Massage for animals might sound a bit odd but it’s been around for many, many years.
Early Egyptian hieroglyphics depicted animal healers using massage techniques on a variety of animals and horse massage was practiced in Ancient China and Rome[i]. Julius Caesar is reported to have travelled with his own masseuse who also had the responsibility for treating his war dogs. The Greek historian and philosopher Flavius Arrianus, while generally talking about hunting dogs, advised that massage for animals would “knit and strengthen the limbs … make the hair soft and its hue glossy, and …cleanse the impurities of the skin”[ii]
The aims and results of animal massage are very similar as for humans; to reduce pain, increase movement and help restore vitality. Increased blood flow brings the body’s natural healing resources to injured areas, ‘stuck’ fascia is released and tight and tired muscles are revitalised. An elderly animal with stiff joints can benefit from the muscle stimulation of massage without needing to weight bear.
My personal animal massage experience is limited to cats, dogs and sheep. My elderly and arthritic cat used to come for regular massages and enjoyed about 20 minutes of ‘treatment’ before wandering off to sleep it off for a couple of hours. She lived to 22 and was active for all of that time despite the arthritis. Now Mollie (pictured), who at client’s requests, joins us in the massage room and promptly falls asleep (it is then thoroughly cleaned in case of other client’s allergies!) loves particularly having her sacrum massaged and massage for her is pure enjoyment. Visiting a farm at lambing time I also found a lamb confined to a corner of a pen having been injured by a careless human visitor, an encounter which had left her lame. 5 minutes of massage 3 times a day for 3 days and she was back frolicking with the other lambs much to the farmer’s surprise. Other cats, dogs and indeed sheep have since been presented to me for treatment.
As ever for massage there are contraindications for doggie (or other animal) massage and whilst not identical to those for humans there are definite similarities which include; fever, epilepsy, shock, kidney and liver failure, infections, not massaging on a break, fracture or other injury or on areas that are inflamed, or have eczema or parasites.
There are of course specialist animal massage practitioners, courses, handbooks, insurance and as with all massage, lots of politics and various opinions about what is and isn’t the best way to work – but also, as with all massage, this is about touch; caring, therapeutic and focused touch. Just spend an extra few minutes today with the animal members of your family and see if you notice a positive difference in how they relate to you*
*please use common sense with this, the author accepts no responsibility if people choose to massage their pet alligator, poisonous snake, tarantula….
[i] Chasing dreams .com
[ii] Equine Sport Therapies of Georgia. “The History of Massage Therapy.”