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Massage therapy as a treatment for Over-grooming

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

This is the story of Indy, an American Staffordshire undergoing Massage therapy to treat her over-grooming and other clinical signs of pain.

Ten-year-old Indy lives a somewhat quiet life, immersed in the general day-to-day hum of family life she also enjoys on-lead walks 3-4 times a week and regular snoozes throughout the day. The physical toll of reaching her senior years is evident with various bald spots and stained fur a clear sign of her over-grooming and the general pain and discomfort she feels every day. Thankfully for Indy, her family were keen to try massage therapy to address her troubling symptoms, this is her story as we follow her course of treatments.


Signs of pain & discomfort

Fur discoloration

All four of Indy’s paws show discoloration or staining. This is common for many dogs with compounds in saliva staining the fur when licking becomes excessive.

The underlying causes of excessive licking vary but in general terms, except for rare neurological conditions, it’s because the feet (or other affected area) are uncomfortable, usually itchy or sore. In Indy’s case she suffers from poor circulation in all four limbs with all four paws very cold and sensitive to touch.

Licking Hair off

When licking becomes extreme dogs can lick themselves raw, leaving red, inflamed and very sore areas which cause even more discomfort and a difficult cycle of over-grooming continues. In Indy’s case these patches are on the chest, flank and knees to varying degrees.

The lazy or sloppy sit

Sitting with a leg to the side is a usual position for Indy and is a good indicator of back, hip or knee pain. Indy was diagnosed with possible arthritis earlier this year and received cortisone injections to alleviate knee pain. She responded well to this treatment with obvious lameness resolved but the sloppy sit and some mobility restriction remains.


A course of treatments

Initial treatment session

It’s important to work within a dog’s own tolerance levels which do vary due to many factors. This includes their level of trust which develops as you work with the soft tissues in a way which suit the individual needs of the dog. For Indy, this meant that her first session involved fully treating her neck, shoulders and thoracic region but only lightly handling her forelegs and hind quarters. This was due to her nervousness, an ominous lump on her left foreleg and very poor circulation both below the shoulders and through the lumbar region.

Any lumps or growths should always be checked by a vet.

Just like a full body massage this regional approach stimulates blood flow drawing nutrients into various tissues, whilst also stimulating lymphatic flow drawing toxins out of the various tissues. In addition, there is an increase in the body’s production of various beneficial biochemical compounds. All of which promotes a cycle of healing over the coming days. It takes more than one session to repair ten years of wear and tear, the trust built and improvements gained on our first session lay the foundation for her body to begin the healing process whilst increasing her receptiveness for our subsequent sessions.

There are often things a pet parent can do between treatment sessions to support the healing process, in Indy’s case this was a daily gentle massage of the paws to slowly improve circulation and increase her receptiveness to handling of the feet in general.

Sessions 2-5

Indy received weekly treatments and by her third session was showing sustained improvement in muscle tone, range of motion and circulation throughout her left side, however, it wasn’t until our fifth session that I was able to fully release her right side with circulation still restricted below the hock on her right hind leg. The improvements in her health were clearly visible as her energy levels were increasing, this meant that longer walks were warranted and those tender areas of skin that were red and free of any hair were now gaining a soft covering of hair with the redness greatly diminished. Even her paws were looking whiter as the saliva stains continued to fade.

Improved skin health and new hair growth after just a few sessions.

Life happens

Undergoing treatment week after week has its challenges, after all life continues with all of its regular and irregular challenges. In Indy’s case this was surgery to remove the ominous lump from her left foreleg which was pressing on blood vessels. As surgery is a contraindication for massage her treatments took a 4 week break to allow her recovery. This break in her treatments would naturally set her back somewhat in her progress but it’s important to allow the body to recover from the additional stresses which surgery and post-op medications place on it before resuming massage therapy.

Post surgery

Indy’s first session following surgery, our sixth session together, was a little different to the usual as she was still holding a lot of fluid in her leg which had previously contained the lump. The treatment was designed to promote Indy’s relaxation and to gently stimulate the release of endorphins and other beneficial biochemical substances relieving nerves, stress and even pain. This would support her requirement for gentle walking which was a necessary part of her post-op recovery.

Treatments 7 & 8

Treatments following her surgery were scheduled fortnightly rather than weekly to allow additional time for healing between treatments. The 7th and 8th sessions saw a return to a full massage treatment with the foreleg that underwent surgery now fully healed and free of excess fluid. With her excitement and general ‘bounce’ factor returning steadily to their pre-surgery levels, full body deep treatments would relieve any remaining tension, relax those tight muscles and improve circulation of both blood and lymph. Her right hip which had been restricted from when she was a young pup would always have limited mobility but the increased circulation, relaxed muscles, and some passive stretching further supported her steadily increasing range of motion.

The final session

It took a total of nine sessions to fully treat Indy with a four week unscheduled break in the middle delaying her progress somewhat. When I arrived for her final session I was greeted with the most rewarding sight a canine massage therapist could ever see (in my opinion). My canine client bounding up to greet me full of excitement for me to get to work. This final session was a full treatment penetrating deep into the musculature with circulation restored throughout her body for the first time in our history together.


The results

So how did massage assist with her over-grooming? Without any topical treatments, behavior modifications or other interventions, just regular massage treatments supported by regular gentle paw massages by her family, these were the visible changes when I arrived for her ninth and final session.

No more itchy feet

With circulation restored to the feet the itching and discomfort subsides and the licking naturally returns to normal levels leaving four beautiful white paws free of saliva staining.

Healthy skin and hair

Hair was growing nicely on those previously bald areas with much healthier skin covering the area. With circulation restored and increased energy levels moving those muscles naturally the hair will continue to grow adding further protection to these areas.

The psychological benefits

Initially there is often a little apprehension with dogs new to massage but with patience and care, the incredibly rewarding benefits are quickly felt by those willing to offer just a little trust in their treatment provider. Did Indy really enjoy her treatments? You be the judge.



I owe a massive thank you to Indy’s family for allowing me to share her story, and of course thank you to Indy, a gorgeous girl who was an absolute delight to treat.

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