Giving your dog a massage is a great way to bond with your pet. It also helps to spot potential health problems, like tumors or sore spots, before they get out of hand. Massaging a dog is different from massaging a person. Instead of doing a deep tissue massage to loosen muscles, the aim is to use gentle motions that help your pet relax and make them feel comfortable. Consider pairing a massage with a grooming session to help your dog feel healthy, happy and loved.
How to massage a dog to relax it
Begin with gentle petting. Pet your dog in the spots you know he likes best. This will help him settle down and get relaxed enough to enjoy the massage. Pet him on the head, tummy, back, and other spots using gentle strokes.
Let your dog sit, lie or stand in a comfortable position.
Have a calm, relaxed demeanor and speak to your dog in soft tones. You can use your fingers or a canine massage mitt in conjunction with special canine massage oil incorporating aromatherapy into your session.
Massage the dog’s neck. Use the tips of your fingers to make a circular motion just below the head. Apply gentle pressure, but not so much you make your dog uncomfortable.
If you have a small dog, use smaller motions. For a larger dog, use larger motions.
Don’t press your dog’s body so hard that he flinches. Remember, you’re not trying to do a deep tissue massage. You just want to rub his body to help him feel calm and bond with him.
Move down to the shoulders. Slowly work your way down the neck and to in between his shoulders. This is usually the dog’s favorite spot because it is one of the few places he can’t reach himself, so spend extra time there.
Next, do the legs and the chest. Some dogs don’t like being touched on the legs; if your dog finches, remove your hands and move to the next part of the body. If he likes it, see if he wants a paw massage, too.
Massage your dog’s back. Work your way back up to between the shoulders and slowly travel down the back. Use small circular motions with your fingers on either side of the spine.
Finish with the back legs. Continue massaging until you end up at the base of the tail. Gently massage down the dog’s back legs. Continue to the paws if your dog enjoys having his feet picked up.
Helping Your Dog Feel Comfortable
Massage at a peaceful time of day. Do it during a time when you and your dog are already in a relaxed state of mind, like at the end of the day after dinner. This will make it easier for your dog to relax under your touch.
Don’t massage your dog when he’s worked up for some reason or another. It’s better to wait until he’s already pretty calm.
Don’t massage your dog if he’s not feeling well. Simple petting will do. He might not be up for getting massaged.
Work your way up to a five or ten-minute massage. Your dog may not like the massage at first, and it could just be that he’s not used to it. See if your dog likes being massaged for about a minute, then work your way up to longer massages. As long as your dog enjoys it, there’s no limit to how long you can massage him. Five or ten will give you enough time to massage his whole body thoroughly.
Stop if your dog doesn’t like it. The point of a massage is to help your dog feel happy and relaxed, so don’t do it if he doesn’t like it. If he’s happy being massaged, he’ll stretch out and breathe easily. If he doesn’t like it he may do the following –
Stiffening when you move from simple petting to massage
Biting at your hand
Consider grooming your dog as part of your massage session. Since your dog is already calm and relaxed, it might be a good time to brush or clip his nails as well. Only do this if your dog actually enjoys the process of being groomed. Otherwise, he’ll come to associate massage time with discomfort and anxiety. It is also an ideal time to apply a topical paw pad and elbow cream to soothe dry and cracked pads and elbow areas.
For more on grooming check out “DIY Dog Grooming at Home”
Some dogs enjoy a massage, while others do not. If your dog flinches, don’t continue massaging. Forcing it could cause your dog to feel worse instead of better.
Feel for lumps and areas that are inflamed. Massaging your dog regularly is a great way to examine his body for sore spots that might need attention from a vet. Take note of lumps or bruised areas that you haven’t noticed before. Pay special attention if your dog yelps when you touch him in a certain spot. If you notice something alarming, take your dog to the vet to have it checked out
The best way to feel for lumps is to run your hands over your dog’s body in a smooth, long stroke. Feel the stomach, legs, chest, and back. Make sure you don’t miss any spots.
Leave deep tissue massage to a professional. If you think your dog could benefit from a good deep tissue massage, make an appointment with a trained animal massage service. Deep tissue massage can be beneficial for animals, but if you’re not intimately familiar with dog anatomy you could actually end up injuring your pet
Taking the collar off can make it easier to get all of the neck areas.
Dogs love having their tummies scratched. Take a bit of time to just pat them and love them up too.
With smaller dogs just use your fingertips, but still, apply pressure as needed.
Dogs also love having their ears massaged too!
It’s key to give them the massage in a quiet area, it sets the mood for them and calms them down
Signs your dog may have arthritis
If you notice your dog losing muscle mass (muscle atrophy), any visible sign of lameness or limping or they are having trouble getting up they may have arthritis.
Dogs with arthritis also tend to lick their affected limbs to sooth them, and some can develop spinal issues that can lead to a hunched posture. If you suspect your dog does have arthritis, consult with your veterinarian to discuss pain relief. Arthritis cannot be cured and will probably worsen over time but it can be managed.
For more information on arthritis in dogs read “How to exercise an arthritic dog”
What is hip dysplasia in dogs?
Hip Dysplasia is an inherited condition resulting from an improperly formed hip joint. As a result of the joint being loose, the dog’s hind leg bone moves around causing wear and tear of the joint and give them pain.
Hip Dysplasia can begin to develop in puppies as young as five months and steadily grow worse as they age. In other cases, it may not show up until the dog has reached old age. Commonly, it becomes noticeable in a dog’s middle to later years.
Hip Dysplasia generally affects large breed dogs such as German Shepherds, Mastiffs, St Bernards, Rottweilers, and Retrievers. However, it can affect any breed or size and often is also seen in breeds such as Pugs and French Bulldogs.
Symptoms of Hip Dysplasia in dogs
How to tell if your dog has hip dysplasia. Some cases of hip dysplasia are very mild and the dog may show few symptoms. Signs to look out for include
– the dog seems stiff or sore in hips getting up
– they are hesitant to stand on their hind legs
– the dog avoids climbing stairs
For more information on hip dysplasia read “Exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia”
How to massage a dog with Arthritis or Hip Dysplasia
Use massage to help ease your dog’s pain. If your dog is on the older side and suffers from arthritis or hip dysplasia, massage can help. Very gently massage around the area that’s affected, using a kneading motion to help relieve the pain. Do not press too hard, and do not massage directly over the affected area.
With your dog laying on their sides start by gently rubbing your dog all over to warm the muscles and to stimulate blood flood throughout the body.
In addition to massaging your dog with hip dysplasia or arthritic dog, you can do some range of motion stretches. Range of motion exercises gently moves the joint through the full range of motion. This range runs form bent (flexion) to straight (extension)
To perform a range of motion exercise start with your dog laying on their side with the limb you are exercising pointing toward you. Place one hand above or below the joint you are working within a natural position (not flexed or extended) you the dog is without pain. Flex or bend the limb as slowly as possible until it reaches a natural flexed position. Stop if your dog shows any signs of pain. Hold that flex for 3 to 5 seconds.
Then slowly return the limb to the starting position and extend it all the way out until it is straight.
Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times holding for 3 to 5 seconds each time. Stop if your dog shows any pain or discomfort or simply doesn’t want to do it.
Additional things you can do for your dog with hip dysplasia or arthritis
Provide traction on slippery floors: Dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis often have a hard time on slippery floors, so lay carpet down on floors and stairs if they need to climb stairs.
If they need to jump up into the car, a car ramp will make it a lot easier on them. You can also place a heating pad on the hip or affected area for 15 minutes twice a day and provide them with a firm orthopedic bed. Keep your dog out of damp and chilly areas.
Recommended for a dog massage