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Do Agility Dogs Benefit From Massage Therapy?

We've all wondered whether agility and working dogs perform better with massage. Does therapeutic canine massage affect performance levels? And are dogs that do agility and working dogs similar to human athletes in that they benefit from massage?


by Claudia Bensimoun

The American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians (AARV) states that therapeutic massage increases circulation to improve healing, decrease pain and reduce swelling. Therapeutic massage can be used for acute or chronic problems, but the pressure and intensity of the massage will vary with the pain level of the patient. Therapeutic massage increases blood flow - which improves oxygen delivery to tissues; and breaks down scar tissue. Therapeutic massage also promotes mental and physical relaxation. (via the AARV website). Visit their website or more information on rehabilitation

Dogs that do agility and working dogs work harder than other dogs. Think about all the jumping involved, combined with balancing, control, and the speed at which your dog navigates a course, and youll soon realize that frequent massage can only help to improve performance. Massage therapy also helps to improve mental focus, muscular health and the overall well-being of your canine athlete year-round. Because dogs carry more than half of their body weight on their front legs, their shoulders are subjected to much more stress than the rest of their bodies. Many dogs that do agility suffer from sore shoulder muscles and tight necks after zipping around a course. This can be helped with regular canine massage therapy.

Dr. Marcie Fallek, DVM, CVA explains that After the extreme exercise of agility work, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) sets in peaking in one to three days.  DOMS is characterized not only by severe muscle tenderness, but also reduced range of motion and loss of strength. DOMS is caused by the excessive muscle contraction necessary for such strenuous exercise.

Marcia Fallek, DVM, CVA

For dogs that have slowed down in their performance, or perhaps may have developed a tendency to knock down jumps due to a shortening of the hamstring muscles and tightness of the quadriceps and gluteals from the continuous muscle contractions from jumping obstacles, research shows that massage therapy can be very beneficial in increasing the flexibility of all muscles.

Extreme muscle inflammation following agility work is actually the bodys attempt to heal itself. Anti-inflammatory drugs may seem to work in the short run, but the net effect is a negative one, as the pharmaceuticals reduce the muscles ability to reduce the damage in the weeks that follow, adds Dr. Fallek.

Athletes use massage for the relief of stiffness, and also to help with muscle spasms. Dogs can benefit in the same way with sports massage therapy.

Sports massage therapy, whether in humans or in canines, has been shown to have only hugely beneficial effects. Massage can actually prevent or relieve DOMS. Massage works with the body, increasing circulation, both of the blood and of the lymph fluid in order to speed up healing and reduce toxic waste products which may cause cramping.

Additionally, massage works out the knots and tension found in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissue, relieving the stagnation of energy that can cause disease. During a massage, the pituitary and hypothalamus secrete neurotransmitters, called endorphins, which are the body's natural pain relievers. Endorphins also decrease anxiety, improve the mood and give a feeling of well being, which increases confidence, thereby helping future agility work, explains Dr. Fallek.

Canine massage therapy has the following benefits:

  • Relieves muscle tension
  • Realigns the spine and body
  • Helps with the circulation of fluids throughout the body, and also helps the joints and muscles flush toxins from the tissues
  • Reduces pain and stiffness
  • Increases flexibility and allows for greater range of motion
  • Promotes blood and lymph circulation
  • Reduces stress and relaxes your dogs
  • Increases lifespan and slows down aging
  • Increases the energy and focus level
  • Allows for your dog to build self-confidence and trust in people
  • Increases immune system function      
  • Helps to improve muscle tone
  • Restores natural movement
  • Promotes quicker recovery from sports injuries

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Veterinary Medical Association Model Veterinary Practice Act classifies massage and other forms of complementary medicine as veterinary care, which means it can be performed only by a licensed veterinarian. Each states licensing board may write its own regulations, however. As of October 2014, about 20 states restrict massage to licensed veterinarians, while about 20 additional states require veterinary input, such as supervision or referral. See AVMAs summary of state regulations and exemptions for massage and other forms of complementary medicine. 

Finally, allow for your furry best friend to enjoy the very best and safest massage therapy options. Always consult with your veterinarian for advice. Choosing a licensed canine massage therapist/veterinarian should be done carefully, and always with the help of your veterinarian.

Links:

Dr. Fallek is a staff writer for Dogs Naturally and the staff columnist for Creature Companions, India's premier pet care magazine. She has been featured in Martha Stewart Living and Prevention magazine. She also has contributed to Animal Wellness for many years. For more information, visit www.holisticvet.us

Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance writer in West Palm Beach.

Photo Credit: Marcia Fallek, DVM, CVA

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