Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Animal Massage as an Alternative Therapy for Your Pet

You may know that one of the many hats I wear is as a Licensed Massage Therapist. When I started massage school I was looking forward to learning animal massage, but much to my disappointment I soon learned that the massage laws in New York state that a Licensed Massage Therapist cannot massage animals. Well, there went my new career path! 

In the course of participating in the BlogPaws Community Boosts, I met Heather Wallace of Bridle and Bone Wellness and I was intrigued when I read that in New Jersey she is legally able to perform massage on animals. We missed each other at BlogPaws so I wasn't able to chat with her about her business, but I'm happy that Heather agreed to write a guest post for my blog about her experiences that I think you'll enjoy. You can learn more about what Heather does and her business by visiting her on her website, Facebook and Twitter. As Heather mentions, please be aware of the laws in your state regarding animal massage. 


Did you know that there are massage therapists for animals? It’s true! Trust me, because I am one. I swear. My job is to massage horses and dogs. Best. Job. Ever. My name is Heather Wallace and I am the co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC based in beautiful New Jersey. While my day job is awesome, it is not a very well-known career and I’d love to tell you more about it. Luckily, my friend Lola the Rescued Cat has a furmom that is very interested in massage therapy.

Bridle and Bone|animal massage

History of Animal Massage

Massage therapy is a form of alternative therapy. It is an increasingly popular part of your animal’s wellness program. Although seemingly a recent trend, animal massage has been used for thousands of years. Ancient Indians used both humans and dogs to document trigger points. Hieroglyphics have been found from Ancient Egypt that document animal healers providing massage. Finally, Julius Caesar traveled with a masseuse that would also work on his war dogs.

Modern animal massage started in the 1960’s.  Equine massage therapy was incorporated into the United States Olympic Equestrian Team training program by the founder of sports massage, Jack Meagher.  It is still regularly used by upper level equestrian athletes. Further, K-9 agility and working dogs reap the benefits of massage to increase flexibility, improve range of motion, and prevent injury.

There has been a growing trend over the last decade toward natural health and wellness for ourselves and our pets. Humans have been increasingly seeking natural, organic foods and are moving away from chemicals. What is good for us can only be good for our pets, correct? As a result, pet owners and pet guardians are increasingly looking for holistic and alternative therapies for their animals. 

What is Animal Massage Therapy? 

There are different types of massage, some examples are: Swedish, Thai, Sports, Deep Tissue, etc.  I am a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist. We use our hands, elbows, and bodies to relax muscles, stimulate circulation, remove toxins and inflammation, and improve flexibility. The only difference is that instead of humans we provide the same benefits to horses and dogs. 

Animal Massage Benefits:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Speed Healing
  • Improve flexibility
  • Natural Pain Relief
  • Aid digestion

Common Ailments Massage Can Benefit:

  • Arthritis
  • Hip Displasia
  • Herniated discs
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Pain Management
  • Muscle Pulls
  • Tendonitis
  • Lameness
  • Head tossing
  • Colic
  • Tying Up 
  • Recovery from Surgery

How to Become an Animal Massage Therapist

There are a number of training and accredited certification courses for animal bodywork. While knowledge and training in human massage is encouraged it is not a requirement. Experience with horses and dogs, however, is extremely important. 

Some notable training programs are: Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage;  Masterson Method;  and Equissage.  My partner and I trained with Mary Schreiber, who formed Equissage in 1989. It is very immersive and is the oldest animal massage training program. We studie anatomy, primarily the muscles, pressure points, and sports massage techniques. The hands on experience is essential to giving us purpose, and confidence. It allows us to “feel” our clients reactions. 

My experience working with horses was a huge benefit in training. Knowing how much pressure to use, how a horse will react, and how their bodies move- is priceless information. 

Training should be a continuing experience.  I’ve read the Masterson Method, and many others books. I work with animals every day and adjust my technique to what the animal needs. I plan to continue my education and learn as much as possible from other programs. I will never stop learning. 

In My Experience

There have been so many animals that I have worked with and loved. But I thought I would share two of my favorite personalities with some photos so that you can see for yourself. 


My friend Mac, a 6 year-old sport pony, had an abcess in his jaw. He was dehydrated and could not stand up. The veterinarians had him on antibiotics and he was being watched 24/7 because the prognosis was dire. Thankfully, after the hard work of his owners and veterinarians, Mac, started to improve. After two months on stall rest, I gave him his first massage. 

