Article from Dogs Today, written by Karen Redpath, July 2005
Canine massage can benefit so many dogs, it's amazing that many people still consider it to be an 'alternative' type of therapy
Whether your dog is recovering from surgery, an injury or is just a bit stiff, the hands-on approach could work wonders.
Susan Davies practices canine remedial massage in Buckinghamshire and I took office dog Max for a bit of treatment and to find out more about the benefits of this therapy.
Susan, a former jockey, spent five years doing sports and remedial massage for humans but was forced to change career due to an injury she sustained to her shoulder.
She said, "It was very strenuous work and the shoulder injury required two operations. I couldn't return to work as my shoulder was not strong enough to cope so decided to combine the knowledge I had of sports massage with my life long passion for dogs. I took a course in canine massage at the Institute of Complementary Animal Therapies. It is lovely to be able to do something now that benefits dogs and I find it very rewarding."
Susan shares her home with Rupert, a ten-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who Susan refers to as her 'flexible friend' because he is so laid back and adaptable. Rupert welcomed Max into his home and then out in the garden so he could have his massage in the sunshine.
Before getting her hands on any dog, Susan starts by asking questions about the dog's background and medical history. She then watches the dog moving so she can get an idea of how the muscles are working together.
Max has been diagnosed as having arthritis in his shoulders and, like most 13-year-olds, is often a bit stiff when he gets out of his basket. He is on glucosamine supplements and attends weekly hydrotherapy sessions, which have been a big help, but I thought he might benefit from a massage.
Susan set to work on Max while he was stretched out on a blanket on the patio. He was a little bit wary at first as to what was happening but he soon began to trust Susan and eventually flopped down so she could start.
Susan talked me through each step of the treatment. "I usually start with deep stroking then, when the muscles are warmed up, I move on to skin rolling, kneading, cupping and shaking but always coming back to the deep stroking. Most of the techniques are the same as those you would use on people. A mixture of classical massage and joint mobilisation."
Despite Max's arthritis, Susan found him to be in fairly good shape but she could tell from his muscles that he was showing signs of age. "Max has generally good muscle tone but some of his muscle fibres are not in the right place and are a bit tight. His elbows are good but I can tell he has got a problem with his shoulders. He is showing his age more in his back legs as the muscle tone here is not so good."
While Susan was working on Max's back legs she got me to feel one of his problem areas and it felt like knotted string. She spent some time massaging this area to smooth the muscle fibres back into place and I could feel the difference when I ran my hand over his leg afterwards. Susan said, "What I am doing is pulling apart the fibres and realigning the muscles so they are rebalanced. I have to be careful no to over work an area as there is a fine line between getting the tension out and making a dog sore."
Susan explained to me the range of problems that can be helped using massage including soothing a noise phobic dog or invigorating a working one.
"I seem to see more torn cruciate ligaments than anything else. Also arthritis and general stiffness are very common complaints. I have had a few cases of back problems too which seem to be in the longer backed breeds. With agility dogs, I can make sure their muscles stay tuned to help their performance and avoid injury. Eradicating tightness before exercise will lessen the likelihood of a pulled muscle."
One of Susan's favourite clients is a Rottweiler called Winston. He was bought by his owner as a guard dog but, as he proved too much of softy, he was kept as a pet. Winston became lame in one of his front legs and could not put any weight on it. The vet said that he would need an operation to rectify the limp but his owners were reluctant for him to undergo surgery.
Susan said, "I saw him six or seven times and started by gently massaging the lame leg. Over the course of the sessions, I increased the massage and Winstons leg became stronger. Eventually his leg was righted without the need of surgery and Winston is now 100 per cent."
Although I saw Susan in her Beaconsfield home, she prefers to see clients in their own homes as they tend to be more relaxed in familiar surroundings. It is important that a dog finds the treatment to be a pleasurable experience. Susan considers the first session with a client to be a 'getting-to-know-you' session so that the dog can get used to being massaged before any injured or sore bits are worked on.
Susan is keen to promote the benefits of canine massage, especially in incidences where surgery may not be necessary, but a vet's referral is required for injury or post-operative therapy.
"I don't think canine massage is widely known about but it is good that vets are beginning to recognise the therapy and are recommending it to their clients."
It is Susan's ambition to expand her business by setting up a canine therapy centre with its own hydrotherapy pool. She is also thinking of expanding her canine family too. After a visit to Crufts this year, she is thinking of either a Rottweiler or Deerhound as a companion for Rupert.
Max seemed to enjoy his session with Susan, once he realised she wasn't a vet, and he did seem less stiff in his back end for a few days afterwards. Before my visit to Susan I knew nothing of the benefits of canine massage, but seeing her in action and hearing her many case studies I am convinced that this is a therapy that most dogs would benefit from at some point in their lives.