What Does an Animal Massage Therapist Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Animal massage therapists are animal health professionals who use their knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and massage techniques to improve an animal’s physical well-being. Some massage therapists that work on human clients expand their business to include animal clients as well.
Animal Massage Therapist Duties & Responsibilities
The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:
- Evaluate animals to discover any issues they may have
- Develop and implement treatment plans based on the individual animal’s needs
- Assess and document animals' progress
- Use hands-on massage techniques to manipulate muscles and soft tissues in an animal's body
- Work in conjunction with veterinarians, other professionals, and animal owners
In general, massage works to relax muscles, stimulate circulation, and enhance the range of motion in animals.
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.
Animal Massage Therapist Salary
The salary an animal massage therapist earns can vary based on factors such as the number of clients, job location, years of experience, and level of education achieved. The Northwest School of Animal Massage (NWSAM) notes that the salaries of animal massage therapists generally mirrors the earnings of human massage therapists:
- Median Annual Salary: $41,420
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $78,280
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $21,340
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
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.
Education, Training, & Certification
Education: An animal-related degree is useful but not necessary. A key to success in this field is developing a solid knowledge of animal physiology, especially muscle groups and their functions. Animal first aid training can also prove beneficial to those wishing to pursue this career.
Training: While it is possible to learn the requisite techniques as an apprentice or intern, most animal massage therapists complete one or more training programs.
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.
The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork (IAAMB) tracks state laws and regulations surrounding animal massage.
Animal Massage Therapist Skills & Competencies
To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities:
- Compassion: This type of work requires kindness, and respect toward animals and their caretakers or owners.
- Communication skills: It's important for animal massage therapists to communicate what they're doing with the animals themselves, as well as the animal's caretakers, owners, and other professionals that they're working with, such as vets.
- Analytical skills: Animal massage therapists must be able to evaluate an animal's condition and needs based on its physical symptoms, cues, and behavior.
- Physical strength and dexterity: Animal massage therapists must be able to effectively manipulate an animal's muscles and soft tissues.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for animal care and service workers in general will grow 22 percent through 2026, which is must faster than the overall employment growth of 7 percent for all occupations in the country.
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.
Just like with any job working with animals, massage therapists may encounter some difficult situations, such as encountering sick or distressed animals and dealing with animal excrement. Massage and working with animals can also be physically demanding.
Because of the physically demanding nature of the job, about half of massage therapists work part time, according to the BLS.
How to Get the Job
Write a Cover Letter and Resume
If you decide you don't want to work for yourself, then you'll need a solid cover letter and resume. Get familiar with cover letter dos and dont's for animal-related careers, and learn how to write a standout resume.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People who are interested in becoming animal massage therapists may also consider other careers with these median salaries:
- Veterinarian: $93,830
- Vet tech: $34,420
- Vet assistant: $27,540
- Zoologist: $63,420
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018