I have a rabbit and a dog. And as I’m writing this my dog has just burst into my home office — because my door doesn’t latch (thanks, landlord) — folded herself against my feet so that she can feel me against her, and laid down like a panther. She is chill, relaxed, and infinitely perfect. Her name is Moon and she is fluid and constant.
In the living room, my rabbit sits in his cage with the door open so he can step out and roam the house to his heart’s content. He’s got a litter box he uses, little nooks and crannies he likes to cuddle up in, and a whole bunch of room to do binkies whenever he feels like it — a binky is that little hop, twist thing you see rabbits suddenly do out of nowhere. Right now, he’s laid out in his cage, giant bunny feet out to the side, mellow. His name is Dobie and he licks, purrs, races around the room then flops like a tired child, and nudges you to pet him.
I have two very contented pets in my home. I love them and they love me back. Moon sleeps often on her back, legs splayed, completely open, inviting me to gently rub her belly. Dobie frequently sits by my side on the couch, ears perked and facing forward, scratching the couch to get my attention, then closing his eyes in somnolent bliss while I oblige his request for a lingering stroke to his neck. I take care of them, yes, but I also do something that just comes naturally and is specific to each one — I massage them.
Yes, that’s right, I massage my pets. I always have. With Moon, I rub her belly, pet her head, but also give her massages along her legs, her feet, her ears and her back. As a canine senior, she is still as lithe and active as she was as a puppy. With Dobie, I gently massage the inside of his ears, the unfathomably soft base of his neck — a softness so unimaginable, it’s like touching a dream — the inside of his paws, and his belly. And what I notice is that they are very relaxed animals, very engaged, athletic and pain-free, and happily social with any and everyone they meet.
What I’m doing is nothing new. Pet massage has been around since humans and animals became more than just two species sharing space. There are stories of livestock being massaged for better meat and to promote better dairy production (a relaxed, calm steer or cow is a happy steer or cow), and of racehorses being rubbed down to stimulate circulation and prevent injury for better performance throughout history. Petting your furry companion is a form of massage, by the way — as my dog, Moon, would attest if she could talk — and how you stroke, rub, relieve the tension in your pet is just as important as the why.
While it’s been around for ages, using massage as an actual health practice has gotten more visibility recently. There are animal-focused therapists popping up all over the world, providing services for calming, reducing pain after an injury, increasing immunity, and, of course, relieving tension. Veterinarians also offer massage as an option to assist in the healing process after an illness or an animal has gotten hurt, and to reduce stress in your pets. And the practice is effective in varying forms across all types of mammals and even some reptiles. The results are virtually the same as with humans and the ways you massage are very similar. It’s just important to be aware that an animal’s anatomy is obviously different and if you choose to soothe your pet yourself, take a cue from your furry bff on what does and does not make them happy — as well as consulting your vet.
Another benefit of massaging your pet yourself? It bonds the two of you. I know one of the reasons my animals are so happy is because I touch them constantly, hug them, rub them, and allow them to feel the calm in my hands when I’m comforting them and the energy when I’m rejuvenating them. They’ll lay on my bed — sometimes together, which is one of the most hysterical “come here, go away, come here” relationships to watch — and drift off under my hands. We’ll sit on the floor and they come to life under them. They can sense my love through that touch and they can relax in the fact that in that is only ever love. Nothing else.
For many of us, our pets are our family, or at least an integral part of it. They may not comprehend our words completely beyond what we have trained them to understand, but they can sense our tone, our emotions, and they can feel what they mean to us through our touch. And as I sit here now, with my Moon doing her “on my side, legs splayed, not a care in the world” thing, and my Dobie flopped under the piano and… yep, doing a binky… I know they can feel how much they mean to me, because I take the time to massage their cares away. They’re on this planet for such a short time and they touch our lives in such a big way, I figure the least I can do is comfort, caress, cuddle, and rejuvenate them whenever possible so they always feel at ease in our fleeting, forever-in-my heart life together.