Massage Helps A Samoyed Get Back On His Feet And A PBGV With Epilepsy

I think many people don’t realize quite how powerful alternative therapies can be. Most people are aware that massage can help relieve stiff and sore muscles and loosen up scar tissue, but it can also be a tremendous help with many other conditions, both physical and psychological.

We have talked about what massage is exactly earlier on this blog (in the Deep Tissue and Swedish Massage post), so I won’t go into it too much again, but in short, massage is the manual manipulation of the muscles and soft tissues of the body in order to soothe and heal. It can be done with a light touch, as in a relaxation massage, or one that works deeper, as in deep tissue massage.

Meet Linda Gould

Today’s case studies come from Linda Gould, founder and owner of Woofs & Hoofs Animal Massage in Helchteren, Belgium. Linda has been working with animals for 14 years, and does in-home massage visits, holds workshops for owners, and teaches professional level massage courses. I asked Linda how she got into animal massage, and she told me:

“My background in animal massage started when my 1½ year old, 12lb cat fell off my refrigerator and landed on one hind leg, breaking all 4 metatarsals (the long bones) in her foot. She was operated on and put into a cast for several weeks where she turned from the sweetest, most loving cat into an absolute tooth-and-fang demon that did not want to be touched anywhere because she was tense and in pain. I started looking for natural techniques to help ease her discomfort and help her healing and actually just stumbled across animal massage. Fourteen years later, a limping pet sheep who taught me a lot and horses/ponies/dogs mobbing me for their turn under my fingers and I’ve made my passion into my career.

I continue to learn and try new techniques and information out on a variety of animals and refine what works and what doesn’t into my own personal form of animal massage. I work with pretty much any type of animal and have even had the pleasure of working on a camel. How was it? Unexpectedly hairy!

I now also offer and teach professional level courses both online and hands-on in Belgium through the Woofs & Hoofs School of Animal Massage for animal lovers like myself who want to relieve an animal’s discomfort, reduce its pain or speed its recovery after injury or surgery.”

Q: Is animal massage a well-known and generally accepted therapy in Belgium?

“Belgium is really quite progressive in their thinking and even homeopathy and craniosacral therapy for people are reimbursed by the insurance companies. There are homeopathic vets and vets that do acupuncture. They are just starting to recognize and accept animal massage so it is just a matter of time before it really catches on. That’s why I want to have a whole bunch of animal massage therapists trained and ready when it really gets going. When I started my business here, I’m pretty sure I was one of the first. I have since seen more and more animal massage therapists popping up and they even teach a very basic version of dog massage for pet owners in the government-subsidized evening schools. You do still get those people that think it is foofy spa treatment…until they see their own dog respond to it. Or when they see them cramp back up when the owner decides to stop getting their pet massaged. Then they call asking how soon you can come!”

Linda kindly sent two case studies: Jaco, the Samoyed, who basically got his life back thanks to massage, and Archie the PBGV, who suffers from epilepsy.

Jaco the Samoyed
by Linda Gould

Animal massageWhen I entered the boarding kennel where Jaco was staying, he barely lifted his head from the thick pile of blankets he was laying on in the far corner to acknowledge me. His owner had called me the evening before and told me that the just turned 12-year old Samoyed was having “stability issues” with his hind end and asked that I visit him at the kennels while she was on holiday to see if I could do anything to stimulate the muscles to provide more support. She was concerned that if he continued to decline, she would face a difficult decision very soon.

Though lethargic and clearly not comfortable despite his thick bed, Jaco was friendly and showed a bit more interest as I approached him and he raised his head to sniff at my hands. When Sonia, an animal massage skeptic and the owner of the boarding kennels, joined us, she explained her and Jaco’s daily routine as I gently began working on the extraordinarily tight muscles at the base of his skull and around his jaws. I quickly learned he was in worse condition than I had been lead to believe. She told me that Jaco was diabetic and she had to give him insulin shots at regular times before he was allowed to eat. His meals consisted of smooth pâté-like food mixed and yogurt basically smeared into the top of his mouth with a spatula as he could not open his jaws or chew well.

Several times per day Jaco was taken out to “do his business” while wearing a harness which was used to hold him up and support him while walking as well as when squatting to prevent him from falling back into the “business” he had just completed. He would walk the short path to the dog play field slowly, often stopping to balance himself or trying to remember where he was heading to. He also had a tendency to place his hind foot incorrectly; knuckling over and walking on the top of the foot before resetting it in the correct position. While other dogs would energetically bark at those having their turn into the dog field, Jaco would spend most of his days quietly resting in the corner of his kennel, or “singing” to himself. Sonia told me she always made sure he had enough blankets to be comfortable laying on the ground, but not too many as to cause him to trip when returning from his duties as he could not lift his hind legs high enough to step over anything more than an inch or so high.

