Massage is as wonderful and therapeutic for an animal as it is for a human. The experience of being touched, rubbed, and stroked is not just reassuring; it’s also physically beneficial. Massage for pets is a relatively new development in pet health care, but it’s a growing phenomenon, one that every pet owner should get involved in. After a long hard day playing ball, running, or swimming, every pet can profit from a gentle massage-it relaxes him, it soothes his muscles, and it makes him aware of the fact that his owner knows and appreciates just how hard he’s been working.
Who Needs Massage?
Every pet, regardless of age, size or activity level, can benefit from a massage every once in a while. A very active animal often suffers from muscle aches and strains, just as a person does, and a rubdown can ease the discomfort he can’t express to you in words. You’ll be able to tell when your dog or cat is asking for some tender loving care by certain stiffness in his hind legs, or a slower-than-usual response when you tell him to get up after an exercise break. He attentive to your pet’s body language and do what he’s clearly asking you to do. A brief massage can work wonders and make that soreness or stiffness vanish.
Arthritic and geriatric pets are particularly good candidates for massage. Animals who suffer a variety of ailments from hip dysplasia to panosteitis to back problems are often afflicted with chronic pain, and the thoughtful owner should be more sensitive than usual to his pet’s special physical needs. The stroking and plying of old or arthritic muscles can really make a difference. Even the worst cases seem to perk up and move more fluidly after a good massage. This is only partly due to the manual manipulation of muscles and joints. It’s true that kind touch means, more than anything else, that the pet’s owner cares about him and recognizes his pain. You can communicate your understanding and your love through the comfort of touch more clearly than you can express your feelings with words. Massage is another form of praise for your pet, one he truly cherishes.
How to Give a Complete Massage
Begin the massage with two or three minutes of general rubbing and stroking as you talk quietly to your pet. This should be a time for the two of you to wind down, to forget the frenzy of the day, and to relax totally. Just stroking the animal, beginning with the back of the neck and working your way down to the tail, should set the mood. With your gentle touch, you’re telling your pet that you want him to trust you and to deliver himself into your care.
Stroke the back of the neck first and then the spine and back, working your way down with your hands moving along the sides of the pet. When you get to the hip area, be extremely gentle. Even pets who have never suffered from any actual disorder tend to be sensitive around the hip joints. Keep talking as you touch, reassuring the animals that everything is all right.
From the hips, stroke down the rear of the legs to the paws, and then release the pressure as you move back up to your pet’s front. Start under the neck, down the chest, along the front legs to the front paws. By the time you’ve covered the whole body with these light, gentle strokes, your dog or cat should be calm and contented, ready for more. Now you can begin the real massage, using the circular motion of the fingers. Begin just behind the head and do the neck area with your hands open, your fingers pressing steadily, massaging the area in circles. Keep rotating your fingers, and don’t let them break contact with your animal’s skin and fur. Just move them along, down the shoulders and then the side muscles. Continue down the back, working the spine lightly with your thumbs while the four other fingers of each hand massage the pet’s sides. Complete the course all the way down the spinal column of the tail.
Go back up to the shoulders and switch your hands around, with the fingers on the spine and the thumbs down along the sides of the pet. Talk softly as you let your fingers make small circles on the animal’s flanks. At this point, you may hear a few happy sighs or some heavy purring. If so, you’re doing your job.
Next, spend some time on the hind legs, kneading them like bread dough. Don’t make the pressure too hard-this is a sensitive area. You can massage each leg keeping all your fingers on one side and then moving to the other, or you can work with open hands, letting your thumbs and fingers wrap around the leg. This way, the inside and the outside of the leg receive attention simultaneously. Keep your technique varied. All muscles get the most benefit from different kinds of stimulation, so if you did it one way yesterday, use another method today.
Finish both rear legs before moving on to the pet’s front. Then begin on the underside of the neck with the softest, most delicate touch. Slowly massage your pet down the chest and increase the pressure as you get into a less-vulnerable region of the body. From here, work down and in between the front legs, gently manipulating the joints, tendons, and muscles as you did in the rear. You can stroke, rub, and scratch the stomach and groin area-most pets are crazy about this kind of stimulation, and will let you know how well you’re doing by sighing, groaning, or purring loudly.
After you’ve finished the stomach area, go back to the chest and again work slowly down the front legs to the paws. Even the most suspicious holdout should be a quivering pool of jelly by now, and every muscle, every joint will have had a wonderful treat.
At the end of the massage, a good scratch all over is certainly in order. If your pet craves more, he may try to nudge your hands back on him and encourage you to start all over again. If you have the time and inclination by all means do so.