Getting a Rubdown: The Benefits of Sports and Therapeutic Massage for Dogs
Human touch can be highly beneficial to pets, so it probably comes as no surprise that massage can have healing benefits.
In fact, when done properly, animal massage can help dogs recover from injury, become less stressed and speed up rehabilitation after surgery or accidents.
We talked to Kat Scicluna, an ESCMT (Equine Canine Sports Massage Therapist), animal wrangler, and filmmaker in NYC, to learn more about medical massage and how it can be used on our furry companions.
The Honest Kitchen: Most people roll their eyes at using massages as medical treatment, but it can actually be very useful. Can you give us an idea of what ailments and problems massage can help with?
Kat Scicluna: I get that a lot. Because massage therapy is such a pleasing experience, it is seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. That couldn’t be further from the case. In people, massage releases muscle tension, stimulates oxygen flow, releases toxins, and gives an overall feeling of relax and wellness. To me, that isn’t a luxury but a necessity. And the same can be said for animals. Canines, for example, have a lot of neck strain. They are staring up at us or staring down at their food bowl a majority of the time. Think about the tension that puts on their neck and upper body. The muscles benefit greatly from tissue massage for relief from that continued position.
Also, many animals suffer from hip dysplasia from long amounts of standing, as well as other issues. Massage in the hips is incredibly beneficial for them, and wanted. I have had canines raise their head and lick me when I am working on their hips. They understand and appreciate what is happening.
THK: What about emotional issues such as fear, depression, stress, etc.?
Kat Scicluna: Many animals do not experience a lot of human contact. Consider animals that are in foster systems or up for adoption. I do volunteer work with several groups when they are doing adoption clinics. I show up early and begin rotating the foster animals through a series of short massages that will put them at ease and in a relaxed state. It makes the foster clinics more enjoyable for both sides as the fosters are calmer and more apt to human contact after massages. Easier to adopt out!
THK: What are some of the massage techniques used in canine massage therapy?
Kat Scicluna: All massage schools teach differently but when I decided to get into this line of work, I wanted to learn from the original and the best and that is Mary Schreiber of Equissage based in Virginia. She created a myriad of techniques from tip to tail that animals truly benefit from and appreciate. For me, I love doing leg and hip work the most. My clients always appreciate it.
THK: If you had to mention a condition or two that respond particularly well to therapeutic massage, what would those be?
Kat Scicluna: One of my clients had to have her kneecaps replaced. She was an American Bulldog, complete muscle and absolutely in pain. After several sessions together she was back to being super physical and playful again. I, myself, have an adopted Chihuahua-Daschund named Q*bert. He is a very nervous, uptight and frantic little guy. When his tension is high, I give him a good deep tissue massage. After the massage his temperament has calmed down and he can relax and play with his sister, Binti. The benefits for massage are everywhere.
THK: Is massage right for every dog? If not, what things might make a dog a poor candidate for massage?
Kat Scicluna: Just like massage doesn’t work for some people, massage may not work for some animals. If you’re dealing with an overly aggressive or previously abused dog, that could take a long time to build that trust in a relationship before you could even attempt massage therapy. An animal who has a history of biting would never have a massage from me. A potential injury could prevent my work with hundreds of animals in the future who are open and receptive to massage.
THK: What does therapeutic massage entail? What is a typical session like?
Kat Scicluna: Think about a spa massage: dim lights, gentle music, essential oils. That is what animals get when they receive massage from many ECSMTs. When we consider how heightened an animals senses are to sound and smell, incorporating music and oils can only make a session better. Just like for people.
THK: Why is it important to work with a well-trained massage therapist (instead of just a “regular” person offering dog massages)? And how do you find somebody with the right experience/accreditation?
Kat Scicluna: Without proper training, giving an incorrect massage can do more damage than good. Finding an ECSMT who has studied the muscles and the body movement and who has had months of hands-on training is the only practical and proper thing to do. We know how to find the zones that need the most work, when to avoid certain parts of the body and how long to dispense pressure and techniques.