Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How to Massage an Arthritic Dog

By Langley Cornwell

My friend Karen recently adopted a senior dog with general arthritis and hip dysplasia. Good for her, right? It started with a conversation we were having about the high number of senior dogs in shelters, and how sad it was for an older dog to live out his or her days behind bars. In our local shelter, senior dogs make up about 10% of the overall population at any given time. When trying to understand why, a shelter worker told us that oftentimes families surrender their senior dogs when they reach an age where they require extra care. What a shame.

Karen’s goal is to provide her new dog, Goldie Girl, with a safe and comfortable home during her twilight years. Their union is heartwarming; it’s amazing how quickly Goldie Girl and Karen have bonded. And the dog seems to have turned back the clock several years. She holds her head a bit higher and her limp is less pronounced. Karen attributes the quick bonding and Goldie Girl’s improved physical state to massage.

The article I wrote titled The Benefits of Massage Therapy for Pets helped convince Karen that her new dog would get a lot out of regular massages, but she didn’t want to cause Goldie Girl any additional pain. Having no experience with massage, Karen went looking for advice on how to massage an older, arthritic dog. She found what she was looking for on The Dog Channel, where there is a helpful tutorial on massaging a senior dog. Here are some simple pointers.

Why massage an arthritic dog?

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes pain and soreness in a dog’s joints, specifically the hips, lower spine and knees, and, less severely, to the elbows and shoulders. Massaging your senior dog’s aching muscles a few minutes every day will help slow down the degenerative process of arthritis. Furthermore, massage can help relieve some of your dog’s arthritis pain and reduce some of the muscle tension associated with the disease.

How do you do it?

Start by lightly petting your dog all over, then slowly concentrate your efforts on the area you are about to massage. Continue to lightly stroke the area with very little pressure – this is called effleurage – which helps to increase circulation in the area.

Next, begin lightly kneading the tight muscles. Then rub your hands against your dog’s skin to create light friction which will loosen the tight muscle fibers and encourage deeper circulation. Continue to alternate light kneading with light hand friction. About every 10 seconds, use light effleurage strokes to assist drainage. Avoid putting any direct pressure on the dog’s painful joints, but do work the area around the joints to stimulate circulation and drainage.  

During the massage, you may want to perform some gentle stretching exercises on your dog, to increase the elasticity of the tissue you are working on. When your massage and stretching session is over, softly stroke your dog’s entire body to help her relax. Then you may want to give your sweet dog a soft and tasty CANIDAE TidNips treat.

How long should the massage last?

The massage should last about 10 minutes for smaller breeds and between 15 - 20 minutes for larger breeds. Start with less time and increase the duration gradually, otherwise you risk overworking a specific part of the dog’s body and exacerbating the inflammatory process often present with an arthritic condition.

Does time of day matter?

If you can manage it, try to massage your dog twice a day: once in the early morning and then again in the evening. A massage first thing in the morning is useful because it helps reduce the soreness and stiffness resulting from the previous night’s inactivity. A second massage in the evening will relieve muscle aches brought about by the day's activities.

While massage isn’t a cure for arthritis, it will certainly help your older canine friend feel better. The added bonus is that the bonding experience will benefit both of you!

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. It breaks my heart to see senior dogs in shelters too. Great tips in here.

  2. Good stuff - that pup looks like she's in heaven!

  3. Thanks for sharing.I got very useful information from your blog about massage .Nice tip..


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