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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Does Massage for Dogs with Cancer Do Anything?

Updated: December 19th, 2019

Life quality is a major part of dealing with canine cancer.

Since cancer is a disease that impacts a loved dog’s quality of life, it makes sense that we should pay attention to it.  Treatments designed to kill cancer cells are not enough.

One of the overlooked areas in conventional veterinary medicine is that of the touch therapies.  The amazing thing about touch therapies is that many can be done by you, your dog’s guardian, at home.  And the price is right at zero dollars.

One of the most fundamental touch therapies is massage, which is discussed in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.  I would like to introduce this topic in relation to dog cancer care today.

Many will immediately dismiss this idea.  Phooey.  Sounds like woo-woo stuff, not real.  Not hard science, you know.

Well, science now points out that this viewpoint is not actually correct.  Massage is not woo-woo.  In actuality, massage is now being incorporated at the  Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  If you have not heard of it, this facility is one of the premier human cancer treatment centers in the world.

Massage has been shown to help relieve anxiety in human cancer patients in published studies.  This paper discusses how human oncologists should become comfortable with massage recommendations, and we can apply the same thinking to veterinary cancer care.

In another study involving 1,290 cancer patients, massage was shown to improve symptoms like pain, nausea, depression, anxiety and fatigue.  This improvement was estimated at more than 50% overall!  That is quite a margin.

Another review showed benefits in psychological well-being.  As guardians and family members of dogs, it is clear to you that dogs have psychological states that change just as ours do.  Well being in this area is just as important for a dog as it is for a person.

Finally, a paper out of Sweden showed that blood pressure went down after massage.  Not surprising.  The surprising part involved a special cell called the natural killer (NK) cell.

NK cells are  specialized white blood cells that are central in fighting cancers. It is their job to locate and destroy cancer cells.

However, radiation therapy causes these cells to be suppressed.

The amazing thing the scientists in Sweden found was that massage was able to lessen the harmful effect of the radiation therapy on the activity of the NK cells!

So, consider massaging your dog regularly.  There is good evidence it can help.  Go light on the little ones and the old timers. Use flat fingers and go slowly, focusing on large muscle groups and the natural valleys that your fingers fall into between the muscles.  Pay attention to your dog while you do this for feedback.

If you can, do it daily.  It is free, wholesome, and it can make you both feel great.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Vince Lombardi on August 27, 2020 at 11:00 am

    My dog has cancer i noticed she feels so much better after message she is a beagle

  2. Diana Robertson on July 5, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    G’day Dr Dressler.

    I just discovered your article “Does Massage for Dogs with Cancer Do Anything?” on the net and it has raised a flag for me.

    I’m a qualified Canine Myofunctional Therapist in Australia. Part of my contraindications to massage are dogs with cancer. When undertaking my qualifications I was told not to massage dogs with cancer due to the fact you spread the cancer cells throughout the body. Yet, your article is promoting massage for dogs with cancer. You are now contradicting what I have believed to be correct. Is there not a danger in massaging dogs with cancer? You have me confused.

    Thanks for your help.

    Diana Robertson
    The PAWSonal Touch
    Happiness For Your Canine Companion

  3. Lola Michelin on May 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Dr. Dressler-
    My name is Lola Michelin and I am the Director of Education at the Northwest School of Animal Massage. I am also the host of Pet Shop Talk, an internet based radio show on the Voice America Network. I was very excited to see your article and read about your book. I would like to carry your book in our school bookstore and I would also be interested in inviting you to be a guest on our show. Our listeners would enjoy a show dedicated to cancer in dogs and I know our students would value your opinion regarding the value of touch therapies.

    I look forward to talking to you soon.

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