After more than a decade of listening to my mom complain about her unbearable leg cramps and post-workout soreness that made it difficult for her to get out of bed in the morning, I splurged on a high-tech massage gun so she could finally put those aches and pains to an end. But when she first fired up the VYBE Pro Percussion Massage Gun (Buy It, $150, amazon.com), it was instantly clear she wasn't the only one who'd make good use of it: Our 12-year-old cat strutted right over to it, gave the bouncing contraption a few cautious sniffs, then suddenly rubbed his back end right up against it. His tail pointed straight up toward the sky as purrs vibrated out from his chunky body. He was on cloud nine.
Courtesy of Veterinary Surgical Centers – Rehabilitation (VSCR)
In the five months since, the two cats in our household have claimed the massage gun as their own. The moment the recovery tool roars to life, both kitties drop whatever they're doing — whether it be taking one of their dozen daily naps or munching away on crunchies — and run over to it for a rubdown. Of course, being the loyal cat parent she is, my mother holds it steady while they blissfully rub their legs and butts against the bouncing foam head, leaving it covered in fur.
And my childhood pets aren't the only fur children who have a thing for these recovery tools: A quick YouTube search shows that many felines and dogs alike have taken a liking to — or perhaps developed a slight obsession with — their owners' massage guns.
Despite my two senior kitties' — and the rest of the internet's pets' — undeniable enjoyment for a massage gun treatment, the idea of the super-strength device pounding against their tiny bodies didn't sit right with me. So I called up Matt Brunke, D.V.M., C.C.R.P., C.V.P.P., C.V.A., C.C.M.T., a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation and the medical director of Veterinary Surgical Centers — Rehabilitation in Virginia, to find out just how safe it is to use a massage gun on your pet.
Do Professionals Ever Use Massage Guns On Animals?
If you take your pet to a primary care veterinarian for an annual check-up, chances are they're not going to break out a massage gun and start running it over your animal's body, says Dr. Brunke. However, some veterinary rehabilitation professionals are trained in massage therapy and might use their hands, massage guns, or other instruments on cats, dogs, horses, and every creature in between, he explains. "There can be secondary muscle tightening from bad arthritis and dogs can tear their ACL, so we have to do a lot of surgery and rehab for those," says Dr. Brunke. "That's when you'd use massage, either with your hands or with tools like massage guns, to help relax those muscles. Then, we can get them feeling better and get them stronger."
Generally speaking, treating your fur baby to a rubdown can do them some good. Massage — regardless of how it's performed — can help to reduce pain, improve circulation to the area you're tending to, loosen up tight muscles and adhesions, and improve lymphatic return (your lymphatic system's ability to get the excess fluid that drains from cells and tissue back into your bloodstream), which reduces swelling, says Dr. Brunke. Using a massage gun to get the job done, though, can help take the load off the veterinarian's hands, he adds. "No matter what species you're treating — human, dog, or horse — a massage gun allows you to generate a little bit more force, a little bit more consistency," he explains. "If you're seeing 10 patients a day — no matter what type of patient they are — your hands can get pretty tired, so the massage guns allow us to deliver a more consistent therapy throughout the course of the day to all of our patients." (Related: This Massage Gun Is the Only Thing That Relieves My Muscle Pain)
When a veterinary rehab specialist decides to use a massage gun to tackle a health condition or just give the pet some TLC, the exact attachment shape and material, as well as the power setting used, will depend on the size of the animal and the area being treated, says Dr. Brunke. (A horse can tolerate a higher intensity and frequency than, say, a Chihuahua, he explains.) But most often, veterinarians will use a soft, mini tennis ball-shaped foam head at the lowest power setting available, then gradually increase the intensity if they see fit, he explains. They'll usually stick to using it on the animal's thighs, back, shoulders, and triceps, spending five to 10 minutes on each area, he explains.
So, Can You Use a Massage Gun On Your Own Pet?
In short, it's not advisable if you're not trained on the exact areas to avoid and the pressure to apply, says Dr. Brunke. That means, with the vast majority of pet owners, a lot could go wrong. "The amount of force that the massage guns generate is designed for people, so if you inadvertently use them over the ribs on your dog or cat, or if you use it on the wrong settings, you could actually damage and bruise their lungs," says Dr. Brunke. Because of that powerful pounding, rabbits, birds, hamsters, and other tiny animals with super light bones should never receive massage gun treatments, he adds.
That's not to say you can't act as a masseuse for your pet. "Massage, in general, is an awesome thing for pet parents to do for their kids," says Dr. Brunke. "You can use it for arthritis or recovery from orthopedic surgery, but also just to get to know your pet more. If you pet them and massage them [regularly], you know how they normally react. If they're tender or sore one day to that same light massage touch, you know something's wrong, so it's also a great way for pet parents to be more attuned to their pet's needs." (Massage offers plenty of mental and physical health benefits for humans, too.)
To give your pampered pooch or kitty a good rubdown, settle down on the floor next to them when they're relaxed and give them gentle, gliding strokes from the tip of the nose to tail, a massage technique called effleurage, says Dr. Brunke. You can also practice petrissage, a technique involving lightly kneading your pet's thighs and triceps, he says.
If you're still interested in using a massage gun on your pet, book an appointment with a veterinarian who specializes in rehabilitation and sports medicine first, says Dr. Brunke. "It's always best to be talking with a veterinarian as to why you'd be using it," he explains. "If your pet just had their ACL repaired or they had an accident, broke their leg, and it got fixed, if you use some of these devices too soon over those healing areas, we may damage some of that recovery or slow down that recovery." If your vet thinks massage gun therapy could be beneficial, they can then teach you how to use the tool on your companion safely, says Dr. Brunke. (Related: Is CBD for Pets Healthy or Dangerous?)
Of course, some determined, fearless pets simply can't be stopped. So if your feisty feline or mighty Great Dane comes running at the sound of your massage gun vibrating and shoves you out of the way to get some action, turn that power setting down all the way, be extremely cautious about the areas it's hitting, and look for any signs of discomfort, he says. After all, unless you've become fluent in woofs and meows, your pet can't tell you to turn it off.