By Cate Burnette
A Holistic Treatment You Can Share With Your Pets
Just as it has in human medicine, the practice of less invasive and more holistic approaches to the care and treatment of animals is gaining in popularity. Consultations for nutritional help, physical therapy, acupuncture and massage therapy are becoming more routine in both equine and companion animal veterinary medicine.
Pet massage therapy is in the forefront of treatments that pet parents can easily continue at home while maintaining ongoing contact with the veterinarian on regular health issues of our furry companions.
What IS animal massage therapy and how can it help my pet?
Massage therapy is the therapeutic application of hands-on deep tissue techniques to the voluntary muscle system – those muscles that all animals, including humans, use for movement.
Massage has been shown to:
…increase muscular circulation and help eliminate toxins and waste from the body.
…improve joint flexibility and muscle tone, which can be very beneficial to older animals and those with active lives
such as performance animals. Massage is very popular with agility dogs and sport horses.
…promote healing and increase the range of motion in all dogs, horses and some cats.
…reduce muscle spasms and soreness and relieve tension.
…correct the condition of the skin, coat, gums and teeth because of increased blood circulation.
…enable atrophying muscles to work the way they are supposed to.
…reduce recovery time from soft tissue injuries.
…relieve the pain and discomfort associated with such joint conditions as hip dysplasia and arthritis.
Additionally, pet massage helps calm nervous and anxious animals through the act of being kindly and consistently touched, allows these pets to trust their human counterparts, helps a shy or submissive animal feel more confident and secure and, on the other side, can relax an aggressive or dominant animal.
Can I do this at home?
Because of the health-promoting qualities of massage, as well as its restorative properties, knowledgeable owners and trainers are incorporating this therapy as an integral part of their dogs’ and horses’ total and continuous health care program.
The therapy is certainly transferable – by virtue of its generally universal effectiveness and similarity of technique – to other companion animals, such as cats and ferrets, but we urge that you contact a veterinarian or professional animal massage therapist before trying these techniques on your own.
What are some precautions with massage therapy for animals?
As noted above, if your animal is acting injured or ill, you should consult with your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis to make sure massage therapy is appropriate and beneficial, not detrimental to veterinary treatment, and/or contraindicative with any prescribed medications.
Furthermore, never massage an animal that has low blood pressure, a fever, any type of poisoning, severe tissue trauma, severe debilitation, is in shock, has heat stroke, indicates symptoms of a limb or hindquarters having a circulatory problem due to thrombosis (blood clots), or an injury or illness not diagnosed by a vet.
Certification of Professional Pet Massage Therapists
When seeking massage therapy for your dog, cat or horse, first ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Many equine and small animal vets now have qualified massage therapists either on staff or on call that can work with you and your animal to provide whatever treatment is needed.
A professional, qualified therapist will have taken classes and studied the appropriate techniques in both the lecture and hands-on format. Many therapists will have interned under holistic vets or other therapists while learning.
Look for a massage therapist certified by the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage. This national organization, founded in 2008, develops standardized national certification examinations in order to establish and uphold professional standards for acupressure and massage practitioners. The NBCAAM examinations for Equine Massage, Equine Acupressure, Canine Massage and Canine Acupressure are entirely based on the Scope of Practice for each discipline.
The minimum standard for sitting for the NCEAAM is documented proof of attendance at a school or schools of either animal massage or animal acupressure resulting in an accumulated course of study equaling a minimum of 200 hours.
PLEASE NOTE: Natural remedies and alternative therapies can complement traditional veterinary or medical care. If your pet is sick, injured, on medication, or you have any other concerns, we recommend that you can check with your veterinarian prior to offering any remedy or massage therapy. Be aware that your vet or medical professional may advise you to not use the natural/holistic/alternative remedy or therapy. Do your homework and explore your options. If your pet is seriously ill or has a life-threatening condition, please always seek proper veterinary care.
Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.