If you haven’t considered massage as an alternative and cooperative therapy for your aging dog, it’s time to take a closer look. Canine massage offers physical and mental benefits. Like you, your dog’s behavior and emotional state are directly influenced by how s/he feels physically. Massage programs help maintain muscle tone, range of motion and flexibility while decreasing the atrophy of muscle tissue and relieving the pain and discomfort of aching muscles. Massage can also address a dog’s emotional adjustment to declining ability to perform normal dog activities. Structurally, a dog’s muscles are 95%+ similar to that of humans and the literature on human massage shows a clear connection between touch and healing.
Cells and fibers in the body rely on fresh, oxygenated blood for hormones, nutrients and proteins to support cell growth. Blood flows around inactive muscles and through active muscles. Massage activates muscles, opening blood vessels and improving circulation. This increases metabolism and the removal of waste products from the muscle fibers. That waste can cause inflammation, which results in pain.
Lymph is the clear fluid that carries white blood cells, the immune system’s ground forces. Although similar to the cardio-vascular system, the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump (like the heart) and relies on a dog’s movement to keep the lymph flowing. Older dogs tend to be less active and lymph is more apt to become stagnant. Massage helps release lymph log jams and get the white blood cells moving again. Once the lymph is moving, it can deliver fresh white blood cells to fight toxins that eventually cause pain.
This is a no-brainer and what most folks think of when they think of massage. What some don’t consider though is the impact tight muscles have on joints and how limited range of motion can cause referred pain. Massage helps identify those areas of tight muscles and associated restrictions and helps lower levels of muscle soreness by stimulating white blood cells that fight inflammation.
While science is still unraveling how and why, dog owners know their dogs experience human-like emotions such as depression, grief, anxiety, trauma, shyness and aggression. Massage performed with love and a healing intention promotes comfort, love, self-worth, bonding and emotional well-being. There are numerous other physical benefits of massage, but don’t underestimate the power of the emotional bond-building that happens during massage.
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