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PetPourri: A Little to the Left, Please…The Healing World of Pet Massage

By  Hana Haatainen Caye

Eyes closed. Body limp. If you listen hard enough, you can barely make out an “oh yeah” coming from your furry friend. And in the midst of the glorious indulgence known as pet massage, the “friend” feeling is oh so mutual. When done correctly, it’s hard to tell who benefits more… you or your pet!

The concept of therapeutic pet massage dates back to the 1970s, when Jack Meagher helped introduce equine massage to the U.S. Equestrian Team. By the 1990s, Meagher’s methods had been adapted for use with cats and dogs, and the notion of pet massage expanded even further. Research over the past couple of decades shows solid evidence of massage’s true benefits in the form of healthier and happier dogs and cats. And the positive results don’t stop there. Humans can reap the rewards as well, giving both animal lovers and their furry friends something to feel good about.

Animal Advantages

When it comes to keeping your pet healthy and helping them through various medical issues, massage can become a key component in animal wellness. Whether you take your dog or cat to a certified professional or engage in the practice yourself, pet massage provides myriad benefits.

Physical Benefits

While nothing takes the place of a visit to the vet, massage can still help alleviate numerous ailments for your beloved pet. Massage has been shown to boost immune systems, decrease blood pressure, stimulate circulation, increase bone density and release endorphins, which act as natural painkillers. Pets suffering from arthritis, hip dysplasia and other joint or muscle related disorders can also benefit from massage as it helps to improve joint health and function and provides a wider range of flexibility and movement for your furry friend. It’s even been shown to aid digestion and reduce swelling. But more than anything, it will help your animal relax.

Psychological Benefits

If a pet suffers from separation anxiety or stress related to prior abuse, groomer or vet appointments, or even the loss of a family member or other pet, massage can ease many of the stress factors and help create a peaceful environment. Massage also serves to bond the pet to its owner, which is particularly beneficial in the case of shelter dogs or cats that experienced traumatic incidents or simply lacked a close relationship with people in the past. Young dogs in particular will quickly develop trust and lose the fear of being touched by strangers such as a vet or groomer. This is helpful when it comes to nail clipping or other paw touching activities.

Michael Fox, D.V.M., believes massage is essential for pet welfare. In his book, The Healing Touch, he emphasizes the importance of physical contact: “The tender loving touch is essential for well being and for the normal growth and development of all socially dependent animals. As a seedling cannot thrive without the light of the sun, so, too, do our animal kin suffer without the energy of love. And it is through touch especially, that this energy can be given and reciprocated.”

People Perks

Massage also gives people an opportunity to connect with their pets in a deeper way. Dogs have long been used in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and other places to provide patients with a special kind of therapy. The simple act of petting a dog brings humans many of the same health benefits experienced by animals, including lowered blood pressure and a boosted immune system, along with increased self esteem and a general feeling of overall comfort. By giving your pet a massage, you can help yourself feel better and create an increased sense of well being.

The time spent massaging a cat or dog can also help fight depression as focus moves away from self and toward pet wellness. Research professor Dr. Johannes Odendaal of Life Sciences Research Institute tested the effect of petting a dog on the human brain. The before and after results revealed that cortisol, a stress related neurochemical, decreased following a dog petting session. Other neurochemicals connected to feelings of happiness and positivity also increased. While these findings were directly related to simple petting, massage is thought to obtain the same results.

A Day at the Spaw

You may be surprised at how easy it is to get your pup or kitty to warm up to daily massage therapy. “Massage is such a healthy, rejuvenating thing,” explains Jeanna Jurkowski, a certified Animal Massage and Care Provider and owner of Loving Touch Pet Massage and Care (www.lovingtouchpetmassage.com) in Las Vegas, one of many pet massage services available to local residents. In Jurkowski’s practice, ‘pet parents’ bring their animals to her for a relaxing dose of therapy. Using observational techniques, she strives to build trust with pets and introduce them to the wonderful world of massage. “Eventually,” she says, “the animals start to ask for it. They learn to understand and appreciate it.”

Jurkowski employs a method known as IPTouch, designed to improve both a pet’s body and spirit. With this method, initial techniques loosen the skin and help increase circulation. Once past this initial stage, she waits for cues from the animals to go deeper with the massage. If they pull away, she knows it’s not time yet. However, if they move closer, she understands that the pet is basically communicating they want more, and she’s quite willing to meet that request.

Of course, the pet’s parents are included in the process, as they are encouraged to stay with their pets during the massage. Jurkowski then assigns ‘homework’ for them, demonstrating different massage techniques designed to improve the pet’s blood flow and circulation. By continuing the process at home, parents help keep the process going, which ultimately yields greater benefits.

Try This At Home

If you’d rather explore pet massage on your own, Dr. Cheryl Schwartz, D.V.M. and author of Four Paws, Five Directions, offers helpful tips. For shoulder blades, over the rump area and down the midline of the chest to include between the front legs, she recommends a rubbing motion known as friction. Using the tips of your fingers, apply pressure in a forward and backward motion, beginning slowly, about one per second, and gradually increasing to two per second. Abdominal and larger muscle groups along the neck and back respond better to longer strokes using the flat of the hand and fingertips. Like Jurkowski, Dr. Schwartz watches for signals from the animal and adjusts pressure accordingly to ensure maximum canine or feline relief. Don’t forget to perform a bit of preventative health care along the way, searching for abnormalities that may include unusual swelling, lumps or heat. Any spot of concern should not be massaged and instead reported to your veterinarian.

Pet massage is more than just a passing fad. By making it a part of your furry companion’s daily routine, you just might find those relaxing sighs put you both in a better state of mind.


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