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Canine Massage and The Senior or Ageing Dog

“As far as we know not a single living thing is spared the phenomenon of growing old. Consequently, growing old well is something that preoccupies all of us. So it will hardly come as a surprise that we also worry about our faithful companions’ well-being in their old age.” (Lagalisse, pg xiii)

How did it happen? One minute our new puppy is hurtling around, full of life and energy and the next they’re happy to calmly walk at our side, potter around the garden and to sleep in the warm, sunny patch. It all seems to happen in the blink of an eye.

Different breeds age at different rates and generally this is dependent on size. There are changes to their senses, psychological changes and changes to their physical system (i.e. activity levels, muscle tone and flexibility).

Things such as….

  • Slowing down… not able to sustain the activity level
  • Stiffening up… maybe more so in the morning, after exercise or after they’ve been at rest, possibly ‘warming’ out of it as the day goes on
  • Reluctance to go for a walk
  • Reluctance or inability to perform everyday activities such as jumping into/ out of the car, onto the sofa/bed, finding it difficult to climb the stairs etc
  • Loss of muscle mass, especially in the hind legs
  • Generally slowing down
  • Joints become less flexible
  • Conditions such as Osteoarthritis, Spondylosis begin to develop
  • You may notice twitching in muscles and shaking in limbs
  • Generally lost their bounce and that ‘twinkle’ in their eye

These happen over time and can almost be imperceptible until one day we realise that the dog that used rush around, happily leaping into the car at the end of a walk, is no longer able to, and stands waiting for help.

We notice these changes and take appropriate action, retiring them from certain activities such as Agility, Field Trials, and working etc. We shorten their walks, adjust their food and accept that they’ve slowed down and that this inevitable as our dog is getting older.

BUT, this does not have to be the case.

These are just a few things that we can do to ensure that our ‘older’ friends are comfortable…

Canine Massage Guild Tips

1. Massage therapy can make a dramatic difference to the older dog.

  • It treats areas of pain and soreness, minimising pain and maximising comfort
  • Releases tight, contracted muscles
  • It can maintain /improve range of movement
  • It removes toxins and waste material from muscles encouraging fresh nutrient supply, which helps to keep the muscles in good condition.
  • It can help to improve muscle mass
  • It can put the ‘bounce’ back in an older dog

2. Bedding… look at your older dog’s bedding. He has less muscle mass, stiffer joints and spends more time in his bed and therefore needs more padding. He needs enough space to stretch out and to be away from draughts.

3. Feeding height… check that your dog’s food and water bowls are  at the correct height for their size ensuring that they can easily access them without causing undue stress

4. Everyday aids… such as ramps or steps to help your dog get into and out of the car, nonslip mats or runners on slippery flooring e.g. tiles, laminate flooring, lino etc, mobility aids such as support harnesses to help with mobility issues, changing to a wide, soft collar or well fitting harness to walk him on to reduce pressure on his neck

5. Supplements and diet…  “We are what we eat, and this is especially true for senior dogs. Because they have fewer “inner resources” to draw on and because they aren’t as efficient at making some of their own vitamins as they used to be, their health depends on the nutrients they receive in the diet you feed.” (Morgan & Hunthausen, 2007).

  • “For optimum health, feed fewer calories of a higher-quality food.”(Morgan & Hunthausen, 2007).
  • Keep your dog’s weight in check, being over weight puts undue stress and pressure on your their joints.
  • There are lots of supplements to aid ageing dogs  (see K9 Massage Therapy Centre website) but a good one to start with is Glucosamine and Chondroitin which helps keep joints flexible.

Following massage therapy I’ve had owners of older dogs notice that their dog is now ‘bouncing’ down the hallway to greet them, something they’d forgotten they used to do through to the dog being able to, and wanting to, go for longer walks right through to running around again, jumping into the car and getting their ‘ bounce’ and zest for life back again.

Whether it is a small improvement or a dramatic one, massage therapy makes a big difference to the older dog’s quality of life.

“The positive effect of touching and massage can stimulate different neurotransmitters such as endorphins, making them feel better and thereby stimulate the bodies own healing mechanisms.” (

canine massage line 2

Author:  Karen Glass

For more information visit Karen Glass’s biography.


How to Make an Old Dog Happy, Olivier Lagalisse, Souvenir Press
The Living Well Guide for Senior Dogs, Diane Morgan & Wayne Hunthausen, T.F.H Publications

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