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Contra‑indications refer to the specific situations in which you should not massage a dog.  If these conditions exist, consult your veterinarian. For example:   

  • Do not massage a dog with a temperature over 104° F or 39.5° C. A dog's regular temperature is 101° F or 38.5° C. An increase in temperature occurs during serious illnesses; usually an ill dog is depressed, off his feed and doesn't want to move. Feverish conditions necessitate complete rest. Massage will only worsen the situation by increasing an already accelerated blood circulation. Check with your vet. The laying on of hands over the head and over the sacrum area will soothe the dog.
  • When your dog is suffering from shock.
  • When there is an open (broken skin) or healing (bleeding) wound, avoid that particular area. You may massage the rest of the body to release compensatory tension or excess swelling.
  • When there is acute trauma such as a torn muscle, or an area with internal bleeding such as an acute hematoma following a strong blow. Have a veterinarian evaluate this condition immediately. Use ice for the first few hours. Massage can resume in the chronic stage (after 72 hours).
  • When there is an acute sprain, use ice until the initial swelling goes down, then use the swelling technique.
  • When there are severe forms of functional nervous diseases such as canine distemper virus, for example, the nerve stimulation would make the dog extremely uncomfortable.
  • Acute nerve problems or nerve irritation (neuralgia) in a particular area following a wound or a bad stretch. The laying on of hands may soothe. Use cold hydrotherapy to numb the nerve endings before and after the laying on of hands.
  • During colitis, diarrhea, pregnancy or hernias, use just a light stroking on the abdomen and only if the dog does not mind.
  • Acute rheumatism and acute arthritis are too painful to permit massage. Massage would worsen the inflammation. Instead, use cold hydrotherapy locally. Once the acute stage is relieved, resume your massage. Chronic stages of rheumatism and arthritis require different massage treatment. Light massage over the areas affected will relax the compensatory tension from the muscles supporting those structures. Do not work deeply around the joints.
  • Calcium deposit around joints or within soft tissues should not be massaged, as it could result in increased inflammation in these areas. Check with your veterinarian for possible surgical removal.
  • Inflammatory conditions such as phlebitis would be worsened by direct massage. Use cold hydrotherapy and check with your veterinarian.
  • Tumors and cysts of cancerous origin are contra-indicated; massage will spread them. Avoid the affected areas but you may massage the rest of the body. Check with your vet.

Massage is formally contra-indicated in the following conditions, since massage would contribute to spreading the problem:

  • Skin problems of fungal origin such as ringworm, infectious conditions, pneumonia and bacterial skin disease.
  • Acute stages of any infectious diseases.

Be careful when dealing with what appears to be an abnormal situation. When in doubt, contact a veterinarian. When massage is contra‑indicated, it is best to keep your dog warm, properly hydrated and undisturbed. Follow you veterinarian’s advice with medication. The laying of hands (video C002) will often help to sooth a sore area. Hydrotherapy (video C008) also will relieve the inflammation and pain considerably, assisting recovery and definitively comforting your animal.
Understanding how to properly approach your dog for massage will secure best results. Recognizing the different contra-indications will allow you to better care for your animal. This overall knowledge will give you confidence in your daily application of your personalized home care program. Consider reading the article on the Do’s and Don’ts of home care practice to maximize your efficiency.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found the information useful.  My goal is help you provide quality home care for the benefit of your animal. 

Please visit our FREE library. Our many articles address important aspects of animal wellness and fitness. Take the time to scroll through our free library to find out how you can actively contribute to your dog’s wellness.

Animal Awareness also offers a large video library with over a 100 mini-videos that will show you how to easily perform the various massage and stretching techniques talked about in this article. These videos offer you the correct start and visual guidance. With this knowledge, you will be able to develop a good home care program for the benefit of your animal friend.  He will love you for it.

Enjoy your new Awareness!

Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, LMT

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