Can massage reduce stress and anxiety in dogs?
09 Feb, 2018
Everywhere we look there is a plethora of information about maintaining our mental well being. We know that we are unable to maintain healthy relationships or fully participate in work or other activities, if we are stressed, anxious or our mental state is out of balance. Likewise, our dogs’ mood: level of stress or anxiety affects their quality of life and ability to participate in everyday activities.
Remedial massage therapy has been shown to be effective in improving mood and reducing stress and anxiety in both human and animal subjects. A study of human patients recovering from open heart surgery investigated how massage can improve patient’s mood and aid their recovery.
When recovering from open heart surgery an important factor in patients’ recovery is their mental state. Mental state influences the patient’s ability to function socially and resume normal activities including work and activities. In the early stages of their recovery, patients typically experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. They also experience fatigue, sleep disorders, and mood changes like stress, fear, confusion, agitation and irritability.
A number of factors contribute to mood changes post open heart surgery. These factors include pain, fatigue, and fear (of death or disability). The patient’s mental state affects the patient’s sympathetic nervous system which in turn directly affects heart rate and pressure.
While patient’s mental state can, to some extent, be managed pharmacologically, complementary therapies are increasingly being applied to attend to patient’s psychological needs post-surgery. One such therapy is massage. It is recognised as an “easy, safe, non-invasive and relatively cheap” therapy.
Study design and method
72 patients participated in the study. All participants completed a standard Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire upon entry into the study. The questionnaire included 65 items divided into six groups: anxiety, depression, fatigue, confusion, anger and ability. Following completion of the questionnaire, participants were randomly divided into a control and case (massage) group.
Patients in the massage group (case group) received a 20 minute Swedish massage on the legs, hands, and back. Massage was performed for four sessions in 4 consecutive days, 3 – 6 days post-surgery.
Patients in the control group received the same routine medical care as the massaged group excluding the massage treatment.
On the fourth day, all participants completed another POMS questionnaire. For each participant a “mood” score was determined based on their responses.
In the group that received massage, their overall “mood” rating before the massage intervention was 123.1. After the massage treatments, the mood rating was 23.1. This compares with the control group, their mood rating before the intervention was 118.8 and after the intervention 91.6.
Both groups showed a significant improvement in mood following the intervention, which may be attributed to the passing of time post-surgery, resumption of activities and decreased pain. The study however showed that combining massage therapy with routine post-operative care can enhance the improvements in the mood of patients recovering from open heart surgery.
Effects of massage therapy on dogs’ behaviour
While there is evidence that massage therapy is effective on improving the mood of human patients, do these findings translate to dogs?
Massage to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs
In shelter dogs, massage has been found to lower the dog’s heart rate and blood pressure which are key indicators of stress. It has also been found to stimulate the release of oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins which are associated with a positive mental state. Reduced stress levels and producing a positive mental state is critical in the rehabilitation process of shelter dogs but is also desirable in dogs recovering from injury or surgery.
For more about using massage to calm anxious dogs please see https://www.fullstride.com.au/blog/can-massage-calm-anxious-dogs
Massage to manage pain in dogs
Pain in humans is often associated with irritability, anxiety, anger and fatigue. Similarly, pain in dogs has a negative impact on their quality of life. Massage has been shown, in human and animal studies, to have a positive effect on managing chronic pain. Not only does massage address myofascial trigger points and muscle tension, it influences pain receptors to alter the dog’s perception of pain.
Please see http://www.fullstride.com.au/blog/Pain+management+for+dogs for ways that massage can assist manage dog’s pain.
Anecdotally in my practice, I observe the effect of massage on my client’s dog’s mood. During massage, I often feel the tension in muscles release and observe dogs physically relaxing into a treatment. Typical signs of relaxation are the dog lying comfortably on their side with their head on the ground, sighing, soft eyes and the dog not being hyper-vigilant about the treatment and me moving around them. Post treatment, owners typically report that dogs sleep soundly and comfortably and that stress related behaviours like pacing, following owners, irritability with other pets, and whining are reduced for up to several days after a treatment.
Full Stride provides remedial canine massage treatments in Brisbane, Australia. I would love to hear about the ways that massage has helped improve your dog’s mood, please leave me a comment.
Until next time, enjoy your dogs.
Babaee, S, Shafiei, Z, Sadeghi, M.M.M, Nik, A.Y, & Valiana, M 2012 “Effectiveness of massage therapy on the mood of patients after open-heart surgery” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, Feb. 2012, Vol 17, Issue 2.
MacFarlane, P.D, Tute, S.A & Alderson, B (2014) “Therapeutic options for the treatment of chronic pain in dogs”, Journal of Small Animal Practice (55) p127 – 134
Marston, L 2010 “Training shelter dogs to be quiet” AIAM Annual Conference, Urban Animal Management Proceedings.
Matthews, K, Kronen, P.W, Lascelles,D, Nolan, A, Robertson,S, Steagall, P, Wright, B & Yamashita, K (2014) “Guidelines for recognition, assessment and treatment of pain” Journal of Small Animal Practice, Vol, 55 p10 – 68