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Maryland Dog Magazine

Puppies Need Massage Too

Feb 13, 2015 08:06PM
by Inez Donmoyer

Congratulations! You’ve added a new puppy to your family. Did you know that massage has a number of benefits to help your new puppy grow into a happy, confident member of the family?  It is never too early to start massaging your puppy; all puppies thrive and benefit from touch and the socialization it provides.

What is massage? Massage therapy is the manipulation of soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia) to achieve specific goals of drainage, pain reduction, rejuvenation, increased flexibility, relaxation and/or stimulation. Massage may help your pup recover more quickly from muscle pain or strain, and can loosen tight tendons and scar tissue from old injuries.

Why massage? Massage has many social benefits, including increasing your bond with your puppy; comforting your puppy, when he is missing his litter mates; and helping the puppy accept you as a new family member. A 2004 study from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that not only do puppies and dogs benefit from massage, but massage or petting has shown to lower the amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol. Massage also promotes general well-being and helps to promote blood circulation which may aid growing puppies in receiving the necessary nutrients to help prevent injury.

Massage throughout the life of your puppy may help prevent the stiffness and pain that may come later in life. There are emotional benefits as well. Massage may improve the pet’s trust in their human, help to encourage bonding, help to reduce behavior problems and help ill pets and pets with chronic pain. Massage however is not a substitute for veterinary care.

Regular massaging and stroking will allow you to detect any changes in your puppy’s growing body. As you become familiar to what is “normal” for your puppy, you will be able to detect any injuries and abnormalities right away. This knowledge of your puppy’s body is beneficial in detecting issues. Appropriate medical care and treatment early by a licensed veterinarian will increase the chances of a full recovery.

Massage as part of training. Puppies tend to be overly stimulated by the world around them; massage gives them the opportunity to relax and calm down. Regular handling of your puppy’s body, including his feet, toes, ears, and tail, will help him to more readily accept treatments he may need such as, toenail clipping, ear cleaning, and visits to the vet. If your puppy is comfortable being touched all over his body, it will make it easier for professionals to perform any treatments he may need later in life. He will learn there is no need to fear being handled and touched by humans and that human interaction is pleasant.

Benefits Boosts the immune system, enhances muscle tone and range of motion, reduces inflammation and swelling in the joints, promotes the healing process by increasing the flow of nutrients to the muscles, aids in carrying away excessive fluids and toxins, creates a positive effect on the contractual and release process of the muscles, helps to maintain the whole body in better physical condition, aids in balancing the body by treating it as a whole, rather than individual parts.

Contraindications (when NOT to massage) include: Fever, open wounds, acute trauma, skin problems of fungal origin, infectious diseases, and abnormal heat and/or swelling.  Severe conditions require diagnosis and treatment by your veterinarian. Massage is not a substitute for proper veterinary care; it is an integrative modality to be used in conjunction with vet care.

How to massage your puppy. Simple massage techniques can be safely done by you at home, your puppy will tell you where he wants the attention most. Start out with 7-10 minute sessions gradually increasing the amount of time.  Eventually, your massage session can extend to 15 to 30 minutes, but may be longer if your puppy is more accepting.  Do not work directly over the joints, spine, and bony prominences, but rather, around them. Pay attention to your puppy, he will tell you what may be too much or too little pressure. Start slow and soft, increasing pressure as needed.

Keep your movements rhythmic and steady, always begin by warming the muscles with the effleurage technique.  Depending on the size and breed of your puppy, you may use more or less of your hand and fingers.

Massage techniques to try. Effleurage is a gentle long, slow stroke with your hand and palm, starting at the puppy’s head and continuing down to the tail and feet. This technique helps move the blood through the body. Effleurage is a stroke that encourages relaxation, and will help to warm up the muscles. Start with a soft touch, and then slowly increase the pressure of your palms.

Begin and end with effleurage.  Fingertip massage uses the tips of your fingers in a rhythmic, circular patterns to move the muscles beneath the skin and to improve oxygenation of muscle bundles and fibers. This technique is great to ease those sore jaw muscles (puppies are chewing machines), and eases stiff muscles and tissues. Don’t press directly over the bone, instead, using circular patterns, go along each side of the spine and around the neck, shoulder, and hindquarters. Petrissage is a combination of effleurage and fingertip massage, and uses a kneading technique (small half-circles overlapping one another, pushing outward). Petrissage done correctly can move biological waste products (lactic acid) out of sore muscles.

This is a good technique to use around the neck, and along the back and hamstrings. Again, go around the boney prominences and do not press directly on bones, spine, or joints. Be sure to intersperse with effleurages regularly-about every 10 seconds-to assist drainage.

If your puppy is uncomfortable being handled or has trouble staying still for long periods of time, keep it to shorter sessions and gradually increase the duration. If your puppy is injured (limping, favoring a leg, in pain), it is always best to contact your veterinarian.

The biggest benefit to regularly massaging your puppy is the love and care that is expressed and transferred from you to him. Touch is meaningful and powerful. Your puppy will understand that your stroking is nurturing, affectionate action because puppies knead massage too.

 INEZ DONMOYER owns and operates Unicorn Dreams Wholistic Touch and is a Certified Equine, Canine, and Small Animal Massage Therapist/Bodyworker and Reiki Master/Teacher Practioner. www.UnicornDreamsFarm.com, [email protected] 410-596-2875