Therapeutic Massage for Pets


This involves the manual or mechanical manipulation of soft tissues and muscle by rubbing, kneading, or tapping.
Benefits of canine therapeutic massage include:

  • Increased circulation in the area of massage
  • Reduced muscle spasm
  • Reduction in swelling
  • Breakdown of scar tissue formation

The effects of massage are both mechanical and neurologic. The neurologic effects are due to the stimulation of the nerves in the muscles and skin that connect to the brain resulting in the release of opioids and other neurochemicals that cause relaxation. The mechanical effects are due to increased fluid and venous blood drainage removing swelling and metabolic waste along with increased arterial circulation enhancing tissue oxygenation and wound healing. Physical manipulation of scar tissue increases range of joint motion.
Massage techniques in pets are similar to human massage.


  • Effleurage – (Latin, effluere, “to flow out”) is a form of superficial or light stroking massage and is generally used in the beginning of all massage sessions to relax and acclimatize the pet to gentle touch of the area.
  • Petrissage – Deep kneading and squeezing of the muscles and surrounding soft tissues.
  • Cross fiber – Cross fiber is also a deep massage that is concentrated along lines of restrictive scar tissue and designed to promote normal range of motion of the joints.
  • Tapotement – Tapotement involves the percussive manipulation of soft tissues with a cupped hand or massage equipment and is most commonly used to relax spastic muscle contraction or enhance postural drainage for respiratory conditions.

Contraindications to therapeutic massage for dogs include unstable or infected fractures or tissue and the direct manipulation of a malignancy. In most instances, massage is an indispensable therapy when animals are in intensive care and have restricted mobility.

Pets with IVDD enjoy properly performed therapeutic massage that starts with a stroking effleurage and ends the same with various other techniques depending on the needs of the tissues between. Start with your pet lying on its belly on a soft pillow or bed. Begin stroking initially to relax your pet, start at the head and work towards the back. When stroking, start at the body and move towards the foot. Place the entire hand in contact with the skin of your pet and maintain a gentle but firm pressure.

Once your pet is relaxed begin effleurage. Effleurage is usually the beginning of the massage and the end of the massage. It is used to remove tissue fluid that builds up because of inactivity and to stimulate circulation. If you know the anatomy of the lymph nodes you should move your hands in the direction of the lymph nodes to stimulate drainage of fluid. Effleurage is also a diagnostic evaluation of the tissues to assess for tightness, spasms or scar tissue and the need for additional massage techniques. Begin at the lower end of the area or at the foot and move toward the lymph nodes. You may use both hands or one hand or your fingers depending on the size of your pet. Contact the skin and apply even pressure to sink into the tissues under the skin. Make a sweeping movement to the top of the area or limb, molding your hands to the contours of the body maintaining the same depth of pressure. Bring your hands towards you as you work using the heel of your hand. Keep your fingers and palm in contact with your pet. Overlapping strokes are used, continuing until the entire body or area is covered.

Pétrissage is a compression and or wringing movement that can be used all over the body but is most effective on large muscles. Begin at the area closest to the center of the body or at the top of the limb. Contact the skin and press into the tissue continue to move toward the foot or away from the center of the body. The skin is moved over the underlying tissue in a circular manner, bunching up the skin on one side and tightening the skin on the other. Pressure is applied to deeper tissues similar to the effort used to open child proof bottles – push down and twist. If both hands are being used on a large area they go in different directions, right clockwise and left counterclockwise. Wringing is another form of Pétrissage is applied using both hands. One hand brings the tissue toward you, the other moves it away. Hold this for 5 seconds, then slowly release. The hand then moves up the body or limb to perform the wringing on the adjacent tissue.

Cross Fiber or Deep Transverse massage is done over areas of scar tissue formation. Scar tissue forms within muscles because of injury. Deep pressure is applied with the tip of the thumb or fingers. The tissue is compressed to the depth of the scar tissue. Small rotary movements are performed on the deep structures while maintaining constant pressure. This is repeated 10 times and performed in sets of 3 to 10.
Percussion or Tapotement is used to stimulate circulation, provoke reflexes, provide gentle stimulation, stimulate muscle tone or assist in clearing airways of congestion. Clapping, Hacking and Pounding are all techniques that feature light percussion on the skin and outer tissues of the pet. Clapping is done with a cupped hand applied like slapping to trap air between the hand and skin. Rapid light, brisk strokes over the entire area. Hacking is like a karate chop with the border of the little finger striking the pet. Both hands are used lightly and rapidly moving at the wrist over the area. Pounding uses lose fists which strike the skin alternatively and rapidly. Gentle Effleurage and stretching is used to finish the massage.