How to Massage a Dog with Arthritis

Medium
10 - 20 Minutes
2 Day

Introduction

Bella is a 13-year-old Lab cross. She was once the fastest dog in the neighborhood, but she isn't moving so fast anymore. Not only is she experiencing arthritis in her hind end, but also her shoulder, where she sustained an injury several years ago, aches-- especially in cold weather. This once active dog is now having trouble getting around the house and going outside to the bathroom. Her owners decide to try massage to help Bella feel more comfortable.  

Arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints, and many senior dogs or dogs that have experienced traumatic injury suffer from arthritis pain. While massage will not “cure” or reverse arthritis it can help alleviate pain associated with the condition. A dog with sore joints may overcompensate with muscles from other parts of the body. These muscles then become strained, as they are moving and bearing additional weight and working in a way they were not intended to. Massage not only relaxes muscles, preventing adhesions and reducing spasms but improves blood flow to tissues including arthritic joints.

Dog's Perspective

An arthritic dog is experiencing pain and discomfort and may be grumpy or unpredictable. Also, arthritis tends to show up in older dogs that may also experience issues with sensory perception including hearing deficits, blindness, and senility. Exercise caution when massaging an arthritic dog as your dog may react aggressively out of pain or fear. Work slowly and gently, and make sure you are not causing pain to your dog.

The Basic Massage Method

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Step
1
Morning and evening
Massage your arthritic dog in the morning to relieve stiffness that may have occurred overnight, and in the evening to relieve sore muscles that have been strained during daily activity.
Step
2
Get started
Have your dog lie down on his side, and start running your hands all over his body, petting and stroking him to relax your dog and accustom him to being touched.
Step
3
Find sore areas
Stroke areas where muscles seems tight, applying slightly increased pressure. Do not massage over arthritic joints.
Step
4
Work sore areas
Start kneading large muscles groups, such as muscles on the shoulders and haunches. Do not overwork one area, move your hand over different areas. Pay attention for signs of pain or resistance.
Step
5
Switch sides
Alternate kneading and stroking and vary pressure to large muscles. Switch sides and repeat. Finish by petting your dog all over and give him a treat.
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The Improve Movement Method

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Towel
Step
1
Stimulate circulation
Have your dog lie down and touch them lightly all over to relax your dog and increase circulation to skin and muscle tissues.
Step
2
Apply gentle pressure
Start applying gentle pressure and making small circles with your thumb and fingertips over your dog's sides, spine, and large muscles. Avoid arthritic joints.
Step
3
Massage limbs
Wrap your hand around limbs and apply gentle pressure. Work your way down the limb. Have your dog turn over as necessary to reach all limbs.
Step
4
Manipulate limbs
Gently manipulate and stretch limbs. Be careful not to move limbs so there is pain in arthritic joints. Instead, gently bend and stretch limbs within your dog's comfortable range of motion.
Step
5
Apply cold compress
If you notice inflammation or swelling, do not massage that area. Wet a towel down with cold water and wring out so just damp, then wrap the towel around swollen tissues.
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Caution & Considerations

  • Only veterinary massage therapists should give deep tissue massages to arthritic dogs.
  • Avoid overdoing it or massaging aggressively. Overworking, stretching or manipulating any one part can pain and inflammation.
  • Start with shorter sessions and work up to longer ones.
  • Do not massage directly on arthritic joints. Instead, massage muscle groups around the joint.
  • If your dog gives indications of pain or discomfort, stop and move to a different area.
  • Be careful, as senior arthritic dogs can react unpredictably, especially if they are having issues with senility or other sensory deficits.

Conclusion

Arthritis is a painful degenerative disease of joint tissue, common in older or injured dogs. While massage will not cure arthritis, it can alleviate some of the discomfort associated with it by relieving pain in muscles around the affected joint, or muscles compensating for arthritic joints. Massage also improves circulation to tissues that may be experiencing reduced oxygenation and blood flow from inactivity. Be careful when massaging your arthritic dog as he may act out of character when in pain. Stroke your dog to relax him, then apply light pressure over muscles to relax them. You can also manipulate limbs and joints to improve circulation but be careful to work within your dog's limited range of motion. Be alert to your dog's comfort level and adjust accordingly.

Success Stories and Grooming Questions

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