Massage therapy is an invaluable tool for both the prevention and rehabilitation of musculo-skeletal and neurologic injuries in pets and humans.   It can be performed by a trained massage therapist, a veterinarian or the pet’s caregiver (after being taught  how to do it).   Massage therapy benefits the pet or human body in a number of ways including pain relief, reduction in swelling and edema of injured or overworked body parts, and the prevention or breakdown of fibrous muscular adhesions.  The term massage means “knead” and it is used to describe the manipulation of soft tissue of the body.   Massage is performed for the purpose of producing healthy changes in the musculoskeletal, nervous, respiratory, and circulatory system.    There is an increasing awareness of the physiologic, mechanical, and psychological effects of massage therapy.  Consequently, there has become a greater interest in the use of massage therapy in sport and rehabilitation medicine.    If you are considering learning to massage your own pet then there are several basic principles of massage that you should keep in mind as you apply this therapy:
1)   The pressure applied should never cause pain.   If your pet shows any discomfort reduce the pressure to where the pet is more comfortable and then slowly increase pressure to find the threshold of tolerance (i.e.  the point where pet enjoys the massage because it “hurts good”).
2)   If you are trying to sedate a painful body area then use a slow rate and constant rhythm of stroking.  If you are attempting to stimulate an area then use a fast and strong rhythm.
3)   When giving a massage you should always stroke in the direction of the blood flow.    When massaging the limbs work from area closest to the body and proceed toward the toes.
4)  The length of the massage should last only 15 minutes.   Frequent short massages seem to work better than infrequent long ones.

There are 4 basic massage techniques:
1)   Petri sage:   This technique involves compression or kneading.   Petri sage involves picking up the skin and muscle between the thumb and forefinger and the muscle is lifted from the bone or rolled and compressed.   The effect of this is to enhance circulation and get rid of waste products, stretch muscles and tendons and helps reduce or prevent adhesions.
2)  Effleurage:   This technique involves stroking, either light or heavy stroking of the skin.  This approach allows the therapist to look for areas of pain and muscle spasms.
3)   Friction:   Using the hand or fingers the skin in one area is made to move in small circles over the tissue.    It is used to loosen adhesions and encourage absorption of local edema.
4)   Percussion:  This technique uses rapid, percussive movement of both hands in alternating fashion.  The side of the hand, the fist, or the tips of the fingers is employed.

You may be interested in knowing why massage works.    Massage increases the circulation of blood and lymph.   If massage is performed in the direction of blood flow it moves blood toward the heart.  It is very effective in supporting circulation in deep veins, arterioles and capillaries.  Massage also encourages increased circulation in the superficial lymphatics and veins and aids in the exchange of blood nutrients and waste.     Massage can restore circulation to inactive muscles where blood has pooled because of poor venous return.   Massage should never be used in areas of infection or when blood clotting is suspected in order to avoid the spread of infection or the obstruction of blood flow by the plugging of blood vessels.

Moderate pressure massage causes stimulation of  special nerve endings in the  skin which can alter the of the autonomic nervous  through transmission of impulses down the Vagus nerve.  The Vagus nerve is one of the 12 cranial verves and sends and receives nerve fibers and impulses to almost every organ in the body.    Vagal nerve output effects the cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive and excretory system.  Essentially  massage applied to the skin and underlying connective tissue fascia will reduce sympathetic nervous system (fight and flight)  and  increase parasympathic tone.    Animals which suffer from many acute or chronic diseases have elevated sympathetic tone which can be reduced with medical massage.

The most common use of massage is the relief of tight achy muscles.    Muscle damage results in fibrosis which eventually ends up as adhesions between muscle fibers adjacent to one another.  These adhesions contract with time and produce restricted movement and shortened muscles.   Massage breaks down these adhesions and prevents future development of fibrosis and more adhesions.    Muscle injuries in athletic pets and people are most often in the deeper hard to reach muscles.  They are usually in areas where the muscle attaches to bone by structures called tendons. Massage before exercise can help prevent muscle injury and after exercise will reduce soreness, stiffness, and pain.

Massage helps reduce stress, prevents pressure sores, corrects gaits, and improves posture, and puts the body back in balance.  Once a muscle is injured the body often compensates by using other muscle.  This in turn,  can  lead to further muscle damage.
Massaging your healthy uninjured pet can be a very healthy  relaxing experience for both pet and caregiver.   Although we can’t ask our four legged friends how much they enjoy being massaged it is obvious by their demeanor that it is quite pleasurable experience.  It is also a very pleasant experience for the caregiver.   The act of massaging your pet is a great way to deepen the human animal bond you have already established.

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