dog getting massage

How does massage benefit the nervous system?

Dog massage therapy benefits our dogs by helping to keep the organ tissues healthy and promotes healing so that the function and efficiency of the whole body is enhanced. In this edition of our blog we discuss the the various nervous system benefits of dog massage therapy.

The nerve receptors in tissues, which control tissue tension, are stimulated by massage. Depending on the type and length of treatment administered, massage can have a stimulating or a sedative effect on the nervous system.

Dog massage therapy engages the ‘Flight and Fight’ response

A fast, vigorous massage will awaken the nervous system which energizes the body. It engages the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the ‘Flight and Fight’ system.

One dog is lunging at another who is shocked

Massage engages the ‘Flight and Fight’ response

This prepares the body for an emergency situation where it may be necessary to defend itself (fight) or run away (flight). The dog is in a proactive and excitatory state, both physically and mentally.

Massage also stimulates the ‘Rest and Digest’ response

A more sedate, rhythmic massage will relax the body and helps to relieve the effects of stress.  Dog massage therapy helps to induce a relaxation response to touch via the parasympathetic nervous system. This is also known as the ‘Rest and Restore’ or ‘Rest and Digest’ system. This system is initiated in order to bring the body back to its normal resting state.

It causes the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart and breathing rates, lower the blood pressure and also to promote digestion. Furthermore, it replenishes the organs and tissues with energy via nutrients absorbed by increased activity of the gastrointestinal tract.

Relaxed dog

Massage also stimulates the ‘Rest and Digest’ response

The dog is relaxed due to the decrease in stress levels, as it is perceived to be safe and free from danger.

Massage induces relaxation and helps to relieve pain

Massage can also influence the release of hormones and chemicals into the body that induce relaxation.

Sleep is encouraged as an effect of the relaxation that massage produces, and therefore restlessness and sleep issues, such as insomnia, can be relieved.

Dog massage therapy can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and can therefore be effective in the reduction, and sometimes, the elimination of pain.  Furthermore, massage can help to relax muscles that are pressing on or pinching nerves, therefore relieving pain.

Massage also has a beneficial effect on the development and /or repair of neural pathways. A neural pathway conveys information from the peripheral nervous system to the brain.  Therefore, by reducing the tension in target muscles and stimulating specific areas, neural pathway growth and repair can be enhanced (Robertson, J., 2010, p.33).


  1. Health Reviser, 2010. The Physical and Mental Benefits of Massage. Available at:
  2. Hingle, L., 2011. Physiological Benefits of Massage. Available at:
  3. McGill, S., 2008/9. The Effects of Massage, SR134, Sports Massage, St Mary’s University College, unpublished.
  4. Natural Therapy Pages, 2013. How Your Body Benefits From Massage. Available at:
  5. Robertson, J., 2010. The Complete Dog Massage Manual. Dorset: Veloce Publishing Ltd.
  6. Tree, G., 2011-2012. Benefits of Massage. Available at:
  7. Wisegeek, 2003-2013. What Is a Neural Pathway? Available at:
  8. Wisegeek, 2003-2013. What Is the Function of Oxytocin? Available at:

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