As we get older, our joints start to deteriorate. Cartilage doesn’t last forever, and as it wears down with age, the stress our bodies deal with goes up. Bad knees become back problems. Worn-out shoulders mean less arm strength. It’s all just part of getting older—for both you and your dog.
Joint problems are common in older dogs—especially breeds like Shepherds, Huskies, Labradors and larger dogs. As dogs get into their teen years, the years of walking, running, jumping, paddling and balancing begin to take their toll. Your furry friend might slow down or be a little slower in getting up, for example. Some other symptoms of joint pain in older dogs include:
- Lagging behind on walks
- Stiffness or limping
- Sleeping more
- Reluctance to jump or go up and down stairs
- Excessive licking of a sore joint
As these symptoms of aging become more pronounced, many people look for ways to help their senior dog live pain-free. Adding a ramp up to the bed or hoisting them into and out of a car are simple examples that can take stress off the joints. But there’s one thing many people don’t realize they can do for their senior dog: treat them to a massage!
4 benefits of canine massage
Before getting into the how and why to massage your dog, let’s take a look at some of the proven benefits of canine massage. Here are the four most important:
- Stress relief: Gentle massage alleviates stored stress in muscles and helps your dog truly relax, giving their joints and muscles a release they might not otherwise experience.
- Better blood flow: Blood flow is vital for healing. Massage directs blood flow to the area you’re massaging while bringing oxygenated blood to inflamed areas to treat them.
- Better oxygenation: As your dog relaxes and becomes calm during a massage, they’ll breathe deeply. This promotes better blood oxygenation, which aids in healing.
- Improve flexibility: Old joints are stiff joints! Massaging them loosens them up and makes them more limber, restoring range of motion and flexibility to your old dog.
These benefits all add up to one big one for your senior dog: relief. Just like you feel better after someone rubs away all of your stress, tension and pain, your dog is going to get up from a canine massage feeling years younger.
Does massage really work?
Joint pain is largely inflammatory. When we put pressure on our joints, they become inflamed. Likewise, taking pressure off those joints alleviates inflammation—as does circulating blood to the area. This is exactly what massage does.
A canine massage works just like a massage for humans. Using broad, pressure-controlled strokes, a canine masseuse will ease stress to muscle groups and joints in affected areas, stimulating blood flow and releasing stress. This, in turn, lowers inflammation in nearby joints.
Massage may not cure your dog of their joint problems, but it can certainly provide temporary relief and give your dog a natural treatment to alleviate pain.
Can I massage my dog at home?
Absolutely! In fact, most canine massage advocates believe it’s best for a dog’s owner to administer the massage. Not only does your dog trust you enough to relax while you massage them, but the bond between you will grow as they realize the healing intent of your touch. Like giving them a treat or taking them for a walk, giving your dog a massage becomes something they recognize as an expression of love and kindness.
But before you grab your dog and start rubbing their joints, realize that massage is a purposeful technique. You don’t need to be a massage expert, but you do need to know what will help alleviate stress and inflammation, versus what might be uncomfortable or painful for your dog.
It’s best to speak to your vet or a canine massage professional before beginning, but there are also many helpful resources for learning appropriate canine massage techniques online:
- Massage Techniques from the American Kennel Club
- Simple Canine Massage Therapy Techniques from PetMD
- Types of Canine Massage from the Canine Journal
The key to a good massage for your pup is light pressure, gentle motions and a soothing, calming touch. Make sure you’re affecting areas that your dog has trouble with, such as thighs and legs, as well as shoulders and back. If your dog expresses discomfort or pain, don’t continue to put pressure on the area to avoid hurting them.
If your dog has a degenerative condition or is overcoming an injury, it might be best to schedule an appointment with a practiced canine massage specialist. Most vets can refer you to a reputable practitioner, who can talk with you about the best course of action for massaging your dog.
Whether you treat your dog to a gentle massage every few days or schedule routine appointments for someone else to do it, treating a senior dog to a regular canine massage is one of the most compassionate ways to care for them as their body begins to show its age.