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A Peek into Massage and Rehabilitation Therapy

By Marissa Brown, CVT

“Vet is going to be here soon. We have a cow with a DA,” my dad yelled up the steps to me. I was sitting in my room reading a book.  

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Marissa grew up on a dairy farm.

“I’m coming!” I replied as I quickly bookmarked my page and changed into my barn clothes.  It was exciting knowing the vet was coming. Of course, I would feel bad for the cow. Having a DA, or displaced abomasum, meant surgery. DA or “twisted stomach” in cows is when the abomasum (one of the compartments of the stomach) floats up out of place. However, I enjoyed watching the vet do his job and asking questions about what he was doing and about veterinary medicine in general. 

Growing up on my family’s dairy farm has given me an interest in ALL animals.  I want to know everything there is to know about every type of God’s creatures. I also love helping and caring for them. Even before starting veterinary technician school, I wanted to learn more about massage therapy. There is something interesting about how we can affect the body’s working just by touch and pressure. After starting classes to be certified in massage and rehabilitation therapy for animals, I quickly learned just how much massage can affect the body. I knew that we can help relax muscles with massage to help with tension. There is so much more to it than just that! Not only do we stimulate an animal’s brain with massage and rehab, we also affect the muscle we are touching, the muscles around the one we are working, the nerves around those muscles, the surrounding joints, and the fascia (a thin layer of tissue that wraps a bundle of muscle fibers together).

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Marissa treats a patient with therapeutic laser.

Different massage techniques have different effects on the body.  Effleurage, for example, is a technique using light pressure. It is like your warm up before working out. It helps with circulation. This can be followed by petrissage, which is a technique where more pressure is applied to reach deeper muscles.  

By using different therapeutic exercises, we can target specific muscles that need addressing.  Other tools in our tool belt include therapeutic laser, therapeutic ultrasound, Assisi Loops, heat therapy, cryotherapy, and water treadmills to name a few.

Soon after being certified in December 2021, I had the pleasure of rehabilitating two dogs. My first patient was a 15-year-old hound mix. We will call her Abby. During the winter, she had slipped outside and injured herself. Her owner brought her in to the clinic using a towel around Abby’s waist because she could not support herself or walk on her own. Abby was also wearing a diaper for urinary and stool incontinence. Dr. Kim Everson and I assessed her and got to work developing a specialized rehabilitation plan specifically for Abby. She was prescribed a therapeutic laser therapy protocol for chronic cases (treatments three times the first week, twice the second, then once the third week). After the laser treatments I performed massage on Abby.  Between laser treatment appointments, Abby’s owner was assigned therapeutic exercises to do at home. By the end of the first week, Abby was walking with less assistance! By the end of the second week, she was walking without any assistance and she was no longer using the diaper. Unfortunately, Abby was euthanized due to having unrelated cancer a few weeks after we started her rehab.

My second patient was an 11-year-old mixed breed who had also injured himself.  Tank presented for not using his left rear leg. Initially, we treated with just laser therapy and nothing else. It did seem to help him some. While here for one of his treatments, Tank’s owner asked about our massage and rehabilitation program. Due to the owner’s busy schedule with work and school, she was not able to come in as frequently as my first patient. When his massage and rehab started, Tank was bearing some weight on his rear leg. He would walk on it, but was minimal weight bearing while standing still. He visited the clinic for massage once a week. The rest of the week, I asked Tank’s owner to perform therapeutic exercises at home. After a few weeks, Tank was placing more weight on his rear leg and walking with less of a limp. The doctor and I assessed his progress through video clips that the owner sent by email.

Veterinary massage and rehabilitation is tailored to a specific pet — their clinical condition, their temperament and ability — and also to their owner’s schedule, ability and engagement. Even if two dogs come in with the exact same injury, their massage and rehabilitation plan will be different.  Tank’s in-person recheck schedule was every two weeks, whereas for Abby she had four weeks of exercises prescribed before the recheck appointment. Working closely with the pet owner to determine their goals for therapy and collaborate on how to best deliver the therapy to their pet is challenging and stimulating. Seeing improvement in these pets, especially when traditional medical therapy falls short, is very rewarding.


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Sue: “I had a dog named Abby who slipped on ice this winter and injured her back leg. Took her to SBAMC for evaluation and they had said she would be a good candidate for their laser and massage therapy with Marissa who had gone to school for this which was new for the vet. As time went on, Abby had gotten better with her leg, this treatment worked wonders on her. Marissa had set up a plan and was very thorough with everything she had learned. It was great working with her. 😊”


Sheiana: “Tank is an 11-year-old red heeler mix who injured himself somehow outside and became non-weight bearing on his rear left leg. To keep him quiet he had to be kenneled to allow his leg to heal. This caused him to also lose muscle mass in his thigh, which was causing his rear to be more unstable. I was informed that Marissa had completed extra training in massage therapy and may benefit Tank in his recovery. Tank was already getting laser therapy and daily pain reliever, so I thought I would give massage therapy and the Assisi loop a try. Marissa also sent us home with exercise homework that I had to do with him. It was very time consuming, however it strengthened our bond as I was able to dedicate more one on one time with Tank, and he got treats and pets which he loves. This made it a positive experience for him, as he is a very timid dog and does not like doing new things that are out of routine. After about 2-3 months of visits and hard work at home, Tank was starting to put more weight on his leg. He is now full weight bearing on his rear leg and has improved in taking small jumps- into the car and onto the couch his favorite place. I am thankful that taking the time to do these exercises, and also the appointments for massage which he loved as it involved pets, helped him be able to walk on all 4 paws again.”

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