet nutrition and a veterinarian certified in acupuncture on staff. When the focus is lifelong wellness, pets tend to happily live longer, healthier lives.

Pet wellness is also important at Holiday House Pet Resort with blueberry facials offered as a spa service and daycare clients participating in various wellness events, such as fitness camp and occasional massage sessions complete with soothing music and aromatherapy.

“It’s about the overall experience we create by playing soothing music and using aromatherapy. The energy in daycare quickly settles down. Many of the dogs enjoy their special time on the massage table and are completely relaxed within seconds,” said Lori Busdeker, Daycare Director at Holiday House Pet Resort in Doylestown.

The trend started in the 1970s with Jack Meagher, a pioneer in sports massage for humans and horses. He wrote Beating Muscle Injuries for Horses and founded the Jack Meagher Institute of Sports Therapy, specializing in equine sports massage. By the 1990s, massage was adapted for dogs and cats, and many books have grown in popularity including Canine Massage: A Complete Reference Manual by Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt.

cat-massage-300x200For animals, the power of touch provides physical and emotional benefits. Although the medical benefits in small animals are not well documented, massage certainly showers the pet with lavish attention and affection.  The special time spent relaxing with your pet can also help strengthen the bond between you both.

Whether you are interested in sharing the experience with your pet to de-stress from a busy day, or adding massage as part of rehabilitation therapy, you should first consult with your veterinarian. In some cases, such as pain management for arthritis, if massage is not done properly, it can aggravate the condition and provide more pain than relief.

For the most therapeutic benefits from massage, it’s recommended to seek a trained professional; however, there are a variety of books and DVDs for those interested in making quiet time with your pet extra special.