COVID-19 Update: AAHA staff is currently working remotely and will support our members virtually. All orders are currently shipping as normal.
Click here for more information.

Should my pet get a massage?

The joys of a relaxing massage are no longer just for people. Pets also are reaping the benefits, as veterinary hospitals realize that the positive outcomes from a massage can go beyond calming and stress reduction to relieving pain and promoting optimal body function.

What is pet massage?

Massage is the manipulation of body soft tissues to restore or maintain health. Pet massage is a form of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture or laser therapy, that can complement or even replace traditional medical treatments. Massage can be used as part of injury rehabilitation or to provide a relaxing experience for your pet. There are more than 70 human massage techniques, many of which also can be used on animal patients. The most common types of pet massage include:

  • Swedish massage — Swedish massage, the most commonly used form, employs various techniques to relax or invigorate muscles.
  • Shiatsu — This form of Japanese massage involves applying finger pressure at specific points on the body to increase circulation and stimulate nerves.
  • Myotherapy — Also known as trigger-point massage, myotherapy involves applying direct pressure over tight and painful trigger points to push blood out of the tissue. Pressure is then released to allow blood to refill the tissue, relieving tension and pain.
  • Sports massage — Massage can help animals participating in sporting events maintain optimal performance and facilitate healing of injured tissues. Event massage can be used before, during, or after competition, while maintenance massage prevents injury and speeds healing between events.

How can massage help my pet?

When your pet’s sore muscles, tendons, and joints are massaged, tension melts away, leaving her more comfortable and relaxed. The many benefits of pet massage include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Increased relaxation
  • Increased blood and lymphatic circulation
  • Decreased pain
  • More restful sleep
  • Decreased swelling
  • Enhanced blood oxygen levels

Which pets can benefit from massage?

Although most pets benefit from relaxation, the following patients also can experience therapeutic effects:

  • Elderly pets with arthritis
  • Athletes, such as dogs and horses
  • Pets with muscle or nerve injuries

Massage particularly can be helpful for pets who can’t take medications due to liver or kidney disease—and for cats, who have limited anti-inflammatory options.

How is pet massage performed?

Swedish massage uses a variety of tissue manipulations, such as:

  • Effleurage—Gliding strokes that follow the body’s contours at the beginning of a massage to warm up the tissue, and at the end to flush out lactic acid
  • Petrissage—Kneading the tissue to remove metabolic waste and improve circulation
  • Friction—Applied over tendonitis sites, trigger points, and joints to increase circulation and break down scar tissue
  • Tapotement—A repetitive tapping motion to stimulate nerve endings or cause sedation when used for longer time periods
  • Vibration—A rapid shaking of the tissue to relax muscles, reduce trigger point tension, and increase joint mobility

Most massages last between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the size of the animal. Pets typically enjoy massage and relax during treatments. 

Where can I find a pet massage therapist?

If you would like to try massage therapy for your pet, start with your AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital’s team. Only a licensed healthcare professional can receive formal training to be a certified veterinary massage therapist. Ask for proof of certification or check out The Healing Oasis to find graduates of a reputable training program.