Petting With “Intent” Helps Heal Puppies: Learn Dog Massage Techniques


Would you like to know how to massage a puppy? It’s more than simple petting. Performance horses have long benefited from physical therapy that helps them recover from injuries or surgical procedures, but dog massage took longer to become a reality. Today, many veterinary surgical centers include physical therapists on staff. You can become part of the therapy, too, and your puppy doesn’t have to suffer an injury to benefit from massage. He’ll just think the extra attention and “petting” adds to the feel-good bonding experience.

What Is Massage?

Massage is a hands-on therapy that addresses the tendons, muscles, and other soft tissues by gently manipulating these areas with your hands and flexing the joints. Massage increases blood flow to sore spots and removes lactic acid that collects in tissues and makes the pup stiff and painful. That helps pups recover more quickly from muscle pain or strain, and can also loosen tight tendons and scar tissue from old injuries. It can also help them to sleep.

Massage is a good way to relax with your pup after high energy play. Very young pups shouldn’t exercise too much anyway or can risk injuring themselves. Adolescent dogs, though, can be hard to contain and sometimes get sore just from growing so fast. Dogs that are active in canine sports like agility and flyball can become stiff, and a massage before and after these fun sessions can be helpful. A massage can ease the discomfort, and get the youngster ready to rumble all over again.

The hands-on treatment has added benefits such as reducing stress and increasing comfort. Since contact with pets also benefits human health, massaging your puppy has benefits for you both.

How to Massage A Puppy

The range of motion exercises where the pup’s joints are moved is probably best left in the hands of a professional–or have your veterinarian show you how to safely do this. But simple massage techniques can be safely done by you at home and your puppy will tell you where he wants the attention most, by backing his butt-end near your hands, or relaxing with pleasure when you rub his shoulders. Here are some massage techniques for you to try.

Effleurage is a gentle long, slow strokes with your palm, starting at the puppy’s head and continuing down to the tail and feet. This technique helps move the blood through the body but also is a stroke that encourages relaxation. Start with a soft touch, and then slowly increase the pressure of your palms.

Fingertip massage uses the tips of your fingers in small, circular patterns to move the muscles beneath the skin. Don’t press directly over the bone. Instead, use fingertip massage on each side of the spine, for example, to ease stiff muscles and tissues.

Petrissage is sort of a combination of effleurage and fingertip massage and uses a kneading technique. Some pups do not like this more intense massage because it can be a bit painful on sore areas. Petrissage done correctly in people is thought to help move waste products out of the sore muscles.

Professional Therapies

Many of the same techniques created for human athletes have been adapted to dogs. Massage and muscle stretching, muscle stimulation with E-Stim (electrostimulation), or treadmills and whirlpools are available. Swimming is often used to rehab dogs and specialized heated pools with adjustable jets create a resistance against which the pet swims help speed recovery.

One of the newer developments in rehab is the underwater treadmill which can be beneficial to dogs who are strengthening weak or previously injured areas. With the underwater treadmill, you just open up the door, and they walk into an empty holding tank that looks kind of like an aquarium. The door seals and the water is pumped into the chamber very slowly, underneath their paws, so they don’t get as scared. These specialized treadmills give the pup buoyancy so he can use his legs and move the joints without painful weight-bearing issues.

The water, warmed to 85 to 90 F, soothes sore muscles, and walking on the underwater treadmill doesn’t force them to stay afloat. The walking in water offers lower impact exercise compared to swimming, and the dog slowly builds up speed and stamina over time. The therapist controls the amount of water—up to four feet deep—and the speed at which the treadmill runs.

The University of Tennessee unit, the first of its kind, was based on a human unit used by the U.T. football team. There are windows on all sides so the therapist can watch the dog’s body in action—and so the dog can see where he’s going. For some dogs, the underwater treadmill treatment may reduce the need for pain medication or surgery, and helps dogs recover more quickly after surgery.

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