How do you give an elephant a massage? No, it’s not a riddle. It’s what’s new in the zoo. When I asked that question of certified massage therapist Jill Deming, she replied matter-of-fact, “It’s very similar to massaging a horse. You use your knowledge of biomechanics so you don’t injure your body.”
Massage is being used to alleviate the physical and emotional stress of exotic animals in captivity, from elephants to dolphins and penguins.
Q: I enjoy my massages so much. Is it possible to get massages for my pets?
A: Of course, says Heather Harrington-Danielson. She teaches animal massage at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy in Colorado. But, she points out, there are some initial considerations: “First of all, does your pet have any illnesses, medications or injuries we need to know about? Has the massage therapy been cleared through your veterinarian?”
Q. It’s hard to miss the fact my cat loves a good belly rub. It makes me wonder if animals benefit from massage the same as we do?
Soft sighs, satisfied snorts and even brief hints of a relaxed snore fill the small therapy room this Saturday morning. These are satisfied massage clients who know all too well the value of being touched, even if they can’t tell us so in words. They do tell us with behavior. Suki doesn’t tense up anymore when he’s massaged. Robby doesn’t bury his head in fear. And Cocoa no longer kicks and fidgets during the session.
Even though he’s received thousands of massages over the past decade, Nicholas is still a bit stiff. Albeit the horse’s body is clearly marked with locations of pressure points to help students learn equine massage, he’s the only one of 16 horses at Equissage they haven’t been able to loosen up. “We can’t get him to relax,” said owner and director Mary Schreiber. Of course, that’s probably because Nicholas is a life-size fiberglass horse used as a teaching aid.