Massaging your dog can be an amazing experience for human and dog alike. Not only is it quality time together, but it is also very therapeutic, especially for senior dogs. There is very long list of benefits that can come from canine massage, but here are some that stand out to me as a senior dog parent:
- Increase flexibility and reduces pain for aging joints
- Improves circulation
- Supports the immune system
- Improves oxygen flow to the brain
- Flushes waste products from the body
- Helps to detect medical issues such as swelling, tender areas, lumps, skin conditions etc.
Effleurage: This technique involves long continuous gliding type strokes along your dog's body which can help to induce relaxation. You probably already do this with your dog without realizing it is a massage technique.
Petrissage: With this technique you are lifting and kneading the skin almost like you are kneading dough. It helps to increase blood circulation and elasticity in the tissue. Watch your dog melt in your hands especially as you work the neck area.
Compression: The stationary laying of your hands or fingers with a slight pushing down onto the tissue repeated in different areas across the body. Pressure should come from your body not just your hands and wrists. This technique helps to move fluids in and out of the tissue and lengthens muscle fibers.
Friction: Helps to loosen up joints, tendons and muscles as well as increasing circulation. Applied with your thumb and finger tips or the palm of your hand, usually in a circular motion.
For senior dogs who often suffer from conditions such as arthritis, massage can help to relieve some of the pain, loosen up their tight muscles and help to slow down the degenerative process.
In an article I read by Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, an author and licensed massage therapist titled How to Massage an Arthritic Dog he suggests the following routine for aiding senior dogs with arthritis:
"Start by lightly stroking the area you are about to massage. Follow with several effleurages – light strokes with very little pressure – to get the circulation going.
Next, use a very light kneading motion (petrissage) over the tight muscles, as well as some very light hand friction to loosen the muscle fibers and stimulate deeper circulation. Intersperse with effleurages regularly – about every 10 seconds – to assist drainage. Do not work directly over the joints afflicted with arthritis, but rather, around them to stimulate circulation."
No more than 10-15 minutes is needed per session.
If you are like me then visuals go a long way. I found this video by the Northwest School of Animal Massage very helpful:
I hope you will give some of these techniques a try with your senior dog. It will be beneficial on a physical and emotional level to both you and your dog. I for one am going to include massage time as part of my quality time with all my seniors :)
Ann-Marie Fleming is the Founder & CEO of Dog Quality, a provider of products focused on improving the quality of life for older dogs.