The Use of Massage in Holistic Pet Care
Touch is the universal tool with which all living creatures use naturally to promote healing and well being. Animals clean, groom and nuzzle to socialize with each other and to establish their position among the pack. Humans use touch for many of the same reasons. It is not surprising, then, that the use of touch has evolved into a holistic therapeutic tool.
Pir Henry Ling first brought therapeutic massage to the international community in the early 19th century. Drawing upon the basics of physiology, Ping’s system of holistic touch therapy, with some adaptations, later became known to the world at large as Swedish Massage.
What is Massage Therapy?
On the surface, massage therapy may be employed to soothe aching muscles and relieve stress. However, massage therapy goes much deeper than that. Deep kneading and manipulation of soft tissue during massage involves techniques that target muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and, of course, the skin.
Massage is also thought to support the ‘gate control theory’ in the management of pain. This theory, which emerged in the 1960s, asserts that pain is not the result of pain receptor neurons being triggered, but rather the interaction of several different neurons. In short, as various pain-receptive nerves send signals to the brain, massage endeavors to mitigate these transmissions, in effect closing the gate between them.
How Can My Pet Benefit from Massage?
If you’ve ever rubbed your hand across the muzzle or head of your dog or cat, then you already know that the sensation is usually well received. But pets and animals can also enjoy the health-giving benefits of massage just as much as people do. Massage, particularly deep tissue massage, can reduce pain, improve circulation, promote cell renewal, stimulate nerves and lymph glands, relieve stress and lower blood pressure.
Massage has been shown to be a helpful holistic healing tool for many animals— cats, dogs, horses, even birds —to relieve symptoms associated with many conditions, including:
- Stress or trauma
- Spinal disorders
- Hip dysplasia
- Compromised immunity
However, an animal does not have to exhibit signs of a physical illness to benefit from massage therapy. For instance, pets with disabilities (blindness, amputation, etc.), service animals, victims of physical abuse or neglect, police dogs, performance animals or those that have been exposed to long periods of isolation or captivity, can all benefit from the effects of massage.
Massage Methods and Terminology
Pir Henry Ling, who made massage as a holistic method to encourage self-healing popular in the 1800s, is also credited with developing several distinct types of massage movements that are still used today.
- Effleurage - Gliding strokes using the palms, thumbs or fingertips.
- Petrissage - Deep kneading of soft tissue and muscles with the hands or thumbs and fingers.
- Friction - Circular movements of the thumbs, fingers, or palms of the hands using slight pressure.
- Vibration - Oscillatory movements that shake or vibrate select areas of the body.
- Tapotement (also known as Percussion) - Brisk pummeling or tapping motions on targeted areas or muscle groups.
Who Should Give My Pet a Massage?
Massage therapy for your pet is not as complicated as it might be for yourself. For instance, it isn’t necessary to seek out a licensed massage therapist or whisk your pet off to a fancy day spa to initiate a massage session. Massage therapists perform a wide variety of movements on humans that may involve the spine and facial nerve points, as well as the use of special tables or chairs, equipment and practices your pet may not find as comfortable as you might.
In a holistic veterinarian practice, the veterinarian is likely to be skilled in applying massage techniques specific to animals. However, some veterinarians do employ a part-time licensed massage therapist to provide these services on an as-needed basis. You may also choose to perform massage on your dog or cat yourself in the convenience of your own home. If this is the preferred scenario, you might ask your veterinarian to demonstrate how to apply basic massage movements on your pet during a scheduled office visit.
How Long Does a Massage Therapy Session Last?
This depends on the temperament and health history of your pet. During a visit to the veterinarian’s office, a massage therapy session may last anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.
The frequency of massage therapy sessions will also vary from animal to animal, with sessions being scheduled anywhere from once per month to two or three times per week.