Although the International Association of Animal Massage and Body Work (IAAMB) has certified massage therapists in 12 countries around the globe, including North America, South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, it is still relatively new to Maui and Hawai'i.
JudithCatherine Lam intends to change that as the only certified canine massage therapist (CCMT) on Maui, and one of just three in Hawai'i.
Lam recognizes the concept of canine massage may be unfamiliar to Maui, but she points out that in all of the top dog shows across the nation, therapeutic canine massage is a standard practice before and after each show.
Canine massage therapy opens up the blood vessels and releases oxygen to the brain and the heart. The massage also releases relaxing endorphins and nutrients to the muscle tissues.
It's more than a "feel-good benefit," Lam said, noting that it is not just for high-end show dogs, but beneficial for all types of dogs--young, old, active, inactive, healthy and those suffering from injuries.
"Remember," Lam advises potential clients and others, "dogs cannot voice their hurts, injuries and poor muscle movements."
However, Lam can locate those injuries and sore spots, and with a regular regime of therapy, bring health and increased years to a dog's life.
Among the documented benefits of canine massage therapy is the promotion of the healing process by increasing the flow of nutrients to the muscles, and aiding in carrying away excessive fluids and toxins.
It is estimated that dogs age seven times faster than human beings.
Additional key benefits include enhancing muscle tone and range of motion, reducing inflammation and swelling in the joints, thereby alleviating pain and stimulating circulation by freeing frozen muscles leading to the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain killers.
According to Lam, "Canine therapeutic massage creates a positive effect on the contractual and release process of a dog's muscles, relaxing them and helping to maintain the body in better physical and emotional condition."
But why not just have a massage similar to what a human might receive?
"Our bodies are not the same," said Lam. "We eat differently and we digest our food differently. There are 72 pressure points on a dog's body," she noted, having studied canine physiology as part of her certification.
"Even active dogs that are fortunate to have a big yard can benefit from canine massage therapy," Lam said. "Dogs can injure themselves just romping around. And if the injury is not treated, it can develop into a serous fibrosis that can have a major impact on a dog's ability to move."
Lam recommends beginning a regular regimen of canine massage therapy as young as 6 months of age on an average of once a month, depending on the specific condition of the dog. A massage takes about two hours and is conducted in Lam's South Maui studio.
However, it is never too late for a dog to receive the benefits associated with the massage. Many owners of dogs suffering from arthritis can expect to see improvements in their pets' quality of life after having therapeutic canine massage.
House calls are possible in special circumstances, but Lam explained that a home is a dog's territory, and they can be distracted with a stranger in the house. In the studio, there are no detractions and the focus can be on the bodywork.
The massage process consists of seven steps, including an initial home visit to observe the dog in its usual surroundings. First, the dog is walked, then assessed. Following the assessment, the dog is massaged, followed by brushing and combing. Then another walk and reassessment are conducted.
All of the therapeutic massage work is charted with notes specific to each dog to easily share information with the pet's owner.
As dogs face increasing urbanization and lack of space, therapeutic canine massage can offer an opportunity for dog owners to ensure their dog is happy, healthy and enjoying the pleasure of "a dog's life."