News Item | PAWS Chicago

Massage & Acupuncture for Health

by Dr. Barbara Royal, DVM | Nov 01, 2014

Pet owners are seeing the clear advantage of more noninvasive and practical methods to treat many conditions.

Massage & Acupuncture for Health

If I told you that you were going to pay for a therapeutic massage for your dog you might think I was crazy. (Or you might think, “not until I get a massage myself!”) But therapeutic techniques like massage and acupuncture are becoming more commonly used in veterinary healthcare. And the big news is that they are incredibly effective tools. 

As alternative and integrative medicine is becoming more mainstream, owners are seeing the clear advantage of more noninvasive and practical methods to treat many conditions. There are many dramatic health improvements documented from therapeutic massage that pets couldn’t get from any drugs or surgery. And the ancient secrets of acupuncture have become not-so-secret in many veterinary hospitals. These techniques are not just for the exceptional cases but can be used in many situations. So don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian about these options to treat your pets. And don’t forget to schedule a massage for yourself now and again too.

Take a good look at your pet. You may not be able to see the wolf in your Dobie-Basset mix, but the streamlined wild physique has been changed into squatty angulated legs, unstable vertebral discs, and long floppy ears. Massage is one tool to help mitigate any negative health effects of these individual structural differences.


Dragging or knuckling, mild incoordination, stilted gait? Gently squeeze the feet and pull gently on each toe a few times (as long as your pet is amenable to this) to reestablish nerve pathways between the feet and the head. If inflammation or circulation is compromised along the spine, the brain loses its quick connection to the feet. A foot massage can rekindle neurologic pathways from the feet to the brain.


Massaging around the top part of the tail base just where the back meets the tail can improve circulation and health of tightly adhered tails, tails that curl excessively, and tails with heavy fur. Provide some gentle traction on the spine by pulling gently along the tail. This puts mild tension on the fascia around disc spaces, improving circulation and fluid flow around the spine.


Long neck/long back? Make small circles with one or two fingers on either side of the spine. Massage a circle about every 1-2 inches down the back of a long-backed dog or cat. They may be predisposed to spinal arthritis, neck instability, inflamed discs, or disc disease. Help the body clear inflammation with this massage.


Extra skin folds? Massage in tiny circles around the face to improve lymphatic drainage and circulation and to avoid skin fold infections.


Heavy, floppy ears? Chronic ear infections? Take the earflap and circle it like a windmill to open up the ear canal’s crenulations, improving air flow and circulation. This creates a less hospitable environment for yeast and bacteria.

A complete massage is a great idea for any animal that has genetic conditions affecting circulation, behavior, or musculature, or an animal that is aging and suffering from arthritic changes, has scarring from trauma or recent surgery, or has circulation compromised by heart disease, cancer, or growths. Even without these factors, massage can work wonders – It’ll make for a happy pet.

What is Acupuncture Good For?

I am aware that even as I place needles into an arthritic dog or an asthmatic cat, a pet owner may be skeptical. But when their pet is better, almost miraculously, they keep coming back, and the obvious improvements continue with each treatment. 

Acupuncture is ostensibly about needles, but what the needles help is circulation, by sending a message to the body. Using needles, I am in communication with the body. I receive information and answers from the needles that assist me diagnostically. At the same time, I am treating the problem at hand.

Developed over thousands of years, the medical system of acupuncture can ameliorate almost all medical conditions, including: 

  • Arthritis*, disc disease, post-op orthopedic surgery, and many musculoskeletal conditions 
  • Seizure disorders* 
  • Anxiety*, behavior problems, and other neurological conditions 
  • Allergies, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory intestinal conditions, immune system disorders 
  • Asthma, kidney*, liver, and heart disease, and other systemic diseases 
  • Cancers – to boost the immune system and to mitigate side effects of chemo 
  • Dermatitis, lick granulomas, hot spots 
  • Incontinence, bladder stones and chronic infections, urologic diseases

*You can be taught to administer acupressure for these medical conditions at home. Ask your vet how you can get started.