October 1, 2020
Massage therapy for animals. While unconventional, it’s not a far-fetched idea. Muscles are muscles, according to April Begosh, and they all need care.
The 25-year veteran massage therapist is a lifelong pet owner and animal lover who decided to apply her knowledge and experience to help pets too.
“Going from massaging humans to animals was a natural transition,” said Begosh, owner and operator of Concord-based Healthy Pets NH; the organization works with veterinarians and other small animal health professionals statewide (including in the Monadnock region) “to bridge the gap between traditional medical services that pets need, and the complimentary therapies that their owners are seeking.”
“If you have a dog or a cat or other domesticated animal, you’re petting them all the time,” she said. “If you’re a massage therapist [for humans] and you have pets, why not apply therapy in that?”
Massage therapy was first practiced on animals in the 1970s by Jack Meagher, the massage therapist for the U.S. Equestrian Team. His work is now formally known as sports massage, which he also put in practice for numerous NFL athletes.
There are several techniques suitable for pets, all of which use different parts of the hands; exactly which techniques should be used depend mainly on the size and build of the animal. Begosh notes that for smaller pets such as cats or guinea pigs that have smaller extremities, the best technique is “digital kneeding.” This method uses just the fingers rather than the entire palm of the hand.
For larger pets with larger muscles, namely dogs, effleurage works well. This method is a continuous stroke using the flat/palm of the hand. While it incorporates gentle touch, effleurage also involves some pressure as it moves across the muscle. This massage technique warms the muscle area and encourages toxic release in the body. According to Begosh, the simple act of petting an animal is an example of the effleurage method.
“When you learn how to do this and other techniques properly, it will be more effective,” she said. “Learning massage for them provides benefits in a more organized and structured way.”
In workshops and classes Healthy Pets NH offers around the state, including locally via the Monadnock Humane Society, pet owners learn that and other techniques that are specific for targeting different muscles. Common among all techniques is working with or against the muscle. Massaging the length of the muscle helps with stretching and overall relaxation, Begosh said, while massaging across the muscle helps release toxic buildup within the body. Improved mental health and behavior are additional perks.
Therapy dogs are great candidates for massage therapy. According to Begosh, behavior and engagement between a person and their therapy dog is largely based on energy. The dog must be relaxed, calm and ready to work for their person. So, if the person is anxious or upset, it has a similar negative impact on the dog. Teaching the person massage therapy for their dog (if possible) is relaxing for both the human and the dog.
“It brings them down to the same level of calm,” Begosh said.
Sick pets can benefit greatly from massage, too, as such therapy helps with the break up and ultimate release toxic buildup. The physiological benefits of massage for the body — whether human or animal — abound, Begosh said.
Massage therapy can aid pets after surgical procedures — such therapy can help reduce inflammation, Begosh said, increase circulation and even decrease healing time.
Aging pets can also benefit, as massage therapy relieves arthritis and other movement problems.
According to Begosh, it’s important to teach pet owners the massage therapy techniques, as it allows them to ensure their pet gets that type of help and care as often as they need it, without having to wait for appointments with animal health care professionals.
“When people call me about massage therapy for their pets, the animal needs it, and most often they need it more than once every four to six weeks,” she said, adding that going for an office visit that often could eventually become a financial hardship. “If you teach people how to do [massage therapy] at home for their pets, the pets benefit all the time.”
Another benefit of pet massage: bonding and trust.
“It’s a super bonding experience for people and their pets. There’s a lot of trust in it,” Begosh said. “The animal gets relief from their owner, which builds trust and an even stronger bond.”