Holistic Pet Care: Flower Essences and Canine Massage

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This post was co-authored by Gabi, Cat Programs Coordinator at the Cat Adoption Center, and Jessica, Pet Services and Safety Coordinator for Adopt & Shop.

Animals experience stress just like humans do. When you move to a new house, take a trip to the groomer or bring home a new pet, be sensitive to changes in your pet’s mood. Their anxiety may be obvious — they may urinate inappropriately or display aggressive behavior — or it may be more subtle.

Our pet adoption centers, Adopt & Shop, and the Cat Adoption Center, pull animals from local shelters, many of them surrendered by families or brought in as strays, and we care for them during what is most likely the most stressful time in their lives.  These animals are dealing with major changes and it is our responsibility to make the transition between shelter, shop and new home as stress-free as possible.

tabby kitten on a red bench

Are you my mom? Where’s my mom? Where am I? Why am I here?

Since today is National Holistic Pet Day, we want to share two holistic practices we use on our “adoptables” to help them keep calm in a stressful environment:

From Gabi, Cat Programs Coordinator at the Cat Adoption Center:

Bach Flower’s Rescue Remedy for Pets is the ideal relief for any stressful situation because it is completely natural, safe, and easy to administer.

Made from spring water infused with wild flowers, Rescue Remedy can be easily added to your pet’s water bowl or applied to the tips of their ears. Because Rescue Remedy is natural and gentle, it is safe to use as an ongoing method of stress relief.

Here at the Cat Adoption Center, we add two drops of Rescue Remedy to the water bowls in our Community Cat Room. Our Community Room is home to about 10 cats at any given time, with new cats constantly replacing those that get adopted. The high volume and constant rotation of the Community Room makes it a stressful environment. Rescue Remedy has a soothing effect on the room, mellowing out the uptight cats and creating a more harmonious atmosphere. We also like to use Rescue Remedy when we do mobile adoption events, which can be a bit overwhelming for the featured animals.

cats in the community cat room at the Cat Adoption Center

Here is a peek inside the Community Cat Room at the Cat Adoption Center.

Some animals respond more strongly to Rescue Remedy than others. It is not a magical cure-all that will turn an extremely aggressive, fearful pet into an easygoing one. But the positive results in our Community Cat Room have been noticeable, and the best part is that we don’t have to worry about any potentially toxic, negative side-effects.

From Jessica, Pet Services and Safety Coordinator for Adopt & Shop:

Before I talk about canine massage; to echo Gabi, I’ve started using Rescue Remedy for a few of the dogs at Adopt & Shop who have been having anxiety issues and it has worked wonders! I’ve always been a big believer in Rescue Remedy, so I wanted to try it on Logan, a border collie with severe stress-related barking and hyperactivity.  After using Rescue Remedy on Logan, he is now calm, alert and focused throughout the day. He has been here for months and has also been returned by adopters three times, so his stress levels were absolutely off the charts before the Rescue Remedy.  Now he is a dream to work with and quite content.  I’ve also used it on aggressive dogs and it really helps break down the walls that constant fear and reactivity put up, giving me room to work with them and help them conquer their issues. It is truly great stuff!

(Update: Logan has since been adopted to a family with two acres of land, two doggie brothers, lots of animals to herd, with possible agility training classes in his future.)

Canine massage is a type of gentle body massage for dogs that uses long, soothing strokes and light pressure to relax them and relieve stress. As a dog trainer, I have found that canine massage can be very helpful in changing a dog’s mood and improve their behavior. When a dog is under a lot of stress, it can become so overwhelming that they cannot focus and they may shut down emotionally. When a dog is in this tense state of mind they will not respond well to training and their fear may be reinforced, making it harder to tame the next time they are in a frightening situation.

Adopt & Shop Trainer Jessica teaching canine massage to pet owner

Dog Trainer Jessica teaching a client the art of canine massage.

For dogs in our Shy Dog Play & Grow class, new situations can be scary and stressful for them so I teach owners how to use canine massage to help their dog relax and re-gain their focus. We start by having each owner sit on the ground on yoga mats with their dogs and begin to massage them all over their body. Owners are shown where specific pressure points are located on their dog and they are encouraged to speak softly to them during the massage. This close, physical contact not only strengthens the bond between dog and owner, it helps the dogs reach an inner safe place where fear can be released and real training can begin.

During these massages I also instruct owners to spend time touching areas of their dog’s bodies that may be more sensitive than others, such as their paws, tails, ears, teeth and face. By desensitizing your dog to being touched in these areas, it will be much easier for the groomer to trim their nails or the veterinarian to examine them in the future. Canine massage also helps owners become familiar with the normal feel and appearance of their dog’s bodies, which helps in the early detection of potential health problems such as tumors, injuries, skin conditions and fleas or ticks.

dog owner massaging white pitbull

He seems to enjoy it… sluuurp!  Thanks Pa!

I encourage everyone to practice canine massage any time they are relaxing with their dog, such as while watching TV or lying in bed. Stretching exercises can also be added to your dog’s massage routine to help your dog maintain a healthy range of motion and flexibility. I have been doing canine massage and stretching exercises with my Alaskan Malamute, Cindy, for many years now and she just celebrated her 17th birthday with no arthritis and a youthful range of motion. The benefits of canine massage are many, and you and your dog will be so glad you did it!

*Due to overwhelming popularity, canine massage has been added to Beginner Doggie Kindergarten too!

What holistic pet care approaches do you take with your pets? Leave us a comment below!