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Canine Massage and ‘Equissage’: A new string to your therapeutic bow?

by Lisa Rose July 31, 2016

Dog rests its head on a massage table.

Although it isn’t exactly mainstream yet, a quick Google search will throw up a surprising amount of results under this category. Canine massage seems to be one of the most popular therapies, especially in the US. There are a whole range of schools and organisations offering tuition and advice on canine massage; there are also books and manuals available on the subject. Nevertheless it had completely escaped my attention until recently, when a customer emailed us asking whether we did massage beds for dogs, and if not, whether we would consider manufacturing them because canine massage was really taking off. I was intrigued, so I decided to have a little look into it.

In the below video, a dog called Mitt has apparently had his health fully restored after a series of massage treatments. Suffering from Lymes Disease and Hip Dysplasia, he could barely walk despite being only four years old. The dog seems completely at home in the video and is happy to just lie there while the therapist works her magic; unsurprisingly, given that most animals are happy to be petted until you have had enough. And muscles are muscles, whatever species you are!



The video is educational too, as the therapist goes into a fair amount of detail in how she is treating the dog and why she is using each technique. After all, the physiology of a dog may be similar but there are bound to be a few grey areas we hadn’t considered if attempting something like this for the first time.

The perks certainly outweigh the risks

There is surely a certain appeal in this kind of work for anyone who loves animals. It is unlikely that we would face many of the issues we might have to as therapists working with the general public, and of course there are bound to be days where things go wrong, here and there, for whatever reason. But animals have no expectations, are non-judgmental and aren’t going to quibble if you hadn’t given it 100% that day. Plus, let’s face it – they’re easy to love! For many people, it’s love at first sight with most animals, and fortunately the feeling is often mutual. We frequently offer them our attention for free, so wouldn’t it be great if you could make some cash out of it too?  

It appears to be a job with a few obvious perks. You may well be working regularly with animals that have health issues and this is likely to be considered a plus point as we all love to feel that we’ve done something to help, made somebody’s day better etc.; otherwise we probably wouldn’t be in the industry in the first place. What’s more, horse massage therapists are certainly paid pretty well, bringing in between $50 and $100 per hour in the US. Claiming to be a ‘Horse Masseuse’ would certainly be a conversation starter at parties.

A predictable issue, if you could even call it that, is apparent in the above video too - the dog seems fairly interested in having his belly rubbed and is trying to turn over. If you were working with excitable animals that weren’t well trained, it could be a lot more difficult to administer a treatment. Another thing perhaps worth considering before embarking on such a career path is that if you are dealing with sick or injured animals and an animal is feeling pain because of a health condition, it could perhaps react badly to the massage. It would surely be sensible to have a good idea of the temperament of the animals you are working with and a full brief from the owners or a vet. Nobody wants to be kicked by an angry horse, that’s for sure! It makes sense that therapists would be dealing with mainly sick animals, as the chances are that pet owners and not going to be bringing their animals in just for a treat – we love them, but I’m not sure that the majority of pet owners love them that much. A bone and squeaky toy is about as luxury as it gets for most dogs!

Equissage, Equinology, Equine Massage, etc

It might seem likely that Equine massage would be more common, given that horses are still used for racing, show jumping and the like; they are bound to experience the same problems that human athletes face, needing sports massage treatments and general relaxation. For that reason there are a wealth of videos available on You Tube demonstrating techniques and giving advice. It looks to have acquired some seemingly tongue-in-cheek names – being referred to as ‘Equissage’, or ‘Equinology’ and similar. People who own horses generally have to put a lot of time and effort into caring for them, so it makes sense that equine massage might be a more established therapy. Yet dogs don’t get nearly as much input into their lives – some are even lucky to get to run around the local recreational ground once a week.

Would animal massage be something you’d consider branching out into? Do you think the word should be spread? After all, there are surely many animals in need of this kind of attention and it may not even have occurred to the owners that this is an option, never mind a necessity. Would you have any concerns over this kind of work, and should it be necessary to be fully qualified? 

Lisa Rose
Lisa Rose


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Massage Table Size Guide

Massage tables comes in many different shapes and size. It can be confusing for you, the customer, to choose the right one but we are here to help!

A lot of customers call us up after they have bought the wrong size massage table elsewhere and we would like to help you avoid this mistake. It normally goes something like this; they like the look of a picture of a massage table on a website, they like the low price and then they check the carrying weight is ok. If the carrying weight fits their needs they click add to cart and the new massage table turns up at their doorstep in a few days. They unfortunately assume all massage tables are pretty much the same width and size.

The standard size of a massage table is 28 inches wide (71cms) and 73 inches (185cms) long. One of the reasons many "lightweight" budget massage tables are so cheap is because

  1.  They are smaller in size (normally around 61cms wide) and as such have less materials
  2. They are sold by specialist retailers who also sell anything else they can import and turn a profit on. As such they just buy the cheapest massage tables they can find in China. They go for smaller sizes as they are cheaper.

