beloved canine

Finding a Qualified Canine Massage Therapist

Here in the United States, canine massage law is regulated at the state level. In some states, there is very little regulation. Some states limit the practice of animal massage therapy to individuals holding a veterinary medicine license. In Illinois, where Beloved Canine calls home, animal owners are given latitude to access therapeutic massage for their pets as they see fit. There are currently no minimum requirements for training in Illinois. As of right now in Illinois, anyone can practice canine massage therapy whether they have completed only six hours of online training or have completed 400 hundred hours of hands-on training. (The International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork maintains a very handy document that tracks legislative activities related to animal massage.)   

The purpose of this post is not to talk about the lack of regulation in Illinois. (I personally believe that this legal ambiguity can be a good thing. There are talented bodyworkers and healers that I have met in my life who might never have set foot in a traditional classroom setting. This is part of the magic of bodywork.) Rather, my intention here is to highlight a few key indicators of highly qualified canine massage therapists. 


You can learn a lot about a canine massage therapist based on the training they have received. When you meet someone who offers canine massage therapy, don't hesitate to ask them about the training they received. Ask them how many hours of training they have completed, what school they attended and how much hands-on training time they completed. Ask them what they studied in their program. A qualified massage therapist should have training in canine anatomy and physiology as well as massage techniques. They should have learned about canine behavior and how to handle a dog in a respectful and safe way.  

Another thing I would recommend is that you find a canine massage therapist who invests time in their own continuing education. Your dog's canine massage therapist doesn't have to be licensed to practice massage therapy on humans, but should definitely indicate a desire to broaden and strengthen their understanding of massage therapy techniques and/or other healing modalities.

Professional Background 

One of the interesting things about the massage and bodywork field is that it brings together people from so many different professional backgrounds. It doesn't really matter too much, in my opinion, what your canine massage therapist did before they became a canine massage therapist, as long as they are excellent communicators with both you and your dog. A qualified canine massage therapist should be able to write notes for you to share with your veterinarian. You and your dog should feel comfortable working with your dog's massage therapist. 

It can be very helpful to work with a canine massage therapist who has a background as a human massage therapist, physical therapist or veterinary technician, but there are many talented and qualified individuals practicing canine massage who do not possess these other credentials. The bottom line, I think, is that your dog's massage therapist present himself or herself professionally, communicate with you and your dog effectively, and have adequate training to guide the work they do with your dog. 


The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure & Massage (NBCAAM) offers a certification exam for individuals that have completed a minimum of 200 hours training for animal massage or acupressure. NBCAAM certification is the current gold standard for canine massage therapists. I highly recommend that you work with a canine massage therapist who has sat for the NBCAAM exam and is a nationally certified canine massage therapist. This is currently the only way you can know for sure that your dog's canine massage therapist has completed at least 200 hours of training from a school with an adequate curriculum. NBCAAM maintains a growing registry of all nationally certified canine massage therapists in the United States. 

 Word of Mouth

Just as you likely invested time to find the right veterinarian for your dog, you will probably want to take some time to identify a canine massage therapist that you can trust. Reach out to a few canine massage therapists and ask them questions. Talk to schools in your area and ask to be put in contact with their most promising graduates.  Carefully investigate websites of canine massage therapists to learn about their qualifications. Some veterinarians have relationships with canine massage therapists, so ask for a recommendation. Canine massage therapy is a relatively young field, so don't be surprised if your veterinarian does not have a massage therapist to recommend. In fact, if you know someone who is excellent, recommend them to your veterinarian! 

Happily Ever After

Once you've found a massage therapist that you trust, maintain open lines of communication with him or her. Give them feedback about how your dog responds to the massage sessions. You and your dog's massage therapist need to be partners in your dog's health care, so don't ever hesitate to ask questions and share your thoughts and concerns. The partnership between you and your dog's many health care providers is vital to your dog's ongoing well-being. 


My Dog's Paralyzed! Now What?! Or What Lucy Taught Us

When Lucy first started to show signs of neurological issues, we had no idea what was going on! Our primary veterinary office suggested Lucy was experiencing arthritis, but one day Lucy just stopped walking with her hind legs and that was it. We were in total shock.


I still remember taking her to a neurologist in the area who matter-of-factly examined her and told us that she was not a candidate for surgery, that she would likely develop recurring urinary tract infections and that, ultimately, those infections would be her undoing. It was a devastating experience made only slightly better by the fact that Lucy's bladder expressed at the end of the exam spraying urine all over the exam table and his white lab coat. (Lucy was a big personality. And that doctor was a jerk.)

We've had a lot of time to consider the many ways that Lucy changed our lives. She taught us so much and was largely responsible for my rash decision to quit my non-profit management job and step out into the canine massage frontier. 

So, what did we learn from Lucy?

