For Pets and Practitioners, Animal Massage is a "Paws"itive Experience

By Rebecca J. Razo
May 29, 2009

For Pets and Practitioners, Animal Massage is a "Paws"itive Experience

By Rebecca J. Razo
May 29, 2009

Imagine arriving to work one morning to find your waiting room filled with animals: a German Shepard puppy, two Siamese cats, a rabbit and a guinea pig - and those are just your morning appointments. Your afternoon appointments - off-site, of course - consist of horses at a local stable.

Don't be alarmed. Just as an increasing number of people are turning to massage therapy to treat everything from injuries and chronic muscle pain to migraine headaches, so are they utilizing massage to treat the animals in their lives, whether domestic or working companions. And much like their human counterparts, the animals are responding well.

According to Animal Massage and Therapies (AMTIL), an organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of massage and other holistic therapies for animals, massage therapy assists animals in many of the same ways it benefits humans by increasing flexibility and circulation, aiding in pain relief, enhancing performance, and promoting general health and wellness. AMTIL also notes that massage can "restore enjoyment of touch to animals whose history includes abuse or neglect; provide early detection of conditions requiring veterinary care; and deepen bonding and trust between animals and their caretakers."

Jonathan Rudinger is the developer of PetMassage™ and founder of The PetMassage™ Training and Research Institute in Toledo, Ohio, a unique training facility that offers workshops for pet owners, veterinary practitioners, and other massage therapists. PetMassage is a gentle technique that incorporates variations of traditional massage, acupressure, positional release, Healing Touch and animal communication - a combination that helps facilitate a "spiritual connection between owners and their pets," according to Rudinger.

"Massage involves major interaction between people and animals," Rudinger says of the differences between massage and petting. "Petting is sort of mindless. [Massage] involves intention and the specific use of techniques. It is mindful and respectful; [the animals] need you to be totally focused."

With this in mind, Rudinger's institute recently created an indoor labyrinth, which not only helps dogs increase their flexibility and awareness, but also enables pet owners to embark on a spiritual journey with their beloved furry friends. The PetMassage Institute is also home to WaterWorks: a doggy health club that involves the application of advanced massage techniques in an indoor heated swimming pool.

According to Rudinger, WaterWorks therapy aids in injury rehabilitation, as well as facilitates enhanced energetic connection and interaction between dogs and their human companions. 

The PetMassage Training and Research Institute is also thought to be the only national organization currently conducting valid animal massage research. The institute learned how to conduct research projects with the guidance of Dr. Tiffany Field, a leading massage therapy researcher with the Touch Research Institutes at the University of Miami's School of Medicine.

To date, the PetMassage Training and Research Institute has evaluated two dozen dogs and will publish its findings after several hundred dogs have been thoroughly studied.

The animal massage phenomenon has also captured the attention of the mainstream media. Over the last year, dozens of articles in magazines and newspapers throughout the country have profiled massage therapists who work with animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and even elephants.

In February, an article from the AFP newswire in New Delhi, India, featured a story about American massage therapist Elke Riesterer, who works with elephants at the Oakland Zoo, in Oakland, Calif. Riesterer was invited to work with several elephants in captivity in an elephant colony near the Indian capital. Using a technique called "touch healing," Riesterer begins by working on the elephants' feet, proceeding up each leg and eventually working her way to the ears, face and tail.

Though animal massage is slowly but surely building steam, some states prohibit anyone other than doctors of veterinary medicine from practicing, effectively limiting the field for many aspiring animal massage therapists.* Nevertheless, those who do work with animals find it very rewarding.

"The future is going to be exciting," Rudinger enthused. "I predict there will be more animal massage therapists than groomers and trainers in the next 10 years because it has value, is available and affordable."


  1. Animal Massage and Therapies (AMTIL). FAQs about massage therapy.
  2. The PetMassage™ Training and Research Institute.
  3. Phone interview with Jonathan Rudinger. Dec. 7, 2004.
  4. The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork (IAAMB) Web site.
  5. "U.S. massage therapist to cool down Indian elephants' stress levels." Offbeat - AFP on Yahoo News, Feb. 4, 2004.

*For more information about your state's laws regarding animal massage, click here.

Visit the following Web sites for more information on animal massage and holistic animal therapies.