International Association of Animal Therapists

Massage Therapy

Massage for humans has been documented since 200BC, when it was mentioned in ancient medical manuscripts from China, Persia and Egypt.

In the early nineteenth century, Per Henrik Ling from Sweden, was responsible for developing the soft tissue techniques and names of movements that are considered the foundation of all massage modalities, such as effleurage, petrissage, friction, tapotement and vibration.

It was soon realised that massage could heal injuries, relieve pain, reduce stress and enable a deep relaxation.

Today, massage therapy is a highly respected form of holistic healing and practiced across the world.  Not only has it developed in the human world, it has also been realised as a valuable profession within the animal world.

Various massage and stretching techniques can be applied, enabling the animal to not only perform to their full potential, but for those who may be having a quieter life, it can keep them supple, comfortable and using themselves correctly in their golden years.

Massage is proven to:

  • Increase and improve circulation
  • Enhance muscle tone
  • Relax muscle spasm
  • Prevent and relieve adhesions
  • Increase the range of movement

Alongside the use of massage for competition and general activity, it is also a valuable treatment should the animal be undergoing restricted exercise such as box rest in the case of horses or cage rest in the case of dogs.

Canine Massage

Canine Massage has many benefits.  It can be used to rehabilitate your dog from injury, relieve discomfort, stiffness, lameness and help restore mobility.  The aim is to promote the relaxation of tight, inflexible muscles, to improve their elasticity and range of movement (ROM).  In addition massage can help dogs to cope with orthopaedic issues, such as arthritis, hip dysplasia and spondylosis. 

Canine Massage is a clinical therapy used to support and resolve issues in your dog’s muscular system that may be having a detrimental effect on their mobility, mood and quality of life.  The muscular system can house a vast range of painful issues and injuries and as dogs are not able to tell us they are in pain, these issues can go overlooked. 

Dog Massage

Massage is a unique, strong, manipulative treatment for dogs and works by releasing tight, sore muscles, removing debilitating trigger points (or knots) that can cause referred pain and helps to break down restrictive scar tissue. 

Alongside its natural benefits, massage therapy can also work well alongside pharmaceutical pain relief enabling the therapist to work deeper and ask more of the muscles and joints with the support of anti-inflammatory medication.

Massage should only be carried out by a skilled, trained and insured professional who is able to locate and treat which muscle groups are responsible for the pain.  It is also the responsibility of the therapist to refer findings back to the treating veterinary surgeon, especially should there be no improvement or further issues are discovered during or as a result of treatment.


Although it is not clear when massage was first transferred to horses, there are plenty of references regarding the ‘strapping’ of carriage and draft horses, an early form of tapotement. 

Equine sports massage techniques became further integrated when American, Jack Meagher was employed to treat horses competing for the United States Equestrian Team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and later in England by Mary Bromiley with the English Olympic Equestrian teams.

Equine Sports Massage is the assessment and manipulation of the soft tissues and joints of the equine body using established Swedish massage techniques.   Like human and canine massage, it has many benefits including

  • Assisting in promoting both vascular and lymphatic circulation
  • Improving joint mobility
  • Assisting flexibility and agility
  • Reducing the formation of scar tissue
  • Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system

Veterinary Permission

Massage has become an established treatment option complementing veterinary care for animals.

An owner must always consult their Veterinary Surgeon before seeking massage treatment.

Healthy animals do not require a veterinary referral for maintenance care, however, any animal, including healthy ones, must be registered with a veterinary surgeon, and referred to a vet at the first indication of any symptoms, or signs, that may suggest underlying health issues.

Only Veterinary Surgeons are legally able to diagnose and investigate any clinical problems.

What to expect from your therapist?

Anyone treating your horse should hold a recognised qualification and full insurance.  It is there responsibility to contact your vet prior to treatment and in some cases, following treatment, findings should be reported back to the treating vet.

There will be slight variations in how each therapist works, however, you should expect them to obtain a history, request to see your horse move, treat in an appropriate manor and provide you with advice and exercises to carry out in between treatments.