Caring for a four-legged companion involves proper nutrition, regular veterinary visits, exercise, plenty of couch cuddles, and wet kisses. Our pets are family and it can be heartbreaking when they experience pain or discomfort. Additionally, aging pets or pets who participate in rigorous exercise or organized athletic activities, such as agility training, have an increased risk of painful joint and muscle problems. When possible, many pet owners prefer non-invasive treatment options for their pet’s care. Fortunately, numerous holistic therapies, including manual therapy, are available to supplement your pet’s traditional veterinary care. Our Animal Rehabilitation Center team answers common questions about manual therapy and discusses conditions that may be improved with these holistic modalities.  

What is manual therapy in pets?

Manual therapy is a general term that refers to treatments provided by the hands. Grooming or petting sessions with your favorite four-legged companion have many therapeutic benefits, specifically improvement of the bond between both of you. Manual therapy, on the other hand, is a highly specialized skill that requires proper training and certification. Manual therapies have been used to successfully treat people for centuries, and recently have become more popular for pets. The most common manual therapies for pets are massage therapy and chiropractic manipulation. It is not uncommon for pets to receive both during their care with our Animal Rehabilitation Center certified therapist. Manual therapy has a variety of benefits for all of your pet’s body systems, including improved circulation, decreased blood pressure, and decreased anxiety. However, pet owners should never attempt to perform manual therapy on their pets on their own, unless directed to by their veterinarian. Some conditions, such as cancer or a recent broken bone, can be worsened with certain manual therapies. 

Does your pet need massage therapy?

Many people enjoy a spa day when they can indulge in a relaxing massage with calming music and a fluffy robe. Although equally beneficial, pet massage therapy does not involve lemon water or cucumber eye masks. Instead, it focuses on manipulation of soft tissue and muscle to provide systemic health benefits, which may include:

  • Decreased stress
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Improved circulation
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Improved muscle tone
  • Decreased pain
  • Decreased joint stiffness
  • Decreased inflammation 
  • Decreased muscle spasms
  • Improved flexibility and movement 
  • Improved immune system function

Swedish massage is the most researched and used type of pet massage therapy, and involves a variety of circular muscle manipulations, including:

  • Effleurage — This is a circular stroking and gliding technique over your pet’s muscles.
  • Tapotement This is a tapping or percussion of the muscles. A gentle tool may be used for this technique. 
  • Petrissage This involves kneading over the muscles and gentle friction. 

How can chiropractic therapy help manage your pet’s pain?

People in many cultures have used chiropractic therapy for centuries to treat and manage various health conditions. Similarly, animal chiropractic therapy, or animal adjusting, is a rapidly growing and evolving veterinary specialty that can provide numerous benefits for a pet’s musculoskeletal and neurologic systems. Pet chiropractic therapy primarily involves spinal manipulation to move displaced backbones, or vertebrae, back to their correct position or alignment. Proper spinal alignment will release pressure on surrounding nerves and tissue, which decreases pain and improves healing. Signs of misalignment may include: 

  • Uneven muscle tone
  • Sitting with legs out to the side
  • Difficulty jumping
  • Difficulty walking up or down stairs
  • Sudden back or neck pain
  • Behavior changes
  • Sores on the legs or paws
  • Difficulty walking in a straight line 

Bring your pet in for a veterinary examination if they are showing misalignment signs, which may mimic other medical conditions, like arthritis. Your veterinarian will perform a nose-to-tail examination, and may recommend X-rays to further examine your pet’s joints and bones. Chiropractic therapy may be recommended to help address the following conditions:

  • Chronic musculoskeletal problems 
  • Muscle tension and stiffness
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fecal and urinary incontinence
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nerve problems    

What are common pet conditions that can positively benefit from manual therapy?

Always consult your veterinarian before seeking manual therapy for your pet. While it is a recognized non-invasive, holistic therapy that can supplement your pet’s veterinary care, it should never be used in place of an examination or treatment recommended by your family veterinarian. Pets who may benefit from manual therapy include:

  • Middle-aged/senior pets More than 50% of senior pets will be affected by arthritis. Manual therapy can ease discomfort and improve muscle tone.  
  • Anxious pets — Manual therapy can improve relaxation and help build an anxious pet’s trust with people.
  • Athletic pets — Active pets who participate in rigorous exercise or events like agility training have an increased risk of muscle soreness or injury. Manual therapy can improve muscle tone and help decrease the occurrence of injuries. 
  • Post-op recovery pets — Manual therapy can help speed recovery and reduce pain following certain surgical procedures, such as a cruciate ligament repair. 

Call our Animal Rehabilitation Center office if you have any questions about manual therapy, or to schedule your pet for an appointment. We look forward to helping ease any discomfort or pain in your pet.