We recently received an interesting question from one of our readers and wanted to share it here for others to learn from as well (don’t miss the update at the end of the post). Tracey, a canine massage practitioner in the UK, wrote:
Q: Is massage safe for a bitch experiencing a phantom pregnancy? As massage affects hormones and she will already be pretty hormonal I don’t want to make things worse. Vet has signed consent form.
Answer by Lisa Ruthig, Bancroft School of Animal Massage & Lively Dog:
Increased prolactin hormone is widely thought to be responsible for most of the issues seen with false pregnancy. There was a 2010 study of scalp massage on cancer patients… many physiological effects were seen, but there was no change in prolactin levels. Another 2008 study of cancer patients with a more complete massage showed a significant reduction in prolactin levels.
Massage has been shown to increase oxytocin levels, but that hormone has not been positively linked to pseudopregnancy. I think massage would be beneficial, and certainly not harmful, to the dog. It also reduces some of the stress hormones associated with pregnancy, which may or may not be elevated in a false pregnancy. It could certainly reduce some of the anxiety and confusion she feels as a result of her imbalanced hormones.
Psychooncology. 2008 Oct;17(10):1024-31. doi: 10.1002/pon.1331.
Massage in patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy reduces serum cortisol and prolactin.
Stringer J, Swindell R, Dennis M.
Exp Ther Med. 2010 Jan;1(1):97-108. Epub 2010 Jan 1.
Alterations in the Th1/Th2 balance in breast cancer patients using reflexology and scalp massage.
Green VL, Alexandropoulou A, Walker MB, Walker AA, Sharp DM, Walker LG, Greenman J.
Theriogenology. 2007 Mar 15;67(5):1032-8. Epub 2007 Feb 5.
Plasma progesterone and prolactin concentrations in overtly pseudopregnant bitches: a clinical study.
Tsutsui T, Kirihara N, Hori T, Concannon PW.
Update from Tracey a few days later:
Little update for you, I massaged the dog tonight, owner said she had become distant, grumpy and wasn’t sleeping, her cuddly girl had turned into a grouch since the start of her phantom pregnancy. I did a full relaxation treatment on her, within 5 minutes she was lying down, within 20 minutes she was sleeping. I carried on for 40 minutes and the only movement I got were big sighs, even when I removed the trigger point in her neck she stayed asleep. 2 hours after I left, her owner messaged me to say her dog had gone over to her for a cuddle, the first one she had given in over a week and was snoring on her lap. This has made my night. Thanks for the advice, it gave me the confidence to treat her and I’ve learnt that massage also helps relieve symptoms of phantom pregnancy! I love my job