Today I was pontificating about whether there were any studies that looked at simple touch as a healing tool in companion animals. Placebo can account for up to 30% of any positive benefits seen in an interventional study. We believe this to be due to the influence of the mind and the belief that a treatment is occurring. It is much harder to measure the transference of energy… from touch, from intention, from prayers, from sunlight, from fresh air, from music, from colour, from social connections, and so on.
So I went searching, and I found a study that I didn’t know existed. It doesn’t 100% answer my query above, but it is actually a ground breaking study in my estimation, because it is the first study that I have seen to actually study Massage Therapy interventions in dogs!
Riley LM, Satchell L, Stilwell LM, Lenton NS. Effect of massage therapy on pain and quality of life in dogs: A cross sectional study. Vet Rec. 2021 Dec;189(11):e586.
Methods: Case notes from 65 self-selected practitioners provided a convenience sample of 527 dogs. Investigation was conducted on changes in number and severity of issue for five pain indicator (gait, posture, daily activity behaviour, performance), and quality of life score as reported by owners and practitioners.
Results: Significant reductions in reported pain severity scores were recorded for all pain indicators, whereas the number of pain indicators remained the same.
Conclusions: “This cross-sectional study indicates canine massage therapy may effectively reduce myofascial and musculoskeletal pain severity reported by owners and practitioners associated with gait, posture, behavioural and performance issues and reduction in daily activities. Although this is not a double-blind trial, and there is no control group, this study suggests massage therapy may be a valid treatment for myofascial and musculoskeletal pain typically derived from muscular injuries, arthritis/other orthopaedic conditions.”
Okay, so, this study is obviously riddled with bias and is of a lower quality methodology. However, it is the ONLY study that to my knowledge has ever tackled the topic of Massage as an intervention for dogs. Might the practitioners and owners have a placebo bias in their evaluations and the documentation of such in the charts? Sure. However, what is not to say that just ‘Touch’ alone didn’t have had an impact on these dogs?
Human studies DO SHOW that human touch can have healing effects. I couldn’t find anything similar in veterinary research, but why would it be any different? Especially in companion animals. I do think that there is enough evidence (from research and from clinical observations) to presume that TOUCH can offer a healing benefit. So, go ahead and spend a little extra time touching your canine patients, massaging them, and advising owners to do the same. Who know, it might just be a difference maker!