Which is better for dogs with arthritis, massage or stretching? The answer – it depends on what your goal is!
Benefits of massage
Many dogs develop very tight muscles in their shoulders, back, and hips as a result of arthritis. Regular massage to these muscles can help bring blood flow in, which causes the muscles to warm up and be less stiff.
Massage also causes the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain and can reduce stress and anxiety. A recent study found that massage therapy performed by trained professionals in the UK resulted in decreased pain and improved mobility in dogs with arthritis and other orthopedic conditions (Riley LM et al. 2021).
If you’re not able to take your dog to a professional for regular massages, a canine massage or rehabilitation therapist can teach you how to perform an effective massage on your dog (search for one in your area here). Until then, start by performing long, slow, gentle strokes along their back following the direction of the hair. After 30-60 seconds of this, perform more of a kneading or rubbing motion around the shoulders, hips, and spine for about 2-3 minutes per location. This should be enjoyable for your dog; if they don’t like it, they may be too sore or painful and you should talk to your veterinarian.
Benefits of stretching
Stretching is used to increase the flexibility of a muscle, which can help improve overall mobility. Stretching should only be performed after the muscle is warmed up. Ideally, the muscles are warmed up with at least 5-10 minutes of gentle walking, but massage can also be used prior to stretching.
Your veterinarian or rehabilitation therapist can show you which muscles and joints in your dog would benefit most from stretching. You can also check out this book by Sasha Foster, the lead physical therapist at Colorado State University Vet School.
Massage and stretching can be performed every day and should be a relaxing and enjoyable bonding time for you and your dog.