He was the ideal patient because he was very receptive to attention. Mac loves touch. immediately he released his tension and even fell asleep at one point.

Bridle and Bone|animal massage
Mac receives his first massage by me last August.

Three days later I followed up with him and gave him another session. After his massage I took him into the round pen and encouraged him to really stretch his muscles. He gave a little buck and was off running. Not only had Mac lost a lot of muscle due to his illness, but a lot of his energy too. A few massages he started to feel like his frisky self.

Bridle and Bone|animal massage
Mac getting some exercise after his second massage session.


One of my favorite canine clients is Jaxson the beagle. He is also the star of my Dogcation guest series on my blog, Bridle & Bone. We were hired to help Jaxson with his arthritis. It took Jaxson a few sessions to get used to massage- I call it the three-time rule. Dogs are less trusting and less used to strangers touching them intimately. And that is okay. A good massage therapist will work with your animal and go at their pace. It’s not about forcing them to be comfortable. Patience is the key. 

Jaxson took about three sessions to really get comfortable as we expected. After that, he would come over tail-wagging to greet us, then walk over to his Barbour bed and plop down to wait for us to massage him. It would be us all giggle.

Bridle and Bone|animal massage
Our client, Jaxson, received regular canine sports massage prior to his passing.

His arthritis vastly improved and in no time Jaxson was hiking with his family and jumping on and off the bed again. 

We had the pleasure of working with him up to the day before he passed away. He was in pain from the benign tumor pressing on his organs, and his veterinarian was shocked that he was in such good shape all things considered. He was an adventurer to the end. 

Bridle and Bone|animal massage
My business partner, Danelle Stukas, massages a doberman at a pet walk.

How Do You Find An Animal Massage Therapist? 

Internet: Google is pretty awesome and you can search for “equine massage (or canine massage) near me”.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get any results. A lot of animal massage therapists have Facebook websites rather than a more standard site.

Word of Mouth: This is how we find most of our clients, through referrals. Referrals can come from other pet owners, barns, and veterinarians. We work with a few local veterinarians, holistic and western medicine alike. Personal testimony is the best type of referral a bodyworker can have. 

Bodyworker Association: If you don’t know anyone who has used an animal bodyworker there are animal bodyworker’s associations, which can help you find an appropriate massage therapist in your area. The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork (IAAMB) is perhaps the best known. 

Regardless of how you find an animal massage therapist you need to do your research. Make sure that you use someone who is certified and insured, and legally able to work on your pet because animal laws vary by state. If they have references, even better. 

Animal Massage Laws

Animal massage laws vary by state. You can find the current list here. Sadly, my friend Lola the Rescued Cat cannot receive massage in the state of New York. Currently only a veterinarian or a veterinary technician, under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, may provide animal massage. Here’s the rub- there is NO veterinary school that teaches massage. The veterinarian or veterinary technician would have to receive independently the same training that I did in order to become certified in massage. 

Let’s be honest- human massage therapists are not doctors. So why the difference with animals? Animal bodyworkers are not veterinarians and we do not diagnose or treat disease. Our goal is to balance the body and aid self-healing. Working together with the animal, we help them release tension and they complete the process. 

In February a Tennessee equine massage therapist was sent a cease and desist letter from the State Veterinary Board. She was warned that she was performing veterinary services, and threatened with a fine up to $500 and 6 months in prison. I am happy to note that as of May 25th, it was determined that she was NOT in violation and is now able to perform her services. 

That being said, I do believe that regulations for training and certification should be made for animal massage therapists. 

The Gift of Giving

In all honesty, the ability to help animals of all ages and sizes is truly a gift. The power of touch is incredible and cannot be put into words. 

To begin a session with an animal antsy or uncomfortable and end with calm and relief is something I never take for granted. As an animal lover, my goal is to help in any way I can. I’m so happy that where I live in New Jersey I am able to practice my career and help animals without penalty.  

Bridle and Bone|animal massageAbout the writer: Heather Wallace of Monmouth County, New Jersey is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist, co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC, and equestrian & canine blogger at Bridle & Bone. She is an adult amateur equestrian in unrequited loved with an OTTB and has two rescue dogs, Gonzo and Beau.


