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Dog Massage, and the massive benefits to your best friend.

dog physio therapy pie chart

It’s curious that there are many things in this life that we don’t believe until we experience them for ourselves. And then, only if we have a profound experience or effect.

Massage can be one of those things. For the well-heeled, a daily or weekly massage is a core part of the health and happiness. Its not just remedial, something to fix an injury, but also prevention, or pleasure.

If humans can experience this, then why not expect that our beloved dogs can’t do the same?

But herein lies the rub. Figuratively and literally.

Massage has ALSO proved itself of great benefit to dog kind when performed by owners, to relieve pain and to provide enjoyment (endorphins) – as well as for physiotherapy related uses.

As the main pie chart on this article shows that a recent paper that reviewed the main physio techniques to heal dogs, that Massage was mentioned the most in the papers they reviewed 24% followed by hydrotherapy at 22%.

“Most papers present more than one indication for physiotherapy. The overwhelming majority of the publications analyze post-injury cases of physiotherapy care. Many articles describe age-related indications for physiotherapy, which is probably caused by the frequently diagnosed degenerative disease osteoarthritis. Only a small percentage of the publications mention indications for the physiotherapy of healthy dogs, and most of them are review articles” Ref 2

If you have ever massaged your dog, for pain relief or pleasure, you will know that massage can be used effectively by an owner for both pursuits.

Clinical canine massage involves muscle tissue manipulation and fascial release techniques to rehabilitate injured soft tissues.

In one of the more rigorous studies: “In 2018, case notes from a convenience sample of 527 dogs were shared, with permission from owners, by a self-selected sample of 65 practitioners. Changes in number and severity of issues for five pain indicators (gait, posture, daily activity, behaviour, performance) and quality of life score, reported by owner and practitioners, were investigated.“ ref 1

THE RESULTS?  “Significant reductions in reported pain severity scores were recorded for all pain indicators over successive treatments (p < 0.001), with each treatment causing further significant reduction in pain severity. “ Ref 1

Number of pain indicators recorded over successive treatment sessions remained constant, in keeping with a cohort presenting with degenerative disease and chronic pain. All dogs and diagnostic variables responded similarly. Post-treatment a dog was significantly more likely to have a ‘positive’ quality of life.“ Ref 1

HOW to have a dog enjoy massage

Margot and small dog Obviously if a dog is in great pain, an analgesic might be required to allow any joint or tissue manipulation to free up a distressed area of your dog.

But for the owner, its really about early exposure and repetition to touch. A puppy that is touched everywhere, including its mouth and paws, is placed on its back on your lap and massaged, will learn to accept, and enjoy massage later in life much easier than a dog that isn’t given this. It can really settle them, even reduce things like separation anxiety.

Likewise if you want a dog to be social, its critical to give them exposure very young. At a certain age socialisation is severely compromised. The same for children who are not touched or played with – a classic ‘abandonment theory’ situation.

But much more than this, while we have recommended the regular use of Omega 3 via salmon fish oil, and Omega 3 rich meats like kangaroo and some fish, for brain, heart and general muscle health.  And of course, shark cartilage and fish skins for glucosamine and chondroitin chemicals to prevent or repair joint wear. BUT eventually old dog’s joints wear and arthritis typically occurs.

The inflammation makes it hard for older dogs to walk comfortably, with a smooth gait. A dog will guard the pain points and potentially become snappy. But that clinching of the joint will also limit mobility and seize muscles. When a dog can tolerate it, massaging the leg muscles or anywhere else muscle pain associated with bone pain, can greatly relieve pain and dog stress.

Recently (2023) my own dog Archie spoodle has been diagnosed with cancer associated with a cancer removed about four years ago (adrenal gland cancer). While several organs have been infected, the rapid and prolonged night panting was connected with adrenal chemical spiking caused by the cancer.

Since his recent diagnosis, It seemed that night panting was also connected with the secondary cancer. But curiously since adopting a rigorous oral medication schedule, his heart rate and blood pressure have fallen to acceptable levels, as well as reduced spiking (due to meds) but night panting was still occurring.

It has turned out that the many side effects of the medicine schedule have conspired to cause biliousness and stomach upsets, and intestinal discomfort (poor digestion).

And I have noticed that while post-midnight walks to release diarrhoea have sometimes helped night panting immediately, sometimes the only thing that helped have been long post-midnight ear and head massages.

Sometimes the massage works as a distraction to the pain, and only works short term, but if the ear massage goes long enough, sometimes the abdominal pain subdues (or they don’t feel it as much because of endorphins from the massage), and he was able to obtain peaceful sleep.


Deep tissue dog massage techniques can be as technical as what an osteopath needs to learn at college.  And a quick pat on a dog’s head or butt is unlikely to do anything but short term recognition.

Longer, slower massages to pain affected areas, dog willing, or head and ear massages where there are many nerve endings can give a dog a lot of pleasure or relief from pain. We highly recommend it.


Ref 1 Effect of massage therapy on pain and quality of life in dogs: A cross sectional study

Lisa M. Riley, Liam Satchell, Lisa M. Stilwell, Natalie S. Lenton

First published: 13 June 2021

REF 2   Selected Techniques for Physiotherapy in Dogs   by    Marta Dybczyńska, Małgorzata Goleman, Aleksandra Garbiec   and   Mirosław Karpiński

Department of Ethology and Wildlife Management, University of Life Sciences, Akademicka 13, 20-950 Lublin, Poland  Animals 2022,

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