  1. Question your veterinarian! Just because they are your dog's doctor does not mean they have the definitive answer on what your dog is experiencing. Look for second and third opinions and talk to other pet parents. Diagnosing conditions is hard work and people make mistakes. Weigh all of your options and gather a team of experts around you. Educate yourself. 
  2. Urine scalding is a real thing and it sucks.  When a dog is neurologically challenged in the hind end, the bladder is often involved and when urine leaks it can scald the delicate skin of the pelvic area and legs like nobody's business. Bathe your differently-abled dog frequently.
  3. Every day is a new opportunity to educate. It is highly unusual for the average person to see a dog's bladder being expressed in the grass on a busy residential street during morning rush hour. You'd be surprised (unless you have shared this experience) to know how blunt people can be in their questioning. What's wrong with my dog? Nothing. She is paralyzed and I am helping her urinate because she is not able to do that on her own anymore. 
  4. Old pillowcases have many uses. If your dog is paralyzed and drops poops with little warning and in her sleep, using an old pillowcase as a sleeping bag is a handy way to prevent said poops from ending up in your own bed sheets. And while I'm on the topic of sheets, did you know that you can use an old sheet as a sling to carry your (small) dog with you around the house?
  5. Don't forget about sunshine! We took Lucy on lots of excursions after she lost mobility. Just because she couldn't walk didn't mean she didn't need the benefit of time spent in the sun. 
  6. Be patient.  There's a learning curve for the whole family when a dog's mobility or health status changes. Be patient with yourself and your dog. Chances are good that they are just as distressed as you are during the transition. Accept the unknowns. Embrace your dog and tell him that he is loved and that you will get through this together. Which brings me to the next thing we learned from our Goose Nut...
  7. Talk to your dog.  This is not revolutionary thinking, I know, but talking to Lucy and expressing our thoughts to her really helped us cope with her new disabilities and later hospice care. My rationale was that, even if we made some mistakes along the road, as long as Lucy knew how much we loved her, she would forgive us for our human failings.
  8. Hydration is key!  When your dog can't walk and can't even slither to a water bowl, it becomes more and more difficult to ensure proper hydration each day. Think of it this way - 70 percent of a dog's body is made of water. A dog who's health is compromised in any way will be significantly affected by inadequate water intake. Make hydration your mantra. Soak kibble. Feed your dog extra soupy re-hydrated food. Swap out dry treats with dog-safe slices of moist fruits or veggies.
  9. No pity parties! People can be insensitive. We were asked some pretty startling questions from time to time. Some of my favorites: How much time does your dog have? Are you going to just let her waste away? Why don't you put her to sleep? I didn't always handle these questions with grace. All I really knew for sure was that Lucy didn't need pity - she needed love and around-the-clock care.
  10. Celebrate each day together even when it's hard work. I remember Lucy's last night with us like it was yesterday. It was snowing out and Lucy had been lacking an appetite for about a week. We hopped in the car to get coffee and I brought Lucy and Ethel along, Lucy wrapped in a bunting like a little baby. That night we slow roasted some grape tomatoes with herbs de Provence. Lucy ate them enthusiastically. When we settled in to sleep for the night, Lucy fell asleep on my chest and we giggled as she snored like a hibernating bear. She passed away there on my chest in the middle of the night. When I think back to that last night with her, I feel so blessed that our final night together was so joyful and full of so much time together as a family.


The Magic of Massage

Animal massage is still a relatively new field.  I meet someone just about every week that has never heard of or witnessed animal massage. When I explain what I do for a living, the revelation is often met with curiosity and a little surprise. But when I tell them about my clients and the many ways massage benefits them, the conversation shifts. And the next thing I know, they’re scheduling a massage consultation for their own dog. It’s like magic. Except it’s actually science. And awesome.

Just as massage benefits humans, canines have a lot to gain from therapeutic massage.  When provided by a trained professional and in tandem with regular veterinary care, massage can promote total body wellness and prevent many common ailments that affect dogs.

Here are just a few of the benefits of canine massage:

  • Improves circulation throughout the body
  • Decreases muscle adhesions and restrictions
  • Reduces pain and swelling in the tissue
  • Enhances joint range of motion and flexibility
  • Bolsters the immune system and helps eradicate toxins from the body
  • Can reduce behavioral issues including anxiety, reactivity,      hyper-activity
  • Encourages bonding between dogs and their people
  • Helps puppies to develop touch tolerance and appreciation
  • Builds confidence for dogs who fear touch
  • Promotes deep relaxation
  • Improves performance of athletic and performance dogs
  • Speeds recovery from injuries and surgery
  • Provides comfort to dogs at the end of life
  • Improves quality of life for all dogs

So, are you convinced yet? Maybe you have a new pup in the house or a senior who’s starting to slow down on your evening walks. I invite you to schedule a massage, learn some techniques to try at home and watch how your dog relishes therapeutic touch.