Alternative therapies | Massage therapy for dogs and horses
In this article we take a look at one of the fastest growing alternative therapies in the canine and equine market; massage therapy.
For many years a strong emphasis applied to equine healthcare has been on managing the horses living conditions, their riding or training techniques, their nutrition and pharmaceutical medications if any injury or condition occurs.
Similarly within the canine community dogs healthcare has been heavily focused around their diet, exercise routines and administering medication when they develop a health issue.
The internet has provided easy access to a huge variety of alternative therapies and holistic approaches. Anecdotal feedback and reviews which support many of these alternative approaches have meant they have rapidly gained popularity and credibility within their respective markets.
Many horse competitions, even at amateur level, now strictly enforce drug-free competition meaning the demand for natural and non-invasive alternative therapies within the sports horse community continues to gather pace.
Whether in showjumping, dressage, barrel racing or 3-day eventing - many competitions require drug-free animals. As such, horse yards all over the world now adopt a variety of therapeutic approaches to managing their horses ongoing health with technologies such as cold therapy, electromagnetic pulse therapy, magnetic therapy, infra-red and hydrotherapy widely used.
One of the fastest growing and well-respected forms of complementary therapy is massage therapy.
Equine Massage Therapy (horse massage)
Massage therapy is the therapeutic application of hands-on massage techniques with the purpose of increasing circulation, relaxing muscles and improving flexibility.
Massage therapy can be extremely useful in detecting any abnormalities in the horse and potentially prevent a serious injury from occurring. A massage can benefit all horses of any age, across all breeds and across every horse discipline.
Equine massage therapy effects the whole body by helping to regulate the circulatory, digestive, reproductive, respiratory and lymphatic systems and directly effect the horses overall performance and wellbeing.
Although suitable for the majority of horses, in some cases massage can exacerbate an issue which could result in further health complications. Qualified therapists will undertake a routine assessment of each horse prior to working on them to check the horse has no signs of these conditions. This includes mucous or discharge from the eyes or nose, certain respiratory symptoms, a new wound, infectious diseases, colic or cushings.
Canine Massage Therapy (dog massage)
Massage therapy for dogs applies the same approach as equine massage therapy, but for dogs. If you have a dog you are likely to know just how much they love a good massage, particularly after a nice long walk.
Giving your dog a massage on the sofa is one thing; but therapists now exist who are fully trained and experienced in providing dog massages with a deep understanding of a dogs anatomy and how to apply massage to benefit them.
There are various techniques of canine massage with the majority consisting of a hands-on massage to loosen and relieve tension in the dogs muscular system. Massage has been shown to help reduce high blood pressure and promote calming and relaxation.
Canine massage therapy is now commonly used for dogs with orthopaedic conditions, competing agility dogs and senior or elderly dogs.
Canine massage can assist your dogs muscular system as a whole, aid their recovery and recuperation and provide an effective method of pain management.
Are Massage Therapy Products Clinically Proven?
With humans, massage therapy has been widely supported within clinical studies and is now recognised as a form of therapy recommended by the USA and UK health systems.
Although the scientific consensus on the benefits of massage continues to develop, many studies and trials on the outcome and results of massage show that massage can ease muscle tension and soreness and be directly responsible for reducing pain.
At this stage, neither the canine or equine massage therapy industries have achieved rigorous scientific clinical support and as such are classified as complementary or alternative therapies.
More recently, massage-providing products have become extremely popular on the market and are widely available online and from most reputable pet stores. These products claim to provide massage therapy to the animals directly - via pads, massage guns, electro-pulse technologies and various other means.
Although these products may have a place in the market; products such as these do not replicate the benefits of having a fully qualified massage therapist.
Several manufacturers of these products claim to be “clinically proven” but this, as far as the evidence shows (at the time of writing this), is simply not true.
To achieve ‘clinically proven’ status a product must design and carry out independent peer-reviewed studies which are published on scientific journals and openly available to the public.
Claiming a product is “clinically proven” by using data from previously carried out studies, but using different techniques or products, is strictly against regulations.
It is important for animal owners to carry out their own research before choosing any new therapy-based products. If you are unsure on whether a company is making false claims or not, simply ask them for the link to their published data.
Qualified Massage Therapists
There are now well recognised bodies which run certifications in the training of massage therapy.
Qualified therapists such as Jill provide a service which no pre-fitted massage pad or product can achieve. Qualified massage therapists will take a holistic view of the horse and apply various techniques and therapies which help the whole system and understanding and treating each animal as an individual is important with this approach.
Massage therapy can identify and pin-point the animals problem areas, be used to treat a specific injury and applied as a preventative measure.
Once a therapy session ends many therapists, such as Jill, will work with the owners to provide an ongoing service which maintains the animals suppleness and flexibility - the holistic approach.
Your vet should be able to recommend a qualified therapist if you are unsure, but remember that in rare cases your vet may not support a holistic approach or massage therapy in general. In this case, it’s up to you. We like to point out an analogy we once heard - a parachute is not clinically proven to save lives - maybe not, but no skydivers would want to jump out of a plane without one. It’s not always about what medical authorities authorise.
Streamz Technology Alongside Massage Therapy
Jill Lionetti is a fully qualified CEMT therapist (Certified Equine Massage Therapist) and CCMT therapist (Certified Canine Massage Therapist based in Akron, Ohio USA.
“I started my company, Beauty and the Beasts Animal Wellness, 6 years ago. My biggest passion in life is animals and my goal is to be able to help them live their best lives, as pain-free and drug-free as possible.
I am a firm believer that massage helps promote comfort and efficient functioning of the muscle promotes flexibility which in turn assists healing. I have applied this belief by offering a variety of approaches which benefit all horses, no matter what their health condition.
My business provides a range of services which includes equine massage, canine massage, acupuncture and reiki - along with Kinesio taping and various products to support the animals muscle movement.
In 2022 I was introduced to a UK invention who were launching their range of advanced magnetic therapy products within the US. I was keen to have a look at what all the fuss was about and decided to try their horse bands on my horse Jesse who was lame.
EQU StreamZ, their horse bands, were given to my own horse who has existing navicular issues and was experiencing a flare-up at the time and was clearly lame. With a few days of wearing the bands he was visibly improved and within a week he was sound, he has been sound ever since!
I massage many elderly dogs within the business, many of which have joint issues such as canine dysplasia and arthritis. After recommending the DOG StreamZ collars to several of them I have seen wonderful results and dogs who have greatly benefited between their massages.
I only recommend technologies based on the results I see firsthand and how they support my approach to healthcare and I have been delighted with the effects StreamZ technology has had on both horses and dogs.”
Jill Lionetti - Beauty and the Beasts Animal Wellness LLC
StreamZ is supported by many therapists from within the canine and equine world.
Now used as a common therapeutic intervention, the field of animal massage therapy (whether for horses or dogs) continues to gather credibility within it’s communities and is widely adopted across all levels of professional sports, from novice horse owners to olympic-level riders and world renowned breeders.
Providing your horse, or dog, with a regular visit to their therapists - whether physiotherapy, hydrotherapy or massage therapy - can provide wonderful results and help your animal with an existing issue or be applied as a preventative measure.
If you are unsure on whether massage is right for your animal, don’t forget all the social media communities and support groups which are widely available - these can really help you make a decision on whether massage therapy is right for you and your animals and provide real-life cases studies of other animals who may be in a similar position.
What is clear is that the approach of healthcare within the horse and dog world is no longer just pharmaceutically led therapy and that massage therapy is one of the leading alternative therapies on the market with significant benefits to the animals health, wellbeing and overall happiness.
Writer & Blog Publisher