Animal massage, like massage for humans, has been practiced since ancient times, in Egyptian, Roman, Chinese, and American Indian civilizations. Massage can have the same benefits for animals as it does for humans: touch stimulation can help animals thrive in domesticity while also going beyond simple petting in providing love and attention to the animal. Today, many animal athletes, helpers and pets alike are able to receive massage therapy from trained professionals. While the techniques used may vary, they tend to be similar to those used on people.
What Is Animal Massage?
Animal massage describes the general range of massage techniques used on domesticated animals, most often those that perform in athletic competitions—racehorses, dogs, and so on. Domesticated animals have long been known to benefit from simple touch, and it is believed massage may help to replace group activities, such as social grooming, that would fulfill touch and stimulation needs for animals in the wild.
The practice of animal massage has been noted in history since the early days of horse racing and may have even existed prior to recorded history. Many of the claimed benefits of animal therapy have yet to be supported by scientific evidence, which is still somewhat scarce, and it is therefore categorized as an alternative field. It should be noted that the inability to support some of the claims may also be the result of difficulties in measuring some of the concepts (psychological changes, for example). Studies in the field, many of which show promise, are ongoing.
Animal Massage Techniques
There are several approaches to animal massage that provide treatment to specific animals. These approaches draw from a variety of traditional alternative therapies, such as acupressure. A branded technique called Equissage is designed for the treatment of horses, while the focus of canine sports massage therapy is dogs involved in athletic activities. Some techniques are appropriate for small animals, like cats and dogs, while others are only safe for use on larger creatures, such as horses and elephants.
Animal massage often includes a psychological component that provides benefit beyond the effects of the massage itself. Interaction with an animal—through talking, body language, and so on—is likely to facilitate the formation of a bond that improves overall trust and well-being, or strengthen a bond that is already there. Some approaches to animal massage may place great emphasis on the role of compassion in the massage process.
What To Consider When Seeking an Animal Massage Therapist
There is no evidence that animal massage has the potential to cause harm, though the deeper massage techniques that may be used can potentially be dangerous if an underlying condition, such as blood clots or infection, exists. It is generally recommended to seek a consultation with a veterinarian before taking an animal to a massage session.
Many practitioners of animal massage do pursue certification through one of the several programs that exist to teach Equissage, canine sports massage, or some other variant of animal massage. However, being certified is not a requirement for people to practice animal massage, and people seeking an animal massage therapist may want to utilize the internet or other sources to research any potential animal massage therapist before choosing to use their services.
The Benefits of Animal Massage
Animal massage, like massage intended for humans, is widely promoted as an effective method to both improve muscle circulation and relieve tension. Evidence supporting these claims in non-human animals is currently limited. Some preliminary research on horses used for riding seems to support these claims, especially in the context of stress relief for these animals. Studies have also shown some promising support for the use of massage to ease growing pains in young large-breed dogs.
It can be difficult to evaluate any mental benefits and effects of animal massage, mainly because the acknowledgement and inclusion of animal psychology in scientific studies is still an ongoing process. It is relatively safe to say that the therapy is likely to be an effective method of easing anxiety in animals who have previously been deprived of touch, as there is little argument against the finding that domesticated animals can suffer from a lack of social touching with other members of their species.
- Canine sports massage therapy certification home study program. (2000). Retrieved from http://www.equissage.com/request_canine.htm#one
- Kramer, M. H. (2017, February 1). Animal massage therapist. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/animal-massage-therapist-125605
- McBride, S. D., Hemmings, A., & Robinson, K. (2004). A preliminary study on the effect of massage to reduce stress in the horse. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 24(2), 76-81. Retrieved from http://www.j-evs.com/article/S0737-0806(04)00020-6/fulltext?mobileUi=0
- Northwest school of animal massage. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nwsam.com/index.html
- Ramey, D. W., & Tiidus, P. M. (2002). Massage therapy in horses: Assessing its effectiveness from empirical data in humans and animals. Compendium, 24(5), 418-423. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.prod.vetlearn.com/mmah/e9/2e359bff2c45428004ba6085778faa/filePV_24_05_418.pdf
- Vanderbilt, S. (2002). Animal massage: Touching all creatures, great and small. Retrieved from http://www.massagetherapy.com/articles/index.php/article_id/409/Animal-Massage