Just like their human companions, animals appreciate bodywork.
Nothing beats the feel of warm, soft fur beneath your hands. You love sitting with your dog or cat, stroking her coat while she murmurs or purrs. It soothes and relaxes you both, and brings the two of you closer together. All of us enjoy, and need, touch. But touch can also carry healing power through bodywork, such as massage, chiropractic and acupuncture. These and other hands-on therapies help our pets the same way they help us—by stimulating the body’s innate ability to restore and repair itself, and prevent health problems altogether.
But which bodywork method is best for your pet? Says Allen M. Schoen, DVM, a veterinarian practicing in Sherman, Connecticut (www.drschoen.com), who wrote Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans and Animals Can Change the Way We Live (Broadway): “Start with a holistic vet who is familiar with complementary therapies. Along with a proper diagnosis, he or she can give a more unbiased perspective about reasonable options and refer you to those trained in these modalities.”
Lani Scheman of Seattle turned to bodywork to help her eight-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, Chacho. Three years ago, after charging up a muddy hillside, he hobbled back to her with a nasty cut on his front left paw. After it healed, even with a couple of weeks’ rest, he still limped. When an X-ray revealed arthritis in his toe, Scheman took Chacho to Dr. Donna Kelleher DVM (www.wholepetvet.com), who started him on acupuncture and gentle chiropractic.
“Both therapies work to keep the inflammation in the joints under control and keep the cartilage integrity intact,” says Kelleher, author of The Last Chance Dog and Other True Stories of Holistic Animal Healing (Scribner). “Because Chacho was compensating for the limp in his left leg by putting more weight on his right side, the chiropractic helped straighten out his spine.” She also injected a product, (“like WD-40 for the joints,” as she puts it) with vitamin B-12 into the most important acupuncture points to hold the chiropractic adjustment longer.
Several weeks after corrective surgery to remove a loose bone, Chacho began a physical rehabilitation program, short walks and swimming therapy, and resumed weekly acupuncture and chiropractic with Kelleher. Though he still sometimes limps, the treatments (now every six weeks) help manage Chacho’s pain, slow down cartilage destruction and improve joint mobility.
Stroke That Shiny Coat
Massage also helps the joints “by increasing blood flow there,” says Jonathan Rudinger, RN, LMT, president of the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork, and owner of PetMassage in Toledo, Ohio (www.petmassage.com). “Massage affects all the acupressure points, and manipulates and warms the body’s connective tissue that’s held in a restrictive condition. The touching brings the animal’s awareness to that restriction, softening any spasms and opening blood flow to that area. Massage also flushes waste from the cells and replaces it with nutrients.”
More elusive modalities such as healing touch and energy work can also help your furry friends. “Every bodywork treatment has its place. No one form of health care has all the answers,” says Schoen. “The most appropriate one can be a beneficial component of a total, integrative approach.”
Any bodywork approach should include healthful supplements. Chacho, for example, takes glucosamine, turmeric, fish oil, drynaria (a Chinese herb), a homeopathic remedy and antioxidants for pain control and to help the joints absorb nutrition.
“Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, and selenium are helpful by controlling free radicals associated with cartilage damage,” adds Schoen. “Bioflavonoids are beneficial in the treatment of arthritis, as are herbs such as yucca, devil’s claw, alfalfa and various Chinese formulas.”
One owner has seen a difference. “The supplements, natural diet and bodywork have all paid off for Chacho,” Scheman says. “He’s energetic, fit and happy, and has a rich coat and gleaming white teeth. I feel like I’m an active part of his health, doing all I can for him.”
“Bodywork gives you the opportunity to improve more than your pet’s health. It also strengthens the bond between you,” says Schoen. “The essence of all healing is love—giving and receiving it. If we extend that to the whole planet, we’d all be a lot healthier and happier. It starts with each and every one of us.”
And our pets.