Why canine myofunctional therapy is a valuable discipline



Canine myofunctional therapy (CMT) is the physical manipulation of muscles, ligaments and tendons through massage. Massage has been a recognised method of treatment for over 4000 years. Hippocrates (460-380 BC) claimed that physicians are required to be experienced in “…rubbing, as this can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid…” (Robertson, 2010, p. 5). Many people including athletes regularly see a muscle therapist to maintain their muscle condition and reduce the risk of serious damage by maintaining little issues as they pop up rather than deal with a big issue within a few months. If you receive this treatment, why doesn’t your furry friend?


Muscles enable every movement your dog makes to occur. Blinking, chewing, wagging her tail, walking, running, even breathing all happens because of your dog’s muscles. When your dog lowers his head at night to eat dinner five muscles were required to perform a movement just to lower his head (the sternohyoid, brachiocephalic, cleidobrachial, sternocephalic and the omotransverse muscles). There are more than 700 skeletal muscles that are responsible for the movement of your canine. If any of theses muscles are injured they will not be able to perform properly. If one muscle isn’t able to function properly the surrounding muscles will be required to do extra work to compensate.


Through observation we can note that dogs will attempt to physically manipulate themselves through licking, biting or to even present you with a troublesome area. CMT allows Fido to have his skin, circulatory system, nervous system, muscular system, skeletal system, joints, and lymphatic system receive a little TLC.  Just as humans have muscular injuries or aches so do our canine companions. Muscular injuries can result in “unnecessary stress on the joints of opposing muscles, uneven wear and decreased range of movement (ROM), stress on the other muscles and stress on the other joints” just to name a few (National College of Traditional Medicine, 2013, p. 6).


It is impossible to pinpoint how Rover may have injured his muscles. Sometimes, we can narrow it down to things like slippery surfaces, jumping onto a ute, or roughhousing with other dogs but sometimes we can only identify that there is a sore  or tight spot. Muscle injuries can occur for a variety of reasons. For example “a blow, overuse, overstretch, overstretch then tear, cooling down procedures conducted too quickly, posture is not balanced, structural imbalance, poor diet, or incorrect preparation prior to exertion” are just some of the ways a dog may injury himself (National College of Traditional Medicine, 2013, p. 8).


Sometimes it can be obvious that your dog is in pain. They may limp, have a visibly swollen area or even be arthritic. What about the subtle signs? Is there a change in coat texture? Is there a twitch of surrounding muscles when you touch a certain area of the body? A CMT therapist has been trained to be a soft tissue detective. To ensure that the therapist is doing no harm to your dog they will ask you a lot of questions about your dog’s health and history. They will talk to you about what you have noticed about your dog, they will observe your dog moving and have a good look at your dog. All before laying their hands on your dog.


The hands can inform the CMT therapist how receptive the dog is to a treatment, how nervous they might be, and some information about the texture and quality of the skin. The hands will also discover any spasms, areas of congestion, swelling or heat, any lumps, any old sprains or injuries. They will also discover any area of discomfort or sensitivity, and points that cause pain in other parts of the body.  Once all of the “detective” work has finished the CMT therapist will begin the treatment on your dog.


What does a CMT treatment actually do you ask? Of course my sweet pooch would love to have someone pat and rub them. While all the patting and rubbing (or so it seems) is happening your dog is receiving all of these benefits; “increase of blood supply, elimination of toxic waste before it builds up in muscles, reduction of tension, improved circulation, lengthening of connective tissue, improved nutrient supply, break down and prevention of adhesions, improved lymphatic flow, lubrication of the fascia, muscle release and the reduction of scar tissue” just to name a few. Not bad results for someone who is just using their hands to “rub” your dog! (National College of Traditional Medicine, 2013, p. 18).


CMT treatments can be relaxing as well as remedial. A sedate, rhythmic massage will relax the body that will help to reduce stress, tension, anxiety and their affects on the body. Massage creates a general feeling of well being, which is linked to the physical release of endorphins via the nervous system, promoting a “natural high” and easing pain. Massage fulfils the body’s need for physical contact and nurturing. Horowitz claims that by “Stroking a mature dog…can reduce his heart rate, lower his blood pressure and drop his skin temperature.” (2010, p. 293).


After a massage you should expect your now pampered pooch to get up, have a stretch, have a drink, go to the toilet and then have a sleep. The next day you may notice that your dog is a little stiff. This is perfectly normal. Have you ever had a remedial massage? Do you remember how you felt the next day? A little sore and stiff? That is exactly how your dog will feel and perfectly normal. The reason that the “stiffness” sets in is because after the CMT treatment the muscles have been asked to sit / move differently and the body isn’t used to it and needs a moment to adapt.


The frequency that your dog requires a CMT treatment will depend on what the CMT therapist has found. If there is something that needs to be focused on there may be fortnightly treatments until the “issue” is less bothersome for your dog. In general every 6-8 weeks is the maintenance routine for a canine.


Sometimes a CMT treatment cannot proceed. This may be because there is a contraindication present or because your pooch is too excited or nervous for the treatment to happen. A contraindication is a condition, which would not be benefited by the specific treatment, in this case massage. The contraindication could include, an open wound, broken bone, surgery, pregnancy, cancer, swelling, weight bearing lameness, pain, and heart conditions. Sometimes a treatment can still occur but the CMT therapist will avoid an area or provide support to the opposite side of an injury to minimise compensatory damage.


Essential to the appearance and movement of all dogs are the structural features that govern balance and the ability to move freely –conformation! Good conformation means that your dog can move with effortless stride and with a smooth action. Poor conformation means that your dog will move with a shortened stride, or cause irregularities in gaiting pattern. While conformation plays a big role in the way a dog moves unfortunately, it is not something we can fix. For example, one of my dogs stands with his front feet pointing slightly east west. This is incorrect for my breed. A regular massage can help him move with less restriction but no massage will be able to manipulate his conformation.


While CMT has an abundance of benefits, I feel it is time to mention that a CMT treatment is not a cure. Regular massages will not cure arthritis or make changes to the conformation of your dog. Regular massages will most certainly help with the issues your dog is having. CMT treatments encourage the body to heal itself. Similarly, your CMT therapist will never diagnose an issue. They are able to tell you what they and even refer you to a vet or another professional.


CMT is a valuable discipline because without whiz-bang equipment your canine can receive an abundance of health benefits for every type of dog. Working dogs, show dogs, pets, endurance dogs, older dogs and many more. CMT is beneficial to your dog if they have an issue that they need worked on or even just as a routine treatment. CMT can invigorate, increase, improve, strengthen, regenerate, and relax the body’s organ systems, which improves their overall function. Essentially CMT is all about the reduction of pain and tension and increasing endorphins and the longevity of your beloved canine. 


Contact Details

Kasey Hillyar
Bathurst, NSW, Australia
Phone : 0448802250
Email : [email protected]