Animal Massage Therapist
Animal massage therapists are animal health professionals that use their knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and massage techniques to improve an animal’s physical well-being. As one of the newest animal health careers, interest in this field is expected to continue to increase.
Animal massage therapists utilize hands-on massage techniques to relax muscles, stimulate circulation, and enhance range of motion in their four-legged clients. Massage therapists develop and implement treatment plans based on the individual animal’s needs, and may work in conjunction with veterinarians.
While some animal massage therapists specialize by species (equine and canine being the most common), others work on a mix of large and small animals.
Equine massage therapists have worked on a number of top-level performance horses in a variety of disciplines, from Olympic show jumpers to Triple Crown race winners. Canine massage therapists have worked on all types of dogs, from show champions to family pets.
Many animal massage therapists work for themselves and travel to provide services to their clients. They may also find opportunities working at veterinary clinics, kennels, grooming salons, major pet store chains, or zoos. Some massage therapists that work on human clients expand their business to include animal clients as well.
Education and Training
A background in working with animals or an animal related degree is useful but not necessary. A key to success in this field is developing a solid knowledge of physiology, especially muscle groups and their functions. Animal first aid training can also prove beneficial to those wishing to pursue this career.
While it is possible to learn the requisite techniques as an apprentice or intern, most animal massage therapists complete one or more training programs to attain certification. Certification or some proof of professional training is required in some states. It would be wise to check with veterinary boards and departments of health for specific requirements.
Equissage is perhaps the best-known training program for animal massage therapy, offering programs for both equine and canine certification. Equissage graduated its first equine therapists in 1992, and its first canine graduates in 2000.
Equissage’s canine massage therapy (CMT) certificate is achieved via an at-home course of study, an exam, and an evaluation of the student’s massage techniques as demonstrated on a DVD recording. The CMT program is available for $895. Equissage’s Equine Sports Therapy Massage (ESTM) training is offered at the Virginia headquarters ($1295) or through an at-home study course ($895). Dual Equissage certification is offered for those interested in both canine and equine therapy, at a cost of $1895. There are reportedly more than 10,000 graduates of the Equissage programs.
The Northwest School of Animal Massage began offering certification in large and small animal massage in 2001. They offer three areas of concentration for either small or large animal massage: maintenance, performance, and rehabilitation. Two certificates are offered, with each course running about 150 hours: the Small Animal Massage Practitioner (SAMP) Certificate of Achievement and the Large Animal Massage Practitioner (LAMP) Certificate of Achievement. The cost of certification is $2000 ($1500 for the distance learning course, followed by $500 for the 5-day hands-on practical phase).
The salary a massage therapist earns can vary based on factors such as number of clients, job location, years of experience, and level of education achieved. With significant experience and skill, a therapist can earn top dollar for their services.
Equissage materials state that certified canine massage therapists from its program can charge $40 to $70 per treatment session (with these sessions usually lasting 40 to 50 minutes). The Northwest School of Animal Massage cites a similar range for small animal massage therapists of $45 to $75 per treatment session. Both schools report that equine sports massage therapists can charge $50 to $100 per session.
Travel cost (vehicle maintenance and gasoline) should be factored in for those animal massage therapists making home or farm visits to work on their clients. Insurance premiums can be an additional cost, though discounts can be available through group plans such as the one offered by the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork (IAAMB). IAAMB members can obtain bodily injury, personal injury, and property damage coverage for $175 provided they can document 100 hours of professional massage training.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that animal careers will continue to grow at a slightly faster than average rate. As an emerging animal career option, animal massage therapy is expected to grow in popularity as it gains recognition and continues to prove its usefulness in treating various physical problems.