After a long, hard day, nothing can match a soothing massage to relax your muscles and calm your mind. Have you ever wondered if animals enjoy getting a massage as much as humans do? Dogs in particular seem to love having the knots worked out (gently, of course!), and regularly massaging your pooch has multiple physical and emotional benefits for both you and your dog.
Probably the number one reason people enjoy getting a massage is for relaxation – and a massage will accomplish the same thing for your dog! An added benefit is that while you are helping your canine friend relax, you’ll enjoy a bit of R&R as well. Studies show that petting an animal lowers people’s blood pressure and improves their mood.
Read our list below to learn 7 of the top reasons to start massaging your dog.
1. Stress Relief (for both of you!)
While everyone knows that getting a massage is one of the most relaxing activities around, science now backs up our common knowledge as study after study demonstrates the many ways that massage therapy promotes relaxation and lowers stress levels.
First, massage has been shown to release endorphins, which are “feel-good” chemicals that result in an improved mood and sense of well-being. In addition to endorphins, other chemicals that rise in respone to massage therapy include dopamine and serotonin. These special hormones have been linked to a reduction in levels of depression and a more relaxed mental state, all of which add up to a healthier, happier pooch!
In addition to the feel-good endorphins, massage also decreases stress hormones in the blood, providing a second way to help your dog relax.
2. Faster Injury Healing
Whether your dog is young or old, super active or more of a couch ornament, he or she is susceptible to injuries from a variety of causes. One of my dogs, a rescued German Shepherd puppy, has neurological problems from an injury she sustained at 3 months of age. These issues put her at higher risk for future injuries because she isn’t very aware of where her feet are, which can make for some pretty awkward games of fetch! She has repeatedly injured her front leg from landing on it wrong, and rest and massage are always the methods we use to get her up and running – or at least walking – again. She loves her massages and usually falls asleep long before it’s over!
Massage increases blood flow, which is crucial for wound healing. Not only does adequate circulation ensure that oxygen and other nutrients are making it to the injury site, it also allows toxins to be carried away and out of the body. Massage has also been demonstrated to help improve edema, or tissue swelling, in humans. Edema often accompanies the inflammation associated with wounds.
By decreasing pain (see #7), massage also aids the healing process by allowing for more relaxed movement. In dogs with an injured limb, massage can help release tension in the other limbs, which is especially beneficial if the dog is overcompensating to protect the injured one.
And last but definitely not least, studies have shown that massage therapy boosts the immune system, leading to a direct effect on wound healing. If your dog has an injury, talk to your vet about safe massage methods that can assist in the healing process.
4. Lower Blood Pressure
By reducing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, massage gives your dog calm vibes that are associated with lowered blood pressure. Studies conducted on humans during massage have shown reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as decreased heart rates. If your dog becomes so calm during their massage that you put them to sleep, you’ll know you’ve done your job well!
As mentioned above, the effects of massaging a dog are as positive for the one doing the massaging as they are for the dog. Petting an animal lowers blood pressure and improves emotional well-being in people, and who couldn’t use a little of that these days?
5. Enhanced Emotional Wellness
A dog can get stressed by various factors – thunderstorms, honking horns, another dog barking outside, you name it. This can be a great time to give him or her a relaxing massage to turn their attention away from the stressor and toward you. If you are having trouble getting your dog calm enough to enjoy a massage, try taking them for a walk first if possible, playing a short game of fetch, or using a few treats to focus their attention on you. Then settle them on their bed or another cozy spot, and let the massage begin!
Dogs who are anxious in general, perhaps not to any certain stressor but to all kinds of little things, can benefit greatly from regular – even daily – massages. Just 5 or 10 minutes a day of a gentle rubdown will calm their minds, and over time they will get more and more used to that calm state of mind.
If you have a dog with separation anxiety, try giving them a short massage right before you leave to help them wind down. This can really help your dog stay calm when you’re not there, reducing the anxiety they feel when they’re alone.
6. A Stronger Bond
Massaging your dog is a great way to grow closer and enjoy some relaxed time together. Your canine buddy will appreciate the attention, and you’ll be able to just appreciate being with them, with no excitement or pressure. Once your dog gets used to being massaged and associates the relaxed, positive feelings with you, they will quickly figure out that you are the one giving them that relaxation, and the connection between the two of you will grow stronger. This will in turn lead to easier training sessions and fewer behavioral issues – a true win-win!
Another benefit of this together time is that you’ll be able to pick up on your dog’s reactions to your massage over time. If your dog usually loves to have her shoulders rubbed, for instance, but pulls back the next time you massage them, it could be a signal that something is wrong and needs to be checked out. You can also keep an eye out for any bumps or spots that you haven’t noticed before.
7. Pain Relief
Remember those endorphins that help your dog feel relaxed and happy? It turns out they also help to decrease pain. For a dog with an injury or chronic pain from arthritis or another source, massage can be a powerful way to help them feel better.
In addition to the pain relief your dog will enjoy from the production of endorphins, the relaxation achieved from massaging muscles and gently moving joints also lowers pain levels. Since less pain is associated with faster healing, your puppy will be up and playing fetch with you that much sooner!
For dogs who are athletes, stiff and sore muscles after intense exercise can be a problem just as they are for human athletes. Massage helps to reduce after-workout muscle stiffness, soreness, and fatigue, allowing your dog to recover from that dock diving session and be ready to go again! In addition, massage can help boost athletic performance, one reason why many human sports teams employ massage therapists. Your canine athlete can benefit from a massage, too!
8. Increased Joint Movement
Dogs with stiff joints will particularly enjoy the right kind of massage. You’ll need to be careful not to extend any limbs beyond the point that your dog can easily tolerate, of course. But gently and slowly moving their legs as you massage is a great way to gradually increase their range of motion. The relaxed state they are in while you massage helps joints to move more freely than when they are walking or running.
If your dog suffers from arthritis, try massaging them in the morning when they wake up. Mornings can be a particularly stiff time of day for older pets and those with arthritis, and a brief, gentle massage can help loosen their joints and get them ready for the day.
For tips on how to give your dog a massage, check out the AKC website, which has detailed instructions. Remember to be gentle and start slowly with small circles on their neck and head, watching your dog’s reactions to make sure they are enjoying the massage. If they pull back or become tense, back up and start with simply rubbing their head until they’re relaxed again. If your dog has injuries or special physical needs, check with your veterinarian to learn which types of massage will be the most beneficial for your dog.
The next time you and your dog go for a run or enjoy a long play session, end it with a nice massage. Your dog will thank you, and you’ll end up more relaxed too!