COL Pets want and need to be massaged

By Dr. Marty Becker

Knight Ridder News Service

The simple, unstructured contact that you have with your pet, be it having a cat curled up on your lap while you read in the garden or having your Afghan hound draped across you like an actual Afghan while you watch television, has enormous health benefits.

Stroking your pet is a fundamental form of stress reduction: a focus on something outside yourself that brings you into the here and now as well as lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and releasing positive neurochemicals in your bloodstream.

When I was laid low by spinal surgery last year, I became acutely aware of my own need for physical comfort as well as the needs of our wire haired terrier Scooter, who suffers from arthritis. With careful tutoring by professionals, I learned how to move from simply petting Scooter to giving her a pain relieving full-body massage, which produced health benefits for both of us. It's something I highly recommend you try on your pet.


I received my massage tutoring from two integrative medicine specialists at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Brenda McClelland and Dr. Narda Robinson. They instructed me to take my right hand, and use it to explore every fold of Scooter's ample body searching for the soreness, taut muscles and temperature differences that would betray the arthritic pain hidden deep within. I didn't believe them, I confess, but in the spirit of exploration and experimentation that motivated all of these changes, I gave it a try.

Like a golfer who hits the perfect swing or a chef who creates a prize-winning recipe, I knew, via Scooter's direct feedback, when my bodywork was hitting her in all the right places in just the right amounts. She started standing on her tippy-toes, pushing her body into my hands, with eyes half closed, panting with desire. She was exhibiting so much pleasure that I felt I should look around to make sure nobody was watching!

If you'd like to try this out, set aside five or 10 minutes every day or so, when both of you are calm and free from distractions.

Begin slowly. Watch your pet to learn their favorite spots and types of touches. Experiment with grooming tools in addition to the fabulous five-finger method. Tell your pet "sweet nothings" in a soothing tone. Apply gentle pressure with your curved hand, with long flowing strokes from head to rump. Use the pads of your thumbs to press on and massage specific points around the eyes, ears, skull and spine. Allow your fingertips (not your fingernails) to glide, press, tickle, knead, and move all over your pet's body. Pay particular attention to the areas your pet enjoys the most. Don't press too deeply on bony prominences but do feel for areas of muscle tension or where the skin feels hotter. Concentrate on those areas.

During the massage, feel for lumps and scabs; look for fleas or ticks. Most importantly, tune into your pet's response and learn their feedback signs. If your pet melts into your arms, purrs, pushes up against your hands, becomes a limp rag of relaxation or rolls around you in utter delight, you'll know you are making the love connection in a big way. If your pet starts to resist, wiggle or flee, try to do something else you know your pet likes or promptly end the session.

Learning to massage your pet will definitely strengthen the bond you share, medical benefits included. And what an investment in a long future together!

Pet massages feel good to give and to get and serves an early warning system for animal illnesses. As we gain familiarity with every curve and bump on our pet's bodies, we can feel first hand when something is wrong and our pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian. This simple ritual is one that reinforces how much you are loved and needed, and can add years to your pet's life!

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