Heavy Petting:  Therapeutic Touch for Companion Animals

Could your Yorkie benefit from a little drug-free anti-anxiety medicine? Or say your nervous terrier is headed for surgery? Maybe your big tabby is suffering from a little PTSD after that pre-adoption stint in the shelter?  No Xanax needed; consider therapeutic pet massage, a gentle hands-on healing technique that harmonizes energies in your companion animal.

It employs your human hands to activate specific responsive points on your pet’s body, reinvigorating canine or feline self-healing powers and alleviating physical and mental symptoms (separation anxiety, anyone?).

In other words, it’s an at-home drug-free way to bring your pet back into balance.  According to the American Kennel Club, for example, massage is an excellent and subtle way for a rescue cat or dog to regain trust when coming from an environment of mistreatment.  Pet massage is nothing new.  Early Egyptian hieroglyphics depicted animal healers; Julius Caesar was said to use it on his dogs,

The benefits include:

  • Promotion of  blood and lymph circulation
  • Reduced pain associated with inflammation and stiffness of the joints and muscles
  • Improved  immunity
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased circulation
  • Improved  digestion
  • Better muscle tone and flexibility
  • Reduced anxiety and stress
  • Promotion of  faster recovery from illness or surgery
  • Greater energy and alertness
  • Stimulation of  kidneys and liver
  • Strengthening of the human-animal bond

Physical activity and movement are essential for the lymph system (part of the immune system) to function properly. The more your dog exercises, the better it is for his/her lymph flow. For dogs who are inactive, either because of a physical disability or lifestyle, massage is even more important to stimulate the lymph system.  It will improve your dog’s ability to fight off infection and disease.  The same goes for cats. Enter massage which is the focused and intentional touch that manipulates both skin and muscle, to help your pet heal or feel better.  Indeed the power of touch is both spiritual and physical for our companion animals, as it is for us. Healing touch is especially useful before your pet undergoes any veterinary treatment or surgery. It’s also a good pre and post-medical intervention advises SAMP, the Small Animal Massage Practitioners group.  Pet massage in this instance has a strengthening effect, supports the healing process, and makes it easier for your animal to tolerate anesthetics.

Do note however that you are an amateur doing a professional’s work. Certified animal massage therapists are educated in the areas of physiology, anatomy, and massage techniques while some have advanced training with a  specialized focus on different breeds, behavioral problems, and various illnesses. But for a relatively healthy animal, why not try your hand? Your pet will enjoy every loving amateur’s stroke.


Make sure that your dog is in a calm, submissive state before you begin.  Usher any other animals out of the room. One of the goals is relaxation for your dog.  Starting when he/she’s anxious or fearful may make things worse. Try going for a long walk pre-massage, suggests the American Animal Hospital Association in Lakewood, Colo.

Then, start by petting your dog gently head to tail.  Talk softly to create calm. Next, the act of gentle rubbing and kneading helps increase circulation to sore muscles and joints. Use gentle pressure to encourage tissues to contract, increasing blood flow.

Easy with the pressure. Stop if your pet flinches or if he/she seems fearful.  Use flat palms to press against the skin lightly. Move your hands slowly using long, sweeping motions.  Take note of any swelling, increased sensitivity, and pain. Stop if your pet if recoils, nips, or growls.

Start from the head and neck, and work toward the tail, gently increasing pressure if your dog seems to be enjoying it. Never press straight down on bones or joints. Avoid areas where he/she seems sensitive.  Gentle massage at the base of the skull and the tail can stimulate relaxation.


Simple stroking can start and end a cat massage session. Stroking involves running your hands with light to medium pressure over the cat from the head to the tail and down each of the limbs. By starting with long, light-touch strokes, you will relax the cat and set the stage for what follows, if you get the go-ahead signal from your pet. This step also gives you the opportunity to note any lumps, swelling, or temperature changes.

Next is a gliding stroke using the whole hand and applying medium pressure. This gesture follows the lines of the muscles in general, and moves up from the toes toward the upper torso, and from the backside toward the head.  This stroking helps with circulation of both blood and lymph. Next, you can move on to kneading or skin rolling with knuckles or the backs of the hands.  Skin rolling  (like it sounds) can loosen skin from the deeper tissues, and increase circulation throughout the body. It’s the cat’s meow for most cats.

Finally, you can try chopping, which involves using the edge of the hand in a rapid chopping fashion using medium pressure over areas of large muscle mass. Or tapping, which is done by bringing the fingers into a pinching shape and tapping the area being massaged. Both techniques energize tissues and improve circulation.

Last but not least–

PAW FLOW (Cats and Dogs)

Additionally,  you might try this simple technique from a gentle Eastern pet healing art called Jin-Shin, called paw flow.

Paw flow mirrors the finger-toe flow for humans. Simply,  hold a finger with the opposite toe on the other side of the pet’s body. That is the thumb of the right hand and the left small toe, the right index finger, and the second smallest left toe. Hold as long as tolerated.

Hold the entire paw: one front paw and the rear paw on the other side of the body, (the right front paw with the left rear paw and the left front paw with the right rear paw). This simple extremely effective calming flow can be used anywhere and anytime.

Need someone to hold your massaging hand? Consider an online course.

-Frances Goulart


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1 comment on “Heavy Petting:  Therapeutic Touch for Companion Animals

  1. Robert Bolon

    Cheers on losing my mechanical feline petting method and implementing your ideas! Little Zen gets spoiled further, all good..

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