I was listening to this play-by-play while continuing to work on Jaco’s head and neck. Suddenly Sonia stopped talking and stared at Jaco. The change was so abrupt it made me worry that something had happened that my hands had not noticed. Then Sonia smiled widely and exclaimed, “My goodness! His eyes are the same size now!” Sure enough, the release of tension and pain at the base of Jaco’s skull was already showing benefits, and it was just the beginning of what massage would do for him. On top of that, the self-proclaimed animal massage skeptic had been converted and became one of my strongest supporters.

I continued to work with Jaco regularly until, at 13 ½ years old, he moved to Canada. During that time he went from requiring the harness for nearly constant support when standing and moving to wearing only a collar and actually trotting up and down hills around his home unassisted to greet me for his bi-weekly massage. Gone were the days of knuckling over or worrying that his legs would fail him and he would stumble backwards into his own “business”. On the contrary, his 10-minute morning and evening toddles had now been increased to three true 30-minute walks! He was still fed his meals using a spatula but, considering how quickly and easily he took and devoured the treats I offered him, this was probably more down to the taste of the “special” diabetic food than the previous tension in his jaws. The last I heard, Jaco’s owner had found a new animal massage therapist in their area in Canada and he was still going strong…at 15!

Archie the PBGV
by Linda Gould

I have another great tale, of a Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen (or PBGV) dog named Archie with severe epilepsy who was having 1-2 minute seizures 2-3 times per week and was getting “doggy valium” suppositories to break him out of them.

It actually started as an experiment by the same boarding kennels owner mentioned in the first case study. She wanted to see if I could relax him when he first came into the kennels, if it would keep him from having a seizure while he was there (which also helped HER stress level). Sure enough it worked. I started massaging him regularly, I showed the owner some acupressure points to use when she saw a seizure coming on as well as techniques to keep him from tightening up, and Sonia called me for a “tune up” whenever Archie came to see her. It worked like a dream. With massage his seizures were reduced to once every 4-6 months and even then they were so brief that by the time the owner got up off the couch to calm him, the seizure was over.

One really funny thing was when I first worked on him at his home, the owner told me that during a seizure Archie would open his mouth completely and it would almost “freeze” that way during the entire seizure. So of course I worked on the TMJ to release accumulated stress there. Archie responded by gently mouthing my arm. Then he got this look on his face almost as if to say, “Hang on a minute!”, as if he realized it didn’t hurt to use his jaws anymore. He mouthed my arm a little harder, then a little harder, then a little HARDER until I had to ask the owner for a chew bone of some type since he was now using my arm as one (and I needed it to continue the massage!). The owner came back with a dental bone, but told me Archie didn’t really chew on them, that he basically just broke big pieces off and swallowed them whole. Not anymore! He spent almost the entire hour chewing on his bone, playing with it, tossing it in the air and chasing after it. It was wonderful – despite the tooth imprints he’d left in my arm!

Q: Linda, Which acupressure points was it that helped prevent/stop Archie’s seizures?
The best points I have found to use on dogs with epilepsy are at the beginning and the end of the Governing Vessel – at the “split” in the upper lip and at a point between the anus and the root of the tail. It realigns the energy in that meridian and creates a feeling of calm. When you see the animal heading into a seizure, hold these points simultaneously for about 30 seconds or until you see the animal fully relax. The point on the lip is also used for animals in shock.

Q: What is it in the massage do you think that has helped reduce his seizures so dramatically?
I tell owners of dogs with epilepsy that I look at the brain really simply. Imagine, for example, that the brain can only process 5 messages at once (VERY simplified). So if a dog with epilepsy is, for example, hungry (message 1), is maybe a little excited because a ball is being thrown (visual stimulus = message 2) and the heart rate is up from chasing the ball so blood pressure needs some regulating (message 3), all is fine. The dog can continue to run and play and eat and nothing happens. As these stimuli go away, so do the messages the brain has to process. Now imagine that same dog in a slightly different situation. This time, he’s been chasing that ball so the neck muscles are a bit sore (message 1), the jaw is tight (message 2), he is still a bit hungry (message 3) and excited because it is almost dinner time (message 4) and now he has to pee (message 5). He is at his limit of 5 messages at a time. Add one more message (a cat runs by or a sudden noise catches his attention) and boom! a seizure is triggered. With massage, I remove the messages coming in about sore places and tight areas so there is more room for the brain to focus on other things and the dog doesn’t hit its “limit” as soon or as often. Most owners understand this simple example.

I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Linda for sharing all this educational and inspirational information with us!

Cattie Coyle

Cattie Coyle

Founder and Editor at Animal Wellness Guide
Cattie is the founder and editor of Animal Wellness Guide. She is a freelance photographer, graduate of Bancroft School of Massage Therapy’s small animal program, and has studied Applied Zoopharmacognosy. Learn more about Cattie
Cattie Coyle
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