As Veterinary Rehabilitation Therapists, massage is one of our greatest tools. Through massage, we can evaluate the health and symmetry of a dog’s, horse’s, or cat’s muscles, we can help tight muscles relax, weak muscles activate, and painful muscles heal, and we can help the body to return to a balanced state after an injury, sporting event, or life event.
We can do all these things through massage – but so can you.
Healing is a team affair
When it comes to the health, recovery and rehabilitation of our patients, we work as a team comprising your vet, trainer, and any other professional responsible for the care of your animal. This list can become very long in some cases, but the person who is always on that team, no matter what, is you. You know your four-legged better than anyone – how they move, behave, feel, eat, sleep, etc – and you are in the ideal position to identify when things just are not quite right.
Rehabilitation is a daily commitment
Rehabilitation from an injury is not an easy feat. Contrary to certain former beliefs, rest and just ‘leaving’ something is not going to result in the body’s return to a normal, functional state. And neither is one day’s worth of interventions! That is why we will almost always recommend a rehabilitation programme over the course of several weeks. This is the only way to ensure optimal recovery.
In every vet rehab session, we are stimulating change and healing in the body, but change takes time and muscle and nervous tissue need consistent reminders for change to be sustained. This is why you will probably be given a list of exercises to do with your four-legged after every session with a Vet Rehab Therapist.
The work you do with your pet ensures that what the Vet Rehab Therapist did, leads to lasting change. It’s all about sustaining the healing process; that is why a team approach is essential.
So where does massage fit in?
Massage is one of the oldest forms of therapy and remains an incredibly effective tool that cannot be replaced with any of our new gadgets and advances in technology. When it comes to athletes and injury recovery, massage is irreplaceable.
It is also a skill that can be learned fairly easily, and which can be applied at home as part of your normal routine. It requires almost no changes to your environment, no equipment, no treats and really no creative thinking. All you need is your hands, your dog’s favourite sleeping spot, and a little guidance.
When you include massage into your dog’s daily life – whether or not he has experienced an injury or ‘event’, and whether you do it every day or every second day – you can expect some benefits, including:
- Faster recovery from injury.
- Longer-lasting positive effects after each treatment with your Vet Rehab Therapist.
- A better knowledge and understanding of your dog’s body, allowing you to give better feedback to the Vet and Rehab Therapist during each visit.
- Reduced pain and lameness in your dog.
- Improved performance in competitive animals.
- A closer, deeper bond.
- Insight into strengths and weaknesses that can help you refine a training programme or improve your home environment.
- A calmer, more relaxed partner in your life.
Incorporating massage into your life, together
If your four-legged is recovering from injury, the best time for a massage is late in the day, when all is winding down and you’re both relaxed. Settle down in their favourite spot, put on some relaxing music, and let your hands flow over their bodies. You can spend anything from ten minutes to half an hour in massage, either focusing on the area that is recovering from injury and the areas that are compensating, or working over the whole body.
If you prefer activity over relaxation, a fast paced warm-up massage before exercise or training might be an idea. After the exercise, five minutes of cooling-down massage and stretching can make a world of difference to the way your pet recovers. Dogs experience muscle ache and stiffness after exercise just as we do! You can ease it with a therapeutic massage.
And if you are not a touchy-feely, cuddly kind of person, you can still learn a few simple massage techniques that will help your partner heal and use their body optimally, without pushing you too far out of your comfort zone!
How to massage?
Regardless of the animal or the reason you’d like to incorporate massage into his life, there are plenty of resources where you can learn effective techniques.
If your four-legged partner is recovering from an injury, I would recommend asking your Vet Rehab Therapist to show you how to massage for healing. They will be able to show you the techniques that will be most beneficial, and how to address areas of concern for your specific animal.
If you’re training an athlete and would like to use massage to improve your connection and performance, I would likewise consult a professional to teach the basics. They can help you identify and target specific weaknesses and strengths in your dog’s or horse’s body, and how to recognise these over time.
You may just get hooked on the feeling and effects of massage, which is known to benefit both recipient and giver. There are many places where you can attend short courses or participate in an online course, and learn the various techniques and applications.
Massage is a hugely overlooked skill and healing modality, and one which our pets will not only love us for, but benefit from physically and emotionally.