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Hands on help for dogs

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Alix Norman speaks to Cyprus’ Canine Clinical Massage therapist about how to help your dog lead a happier, healthier life

Athena can rehabilitate injuries, release sore muscles, speed up post-operative recovery, support chronic orthopaedic conditions, and break down the knots which cause referred pain… Exactly what you need coming off a year of corona, right? Well yes. But wonderful as it all sounds, this treatment is not for you. Instead, it’s our four-legged friends who benefit. Because Athena Christodoulou is Cyprus’ first Clinical Canine Massage therapist.

“Clinical Canine Massage is similar to human massage in that we use many of the same techniques,” explains the 49-year-old, “but obviously adapted to the body of a dog. We use deep tissue, Swedish, direct and indirect myofascial release, and sports massage, but what makes the practice unique is that we’re also trained in The Lenton Method, which is a set of direct myofascial releases designed to improve ROM (range of motion), and the flexibility of muscles and fascia.”

A hands-on therapy, Clinical Canine Massage uses soft strokes to warm up and release your dog’s muscles, followed by deeper manipulations to address specific injuries inside the muscles and soft tissues. And the results can help the performance of the skeletal, muscular, circulatory, lymphatic, nervous and digestive systems and skin.

lambis , shepherd labrador cross, 7.5 yrs old, thoracolumbar syndrome trauma, restricted movement in both back legs
7.5-year-old Shepherd Labrador cross Lambis treated for Thoracolumbar Syndrome trauma, restricted movement in both back legs

“Basically, I’m helping dogs lead happier lives,” reveals Athena, who possesses an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology thanks to her years of dance training. “I originally trained as a dancer,” she explains, “so I can truly appreciate what a clinical and therapeutic massage can do for an injured and pained body.”

A professional dancer until the age of 40, and a yoga teacher since 2004, Athena combined her passion for movement with her love of dogs to complete a year-long dog training course, followed by intensive instruction in Canine Clinical Massage.

“Six years ago, while I was living in Vienna, I decided to take a dog training course – one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!” she enthuses. “Dogs are such beautiful souls, and have so much unconditional love to give, even when they have suffered abuse. I love that each and every one has their own individual character and smell!”

Athena’s own two rescues (16-year-old Holly – “she found me when she was two months old; she now has dementia, and can’t see or hear very well, but she’s still stubborn and getting even more cuddly with age!” – and seven-year-old Minnie, whom Athena found as a puppy, suffering from “two broken hips. She’s so lovely; so sweet and cuddly, but can be very fearful of people she doesn’t know and of loud noises) are a testament to her love of four-legged friends.

“I’ve always loved dogs,” she acknowledges. “And I couldn’t get enough of them during the training course. But I felt I was getting more contact with the owner than with the dog, and began looking for something I could do where I could be more ‘hands on’ with helping the dogs themselves.”

Research led Athena to the Canine Massage Therapy Centre in the UK. “And the rest,” as they say, is history! I trained for two years to become a Clinical Canine Massage Therapist, and was well and truly hooked!”

Today, in addition to her dog training and Clinical Canine Massage qualifications, Athena is also a member of the Canine Massage Guild – “we have to take 25 hours of continued professional development every year to ensure we keep learning and brush up on our skills.” And she loves that her work allows her to help dogs lead happier, healthier lives.

beenleigh 7 yrs old pointer strains in gluteals and iliocostallis muscle
Seven-year-old Pointer Beenleigh treated for strains in Gluteals and Iliocostallis muscle

“For me to treat a dog there needs to be a muscular or orthopaedic issue, a neurological issue or even anxiety,” she explains. “It’s a treatment that complements the services of your vet: a Clinical Canine Massage therapist always respects the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966 and the Exemption Order of 1962 by never working on an animal without gaining prior veterinary approval.

“The vets I’ve spoken to here in Cyprus have been very positive about the therapy,” she adds. “They know these treatments can really help improve a dog’s quality of life. And I think,” she continues, “that people in Cyprus are beginning to understand that a dog can require rehabilitation just like a human.”

Working with all breeds and all sizes, Athena treats her patients with love and care: “The initial treatment lasts about one-and-a-half hours, including 30 minutes or so in which I will ask the owner questions, discuss any medical matters, and watch the dog walk or trot to determine lameness or gait issues. I’ll also complete a palpation to feel for any possible issues before continuing with the therapy.”

Subsequent sessions last between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on the tolerance of the specific animal, and therapy takes place on a floor-level vet bed covered in a clean sheet. “I generally give three or four initial treatments over a period of three or four weeks,” says Athena, “after which I report my findings and any improvements to the vet. In cases where there’s no improvement following the initial treatments, I refer back to the vet: there may be a medical underlying condition with which I cannot help. And in cases where we see improvement, the owner will decide if they want to continue with maintenance treatments – perhaps once a month, for example, providing ongoing support for conditions such as hip dysplasia or arthritis.”

While every dog, Athena reveals, responds differently to therapy – “they all have their own particular personality and history; some are so relaxed they start snoring from the first treatment, others need time to trust” – all benefit from the treatment.

“I watch their eyes, their body language, and know if I’m making them comfortable or not; you can tell a lot by the eyes, the mouth, the tongue, and the stiffness or lack of tension in the body. It’s so rewarding,” she concludes, “when you meet a dog for the first treatment and they are a little wary, but by the second or third treatment they’re completely relaxed. I’m here to help, and dogs just seem to sense that!”

 

For more information, visit www.athenascaninemassageclinic.com

 

TOP TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR DOG FROM INJURY

– Warm up your dog’s muscles before allowing them to run wild off-lead with an on-lead, 10-minute walk

– If you have slippery flooring such as tiles, place non-slip runners or rugs to prevent your dogs from slipping and sliding and causing injury (especially when jumping off the sofa)

– If you have a larger breed dog, raise their feeding and drinking stations so they don’t have to bend down on their front legs and strain the muscles

– Ensure bedding is soft and comfortable

– When playing fetch, throw the ball low to the ground: dogs can sustain injury when landing from jumping or twisting to catch a ball

 

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