If you think that massage therapy is a treatment only for human beings, think again. Increasingly pet owners – and especially dog owners – are turning to pet massage therapy as a way of ensuring the health and well being of their beloved animals.
But what exactly is pet or canine massage therapy?
In technical terms, canine or pet massage is the hands-on therapeutic application of deep tissue massage to the muscles of an animal – specifically the voluntary muscles.
The purpose of this therapy is to increase blood circulation to the muscle, relieve tension, promote healing in the tissue, insure full range of motion, and reduce tension and muscle spasms.
And needless to say, most dogs and other animals find massage a pleasurable and calming experience on many levels. As you’re well aware if you own one, canines are very emotional creatures. They experience all of the same emotions that people do, from fear to love, to happiness and sadness, loneliness, stress, and everything in between.
The touch of a human being is a factor in all of these behaviors and emotions, from birth all through the animal’s life cycle. Just as humans who are held more by their mothers as infants tend to grown into calmer, better adjusted adults, dogs and other animals respond to human touch as well.
In animals, much of their emotional conditioning is a result of the quality and amount of human touch that they’ve received in their past.
It’s been shown that puppies that have been deprived of human touch grow up to have significant physical and emotional problems, including depressed immune systems, reduced social skills, higher anxiety and stress levels, and are even smaller in stature than puppies that were held and touched in infancy.
On the other hand, dogs and other animals that have received love and a positive touch experience growing up tend to be more at ease, more “comfortable in their own skin.” They’re happier, healthier, more outgoing and affectionate, and are the kind of pets that everyone enjoys being around.
What the job is really like?
It’s the pet or canine massage therapist’s job to identify the areas on the animal that need the most attention, and that would benefit from deep tissue massage therapy. Animals can’t speak, of course, and can’t say where they hurt, or what’s ailing them. And so the pet massage therapist has to be a bit of a detective in that regard.
If the animal is in post-surgery or post-traumatic rehabilitation, then medical massage therapy is especially effective. Once the areas for treatment have been identified, the therapist can go to work.
If a specific limb on the animal is at issue, then a specific technique of strokes or pressure is applied as the limb is manipulated. As you might expect, this procedure requires that both participants work together, and the animal needs to be relaxed and at ease as the massage provider touches and administers treatment.
It goes without saying that pet or canine massage therapists should be animal lovers, and be comfortable working with pets, even when they become anxious or unruly.
Dogs and other animals that are in pain can become agitated, and can lash out in unexpected ways, so the therapist needs to be able to anticipate these events and adjust the treatment accordingly.
The animal massage therapist engages in a sort of non-verbal contract with the patient animal, with the animal giving “permission” for the therapist to administer treatment to the affected area. This is usually an ongoing process, as the animal tracks each new touch, each new tissue massage or limb manipulation.
As you might expect, this type of work can be very rewarding. There are few things more satisfying to an animal lover than bonding with a dog or other animal, and knowing that they’ve helped relieve its pain and suffering, even for just a while.
Training and certification
Currently, pet or canine massage therapy is a non-regulated profession in the US, and there is no national certification or test procedure.
There are a number of schools in the US that offer courses and training in this type of pet massage therapy. Many of these courses lead to diplomas or certificates in this subject, and the graduate can either find work in the field, or start his or her own business as a professional therapist.
Bear in mind the importance of choosing the school where you’ll be studying carefully. This is another field that has no standardization, and the price, length and quality of the courses in this area of study very widely. As a general rule the longer the course, and the more intensive, will usually yield the best education in the long run, and the best value for your hard-earned education dollars.
Another route that many take into this career field is by becoming a massage therapist for humans first. That way you’ll be able to broaden your client base by giving massages to people as well as horses.