Canine massage for healing

It’s not just an offbeat trend. Canine massage is gaining recognition as a beneficial healing modality.

Think massage and you probably envision having your back muscles unknotted by a professional masseuse. You may not think about massage in relation to your dog. But consider this – whenever you scratch his ears or give him a belly rub, you’re giving him a rudimentary form of canine massage. Next time you pet your dog in this way, notice how it seems to calm him, and how much he enjoys it. Now imagine how true massage might be able to benefit his overall health and well being.

For this article, we spoke to Jonathan Rudinger, founder and president of PetMassage, and Becky Brandenburg of Brandenburg Massage Therapy, for their expertise on canine massage.

AW: What are the benefits of massage for dogs?

JR: Massage has the same effect on dogs as it does on you and me. It increases cardiovascular and lymphatic circulation, joint flexibility and muscle tone, strengthens attachments of muscles and ligaments, enhances skin and hair, and supports balance and homeostasis in all body functions, relaxing the body and mind.

BB: The main benefit of massage therapy is an increase in circulation. All other benefits begin with enhanced blood flow. Massage also nourishes the muscle system, thereby enhancing movement. It extends range of motion by lengthening muscle fiber, resulting in more comfortable motion and a longer stride. Regular massage will help muscles stay toned and healthy. It’s a wonderful preventative and a powerful addition to your dog’s well being.

AW: What issues can canine massage help with?

JR: Massage can provide relief from every ailment based on stressors and stress. These can include physical traumas, autoimmune system failures, chronic and acute diseases, hip dysplasia, structural deformities and weaknesses. Some specific ailments massage helps with are stiffness, soreness, imbalanced movements, arthritic conditions, and post surgical rehabilitation. Many of our massage practitioners work at agility and flyball competitions, providing dogs with warm-up, muscle energizing and toning, and post-race cool-down massage.

BB: Any issues that reduce movement, whether structural problems or those resulting from injury, can be helped by massage. Illness or injury, overexertion, lack of exercise or the aging process can all lead to circulation issues that will affect maximum efficiency of movement. Physical therapy is most often applied after an injury, and massage can be a valuable component of this therapy. Muscles are compensatory. For example, if there is a problem in the hips, the animal will adjust his weight forward to ease the strain behind. As a result, the front end becomes over-worked. A full body massage will help restore balance in movement and comfort.

AW: Are there different types of canine massage?

JR: There’s sports massage, medical massage, relaxation massage, cranial sacral massage, myofascial release massage, and energy work massage. The form I teach includes gentle cranial sacral, myofascial release to create a sense of balance and harmony within the dog’s body and mind. Another form we teach is delivered in a heated swimming pool. Very different from underwater treadmill work, it moves the dog through the water, giving her an aquatic experience that encourages her tissues to actually fl oat away from her bones, allowing more freedom of movement and body awareness.

BB: I provide and teach sports massage. It is deep tissue therapeutic massage. It addresses performance issues and also works as conditioning for less active and senior dogs. If a muscle becomes stressed, it will shrink in length, thereby shortening the contraction. This in turn will shorten movement – smaller steps, smaller stride, less ability to turn the body. By increasing circulation, massage lengthens muscles and connective tissues back to full stride and flexibility/mobility.

AW: Can anyone do canine massage?

JR: Yes. Most professional training courses are excellent. Some are very medical based, some focus on sports massage, some on rehabilitation, some on energy-based practices. Do your homework. Look at testimonials to find out what other students have said. PetMassage attracts people who love animals and are looking for an outlet for their passion for helping them. We have taught all ages, from high school kids to seniors. Students will learn massage theory and technique, basic canine anatomy, physiology and pathology as it applies to a massage practice. They will be introduced to canine behavior and training approaches.

BB: My course teaches basic anatomy, physiology, muscle function and ethics. I offer a massage class for the dog owner and also work with my clients on simple massage techniques they can do between sessions. The hands on techniques will deepen your bond with your dog while providing the increase in circulation essential to good health.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.