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Clinical Massage - a success story

This case study was published in Animal Therapy Magazine (Issue 23, March 2021)



Let's meet Teddy


Teddy is a 12 year old Polish Lowland Sheepdog who, in her younger years, loved nothing more than long, cross country runs around the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside...until disaster struck.


One day, in 2016, poor Teddy woke up in agony and unable to stand. An emergency x-ray at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) revealed a 'slipped disc' in her thoracic spine. Surgery was followed by physiotherapy and then hydrotherapy but the only thing that seemed to help was lots of rest and restricted exercise. To make matters worse, further disc bulges were found in Teddy's lumbar spine. Choosing to avoid further surgery, the degenerative condition was managed for the next four years with relatively high dose of pain meds.


But Teddy's health challenges didn't end there. As the pandemic struck in 2020, she not only developed Cushings disease (a tumour on her adrenal gland) but also significant arthritic changes in both her wrists, confirmed by Fitzpatrick Referrals. An op to remove the tumour led to pancreatitis and then aspiration pneumonia! When - and how - would the poor dog recover.

Building trust

Since her original back injury, Teddy had shown no interest in exercise or exploring her world. Seemingly clutching at straws her owner, Jo Culhane, decided to try massage therapy, although she wasn't hopeful.


By the time Karen Horne (VETMB MA MRCVS) from Alistair J Poole Veterinary surgery referred her to me as an urgent case her condition had deteriorated and she had barely left her bed in a week.


By now it was late December 2020 and, with Covid cases rising, I could only treat urgent cases without the owner present. Given her previous extensive tests and investigations, Teddy was understandably anxious, so allowing 90 minutes for the first session was instrumental in the trust gaining exercise.


I vividly remember her first session. Without her mum's support, Teddy was extremely frightened and hid under the massage table for half an hour, so I just pretended I didn't know she was there. I kept quiet still, didn't look at her, and simply read out loud in a calm voice. Finally, Teddy started to relax. I threw some treats away from both of us so that she had to leave the table to get them but didn't need to come near me. After eating the treats, Teddy settled where they had fallen. Although she still refused to engage with me, I did manage to touch her, gently, slowly and just the superficial layers, but progress had been made. Teddy had begun to trust me.


By session four we were a team! Teddy was even presenting areas that she wanted me to work on, despite the work obviously causing some therapeutic discomfort.


Initial assessment for Canine Massage Therapy

Despite Teddy's trust issues at the beginning I was still able to identify the effect that the lack of exercise was having in her tissues. All the muscles in her torso were hypotonic - except for her Iliocostalis bilaterally which were hypertonic and painful to touch.


Hypotonicity is dogs is relatively uncommon and I hadn't encountered a case as extreme as Teddy's. The tissue felt more like blancmange. The resulting slower, shorter muscle fibre contractions meant that, for Teddy, it would take a lot more effort to use her muscles than it would for a healthy dog. She would tire faster, and ran the risk of joint damage and deterioration.


In addition, Teddy's prolonged immobility had also reduced the effectiveness of the nerve impulses to her skeletal muscles, reducing her fine motor skills and affecting her balance and coordination. This manifested as low body awareness, low confidence in her movement and a clumsy and uncoordinated gait.


By contrast, the Iliocostalis muscles bilaterally were so hypertonic that they felt like bone, were painful, and ran the risk of straining.


Further issues identified

  • Tight, restrictive and painful dorsal aspect of the neck

  • Hind limbs atrophied and hypotonic, with severe muscle wastage in the back legs

  • Restricted range of movement in forelimbs

  • Demeanour and posture was negative with the head held exceptionally low

  • The appearance of shuffling through life.


Teddy turns a corner

A key principle of Canine Massage Guild therapists is to see results in 1-3 sessions. Given everything Teddy had endured over the years, would we be able to live by that tenet? Well, extraordinarily the answer is a resounding yes! After just three sessions Teddy had started to stretch - and even lie on her back - something she hadn't done for the past year. And then, after her fourth session, just look! Teddy is actually rolling joyfully in the snow, demonstrating massively improved spinal mobility, comfort and a new freedom to her movement.


This dear, sweet dog is finally able to enjoy life once again. Teddy's owner Jo Culhane said

"With Karen's therapy and advice, Teddy has become more alert, motivated, and stimulated. We can't believe the difference that canine massage therapy has made to Teddy, and in such a short apace of time! This therapy has really helped turn Teddy around."

I wonder now whether we would have made the same degree of progress if Jo has been able to come into the clinic. We will never know, but I have noticed that some of my clients are quicker to settle and more responsive to massage when their owners are not in the clinic with them. This is particularly true if the owners get stressed when their dog shows signs of discomfort.


I hope that this helps reassure owners who are considering massage therapy for their dog. Before Covid I didn't treat dogs without their owners present. At least one positive to be taken from this strange year - massage therapy can be as effective (and possibly more so in some cases) when the owner is unable to attend a session.


Jo said

" Other dog owners should know that with canine massage therapy there is hope when it comes to help for their older dog. Teddy was struggling. She was having difficulty standing, didn't want to play of go for a walk, and was sleeping all day. We let her rest, thinking that this was the right thing to do, but Karen has taught us that with the right therapy Teddy can, and wants to do, a lot more.
After her treatments Teddy is now actually enjoying short walks. She's become more sociable, joining in and wanting to be with the family and has regained her 'doggy mannerisms'. We are delighted with the complete turnaround for how Teddy was before to how she is now and cannot recommend Karen, or Clinical Canine Massage Therapy enough."

Unfortunately Teddy has since crossed the Rainbow bridge, but the therapy gave her a few comfortable, quality years at the end of her life. I will never forget her or the lessons on trust and communication she taught me.


I have provided a copy of the article as it was laid out below.

Thanks to Jo Culhane for trusting me with her beautiful girl, for her kind words and for her input into this article. Teddy was a very special girl, who had so many health issues and I am so glad I could help to change things around for her.

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