  1. Is there therapeutic massage for kitties? Inquiring feline minds want to know!

  2. Yes, it is! Miss Heather specializes in horses and dogs.

  3. Thank you Dawn and Lola for the opportunity to teach others about the benefits of sports massage for animals! We concentrate on horses and dogs but there are therapists that work on cats as well. If the cat is amenable to it of course!

  4. I have always been a huge supporter of animal massage. The laws governing the states/Canada need to be updated to allow this for ALL animals by a licensed animal therapist. Massage makes a HUGE difference in both humans and pets!!!!

  5. I will check out the Rocky Mountain Animal Massage course. I'd love to learn more about this. I just wish I could use my HSA card to pay for it all!

  6. I remember interviewing folks from Equissage when I wrote my natural healing book, and at the time, the laws were up in the air over whether or not it would be "legal" to massage animals. They were debating making it a requirement to have a veterinarian involved. At least it's not a universal law, but varies from place to place. As a certified animal behavior consultant, I also have to very careful with my advice, so as not to be perceived to be practicing veterinary medicine. It can get sticky. Thanks for this great post!

  7. What a great post ! We enjoyed reading this and learning about pet massage; it's nice to see from the link, how many states have allowed pet massage therapy now

    Thanx Dawn & Heather ☺♥♥

  8. Some of us would like that, some probably not. It sounds like a grand idea to me. Great post and terrific info!

  9. First of all - I had no idea you were a massage therapist!

    I've enjoyed reading about Heather on her blog and what she does with horses. I never knew about pet massages, but one of my previous vets did do adjustments on Praline whenever she'd go in.

  10. What a wonderfully fun article to read! We know of a animal massage therapist in North Carolina who does wonderful work with shelter animals to reduce the stress that comes with being in a noisy shelter environment. But we didn't know that some states will not allow animals to get massages. That's so wrong!

  11. A great post, thank you. I would love to know more abut cat massage in particular as we believe, in the holistic approach to pet health. Medicine where needed, massage and other treatments where applicable.

    We did a review about acupressure once and find the ancient Chinese view of medicine to be well worth considering

  12. Interesting post! When Ernie went for acupuncture, the veterinarian who did it also did massage on him.

  13. What an amazing story and career. Massage is such an important part of our lives and our pet's lives. There are so many great resources for people to learn some light techniques to use with their own pets. :) There are Veterinary Tui-na practitioners for those looking for the vet aspect too.

  14. How weird that New York doesn't allow massage for animals? I am now curious about laws in Illinois. I have senior rabbit with arthritis. I would love to have her have a massage if it might help.

    And yes, you definitely have the coolest job ever!

  15. Very, very interesting article to read! Thank you for sharing :)

  16. Very inneresting. Looks like you guys might have to move to NJ to practice. There are some units open here. TW used to perform relaxation therapy on Nicky and some one me. It consists of messaging us in circles and semicircles. First in one direction, then the other.

  17. We've heard of animal massage before but didn't know much about it. This was very interesting! It's a shame that New York doesn't allow it because so many animals could benefit from it.

  18. Great post, very interesting. I don't think we have anything like that around here.

  19. I think the laws are different here in Oregon. I know a couple of people who are dual certified in human and canine massage. I haven't done it yet but it would be convenient having a one-stop massage for everyone!

  20. We LOVE LOVE LOVE alternative treatments and massage is one of them! Great for your pets.

  21. I enjoyed reading this. I was aware of animal massage therapy but had not read about it till this blog.

  22. Great post!

    My mum is a certified Reiki healer and I love it when she does Reiki on me.

    Purrs xx

  23. My niece is a massage therapist and she helps so many people, including a child who has autism. I'm sure that animals can benefit from massage therapy as well.

  24. Fantastic post! I was an equestrian in my youth and I love massage for animals. I used massage for my Husky Gibson. I wish I had a massage therapist back when I had horses. I just love this!

  25. Henry has started to show signs of arthritis. I do reiki for him and we go to a chiropractor. He loves it when I massage him. I would love to learn animal massage (properly). The work you do is amazing, Heather.

  26. What an interesting and informative post! We had heard of horse massage before, but learned so much by reading Heather's really detailed explanation of what she does. :)


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