We all know how relaxing a massage can feel after a long day or a particularly stressful week, but did you know the benefits of massage go well beyond relaxation and can be just as valuable for our pets as it is for us? Massage is one of the oldest healing arts, known to reduce stress and anxiety; alleviate joint and muscle pain; improve circulation, lymphatic flow, and flexibility; and lessen healing time from injury. Canine massage provides the same benefits to your pup and the bonuses of helping you to identify potential health issues and building and strengthening the bond you share.

Here are six stellar reasons to pamper your pooch with a massage:

  1. Reduce Stress and Anxiety. Massage is proven to help reduce stress and anxiety, which is good for everyone, but especially for those anxious dogs who need a little extra reassurance and calming. Massage can help calm a dog experiencing situational stress from stimuli like a thunderstorm or a vet visit. And, for those generally anxious dogs, you can take it a step further, incorporating massage into your dogs daily routine to provide a predictable and comforting form of relaxation.
  2. Improve Body Functions. Massage increases circulation and lymphatic flow, providing benefits to the entire body. Regular massage can help your dog maintain healthy skin and coat, decrease blood pressure and the risk of developing health conditions like hypertension and edema, strengthen the immune system, assist with digestion, stimulate the liver and kidneys, promote deeper breathing, and help prevent injury and post play/workout soreness.
  3. Relieve Pain. Our dogs love to be active, but a long day of hiking or swimming can leave them with aches and pains. Massage can help relax your dogs sore muscles and release areas of tension. Aging dogs with joint pain, arthritis, or other issues like joint dysplasia may appreciate a massage for the same reasons.
  4. Assist in Healing and Recovery. Just like the massage aspects of physical and occupational therapy for humans, canine massage can be incredibly helpful for pets rehabilitating from injury or surgery. Speak with your veterinary care team about techniques you can use at home to help reduce pain and swelling, quicken the healing time for sprains and strains, and limit the buildup of scar tissue.
  5. Helps You Identify Potential Health Problems. An added benefit to regularly massaging your pet is familiarizing yourself with your dogs body, enabling you to recognize any changes that may occur or issues you need to bring to your vets attention. Early detection of potential issues like unusual swelling or lumps, sensitivity to touch, changes in surface temperature, or variations in your dogs skin or hair, can help you and your vet to ensure a long and healthy life for your pet.
  6. Strengthens Your Bond and Relationship. Time and again, research and experience show us that touch is essential for the physical and mental well-being of all animals, humans and dogs included. And there isnt a dog owner out there who wont tell you that time with their favorite four-legged friend can make even the worst of days better. Massaging your pup allows you to set aside a relaxing time and space for you and your dog; time to put the busy world on hold, time to bond, and a reason for you to feel good about the love, attention, and potential health benefits you are providing for your pet.

The American Kennel Club suggests three simple steps to start practicing an at-home massage routine with your pet.

Step 1: Pick a quiet part of the house for the massage to help your dog feel calm. Do not try to massage if your pet is overly fearful. First, softly stroke the area of interest. Use flat palms to press against the skin lightly. Move your hands slowly using long, sweeping motions. While massaging, take note of any swelling, increased sensitivity, and pain. Stop if it seems to hurt your dog.

Step 2: Using the technique described above, start from the head and neck, and work down the body, gently increasing pressure if your dog seems to be enjoying it. Do not press straight down on bones or joints. Avoid areas where your dog doesnt like to be touched.

Step 3:  A gentle massage at the base of the skull and the base of the tail can stimulate relaxation. Remember to make the experience enjoyable—stop if your dog recoils, cries out, or seems to be in pain.

Professional massage therapy and other integrative treatments, like acupuncture, hydrotherapy, chiropractic adjustments, and cold laser therapy are also available to help alleviate pain and soreness in dogs. Speak with your vet or veterinary specialist about whether any of these treatments are right for your dog.