The immune system

The immune system protects dogs from all sorts of invaders. The skin and coat are the innate portions of the immune system. These are their first lines of defense. The skin and coat protection is nonspecific, providing protection from many foreign invaders. The adaptive portions of the immune system are much more specific. They react to unique molecules called antigens, and use antibodies and cell-mediated immunity to rid the body of foreign substances.

How do you know if the dog is immunocompromised? As a bodyworker, it is not in my scope of practice to declare if the dog is immuno-whatever. That is too close to the slippery slope of making a diagnosis. However, when I see a dog that is not acting like a healthy happy dog, who is moving slower than I expect, dragging her paws, head lowered when walking, ears non reactive to the environment, who is a little over (or under) weight, and whose eyes are dull, I recognize the signs of someone whose ch’i is sad. Ch’i is the life force, and protector of the body. When the dog’s ch’i is not moving as it should, or is out of balance, she is susceptible to all sorts of pathogens (evil toxins).

Lymphatic movement

When we discuss lymph nodes we usually refer to the big ones in the major joints. It’s easy to visualize them squeezed and drained when the bones and muscles around them are stimulated. The nodes we’ve learn to focus on in PetMassageTM are “articular.”

These are all ready opportunities with manual massage. Massage creates movement and when movement occurs, the lymph nodes between the moving parts get squeezed. This happens when we manipulate joints. When there is movement in the jaw which happens naturally with chewing, licking, and barking, lymph nodes are squeezed. Lymph nodes are in front of the scapulae, in the axilla (shoulder and armpit), between the bones of the elbow, carpals, metacarpals, and toes. They are in the groin, the hip, stifle, hock, tarsals, metatarsals and hind toes. We can visualize how the lymph nodes in the spaces between the vertebra are pushed and pulled, squeezed and stretched when the dog shakes her head, stretches her spine and wags her whole body with her tail.

The articular lymphatic system is just one part of the dog’s immune system.

The gut

Here’s a helpful fact: the gut has the most lymph nodes. Two-thirds of the immune system is in the gut. The dog’s “gut” (stomach, colon and intestines) is responsible for reducing food into nutritive molecules comprising the carbohydrates, fats and sugars necessary to keep your dog as fit and healthy as possible.  Your dog’s health depends primarily on the health of their digestive system.

In the abdominal cavity, the organs are packed in tightly. When there is torsion or twisting, they slip and slide over each other. They are good neighbors. Any additional movement that you can instigate will encourage the dogs internal visceral slip ‘n slide. Is it possible to create movement within the abdomen? Yes, with PetMassage™. Read on. We are getting there.

Interruptions of digestive process

What could interrupt the normal functioning of your dog’s digestive process? What could be a reason for their body being unable to receive and process the nourishment it needs to sustain all physiological operations?

If we look at what causes digestive upset in humans, the top five reasons are:

  • Eating a diet low in fiber
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Traveling or other changes in routine
  • Eating large amounts of dairy products
  • Being stressed

There are also these:

  • Surgery/pain
  • Environmental toxins like cleaners and pesticides and people who don’t understand “dog.”
  • Changes in routine, such as when someone dies, or leaves, or type of food is changed
  • Most of their day is spent alone
  • People they care about argue
  • People they care about are unhappy, or stressed

With both humans and dogs, we are dealing with highly empathetic creatures and helping them cope with their lives.

Immune system PetMassage™

As a bodyworker, there are several techniques that I fall back on when I am working on a dog that is stressed out. The first, and most important, is to remain consciously present. That is the only way to convey and establish trust. Presence begins with conscious breathing and intention. When I set an intention, I am not creating a goal that we need to accomplish “this.” That’s too limiting.  My intention is much more open ended. My intention is to be present in this time and place, and available as this dog’s source of strength. I am the oasis of peace and harmony in a depleted desert.

Now, what do we do with our hands? Of course you’d want to know that. I do everything I can think of that will create movement, both articular and in the gut. Articular movement calls for rocking, scratching, joint mobilization and expressed stretching within their tolerable ROM.

I often lift the hind legs and watch how the dog tolerates supporting her weight on her forelegs. This is a perfect position to add a little wave motion. As the forelegs support the weight, the belly sags into the position of play bow. Here we are not only stretching the spinal muscles and abdominal organs, we are placing the body in the position where it normally produces play and joy affirming hormones. Watch your dog’s eyes brighten during the play bow stretch! See what happens to the ears, the mouth, the withers, and tail. These are happy responses.

To work the gut, there are several ways you can encourage torsion. One is tummy scratches. Once your dog trusts you, that’s her ticket to ride! The goal is to get the dog to wriggle back and forth on her back, like a horse scratching her back in the sand. Butt scratches are definitely bonus good times. Both belly and butt-work are intended to encourage the dog to wiggle, turn, and torque the contents of her abdominal area. (Butt-work. Say it with a straight face.)

You can also incorporate tummy skin rolling, gentle kneading and stroking in the direction the food is supposed to be moving, cranial to caudal.


Clasp hands, is a process in which your finger tips slide down and back up between the ribs, from the topline to bottom. This connects the topline (Governing Vessel) to the ventral Conception Vessel. On either side of the Conception vessel is the Stomach Meridian. The path of the Stomach Meridian begins in the mouth and ends around the anus.

Limbic System

In Western medicine, this is called the Limbic System. The structures of the limbic system are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. It is known as the Emotional Brain.

The Immune system boost

Do you think that an immune system boost is always the right thing to offer? And, I am including bodywork, energywork, diet, and pharmacology. Maybe. And, then again, maybe not. The immune system is described as a very sensitive see-saw. It only takes a tiny shift in the digestion process for the teeter to totter all the way over toward DANGER-DANGER, imbalance. Then again, it only takes a tiny shift to reestablish balance.

Rewards are balance and comfort

We want the dogs to have a good time. Especially the sad, immuno-depressed dogs.  A successful session is one that they enjoy. They are happier and more comfortable because of the PetMassageTM. They are placed into positions they may not normally assume and experience movement patterns that encourage greater and extended, continuing movement. As they listen to their bodies, they get the reward they seek: balance and comfort.

Who could want for anything more?


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