Make sure the massage table is the right size for you and your clients as the narrow massage tables at 61cms can be very uncomfortable for anyone who isn't petite and many clients cannot relax with their shoulders and arms unsupported.


The Width of the Massage Table:

Almost all therapists choose the standard 28 inch wide massage table. All our massage tables are the same length so it is only the width and shape our customers need to decide on.

Your massage table should be wide enough to cater for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of your clients. It needs to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate your treatment style, while being narrow enough to ensure you don’t have to strain your own back during treatments.

Each therapist's postural training and ability is different, so only you will know what massage table width you can handle. We have spoken to therapists who are five feet tall and get the wider 30 inch massage tables, and we speak to six foot therapists who have back problems and go for a 25 inch wide massage table. Everyone is different.

Generally speaking, if you are of smaller stature, you may do better with one of the narrower 25-inch massage tables. If you're quite tall, or are particularly keen to offer your clients a very spacious experience, a 30-inch massage table might be more suitable.

If you are in doubt, see if you can go into your local training college and see whether the massage tables there suit you. However, there is another way to get a feel for what will work of you don’t have access to a couch when you are deciding:

Cut out a piece of cardboard to the dimensions of both sizes you are deciding between. Put it on top of the kitchen table and lean over it. Visualise a client lying there, and see which width will suit you and your client best.

measuring the width of a massage table

Make sure you can get close enough to the table that you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients' spine. Working in this position will ensure an injury-free career, so it's an important factor in your decision.

The most popular massage table widths are 28 and 30 inches. We sell 25-inch massage tables but you should really only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider massage table might put your own back at risk over the course of your career.

You can also choose the 25-inch if you want to have the lightest massage table possible. By reducing the width of the massage table, the weight is also reduced. Now, this can mean a trade-off of some client comfort, but this trade is often worthwhile if you are a fully mobile therapist and use public transport frequently, where saving a kilogram or two will make a difference to you over time.


The Height Of the Massage Table

Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. Whichever massage table you choose should come with a large height range to accommodate you, and to cater for a broad range of therapies.

A common height range of massage tables is between 60 to 80cm, and this height range should cater for everyone. To check which height you need your massage table to be at follow this rule of thumb:

1. Stand up straight with your hands by your sides. Clench your fists.
2. Measure the distance between the floor and your knuckles
3. This distance should equal the height of your massage table.
4. Add a few inches in height to allow for the body of the patient on the massage table.

The height of a massage table is usually only adjusted when different therapists are using the same massage table, or if you have a client that is outside the average size you normally treat. So for example, if someone with a lot of body depth comes for a treatment after an average size person, you may need to adjust the height a notch or two.

You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in just 2-3 minutes. Even though you mightn't adjust the height very often, the faster the better when you do have to!

There are 2 types of height adjustment mechanisms found on modern massage tables.

1) Twisting knobs (found only on wooden massage tables):

If you are working with a wooden massage table, it is better to have two knobs on each of the four legs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to check how many knobs are on the legs. Cheap massage tables often only have one knob, and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they are less stable and have been known to snap.

2) Telescopic push-buttons (found only on aluminium massage tables):

The mechanism to adjust the height of an aluminium massage table is much the same as the push-button method on aluminium crutches. It only takes a few seconds to adjust each leg, and the mechanism is very reliable. Check out the video to see how it’s done.


Massage Table Shape:

The following are the different shapes of massage tables on the market.

1. Rectangle shaped with square corners 

This is the traditional shape of a massage table and the one you are probably familiar with seeing. Our Combi-lite 3 in 1 and Affinity Portaflex are shaped like this.

2. Rectangle shaped with rounded corners

Same as no 1 above in every way except the corners are rounded. Does not affect function in any way, just a different design/look.


3. Hour glass shaped with gradual gradient 

A fabulous massage table innovation in recent years, which solves a lot of the problems around choosing the correct width is the hourglass shaped massage table.

This style of massage table is wider at the ends, and tapers somewhat at the middle. This provide a spacious and comfortable experience for your client (as the shoulder and feet area are 30 inches wide) without compromising your own posture and health, as the middle of the couch where you lean over is a much narrower 26 inches wide.Having recently upgraded to one of these hourglass massage tables myself, I can vouch that my working days are much more comfortable, and many of my clients have commented on the extra comfort from the wider shoulder area.


4. Hour glass shaped with sharp gradient
Same as point above but instead of the it gradually going from wide to narrow, the massage table changes quickly from normal width to narrow width so people of very short stature can get in close.
5. Oval Shaped

 The name says it all! There are no corners on the massage table. Therapists normally choose this for one of two reasons. They simply like the look of this massage table and it is aesthetically more pleasing in their treatment room and/or they find it easier to move around the massage table during the treatment without having to side step the corners. This is particularly handy when space is limited in your treatment room.

oval massage table


Have any questions or comments about anything above? Please let us know in the comments below!