Massaging away aches and pains isn't only a treat for those with two legs, and the number of people getting their pooches professionally patted is growing.

That's according to Helen Morphew, an Auckland-based canine massage therapist who has been treating dogs in need of de-knotting for more than 18 months.

Owners of stiff-muscled dogs pay $85 an hour for Morphew to treat their pets - a similar price to an hour-long full-body Thai massage for a human.

Morphew gained a Chicago, and then United States, national qualification in dog massage before returning to New Zealand to open Auckland Canine Massage in March last year.


She is the only person with such a qualification in the country, something she pursued after seeing the calming effect massage had on an anxious dog while she was volunteering with the SPCA.

"I saw it and thought 'right, that's amazing'."

Her work was complementary to hydrotherapy and traditional vet care, not a substitute for it, Morphew said.

"I work quite closely with a number of vets and I find them to be very supportive."

Canine massage was first and foremost therapy, Morphew said.

Dogs were less likely to feel comfortable being touched by someone they didn't know, so it wasn't common for owners to bring their pets in simply for pampering.

Ebony, a five-year-old german shepherd, has been seeing Morphew regularly to help with pain brought on after elbow surgery.

Sitting on a mat with her hands gently running over Ebony's coat, Morphew looks for hot or tender areas where the muscle is causing problems.

Morphew uses the same techniques human massage therapists do, and Ebony reacts similarly to people too - yawning, relaxing and then stretching languidly when it's over.

About four people currently offer doggy massage around the country, but the field was growing, she said.

"If you think about it, in the human world massage has been around for a long time and it sits alongside conventional medical approaches for pain relief and improved flexibility and things like that.

"Dogs benefit in exactly the same way humans do."

Massage can reduce anxiety, with some dogs falling asleep during sessions, as well as help dogs recover from surgery and manage arthritic pain.

Because the dogs can't tell her when something hurts or is too hard, Morphew has to pay close attention to their behaviour while she treats them.

"You've got to be able to tell - there's really subtle signs that you've either found the sore spot or it's too intense for them.

"Some of them will hold their breath if I get to a knot some of them it's just a flicker of the ear or their eyes will open a bit, some are more vocal."

Nearly half of all Morphew's clients are arthritic dogs, and feedback from their owners indicated massage helped relieve their pain and increase their movement range.

"They talk about the dogs seeming more nimble after massage," she said.

"Dogs don't lie, so when their owners say they look happy, they seem happier, they bounce out of bed or they're moving more flexibly then absolutely I think they must enjoy it."

Morphew said her client base was steadily growing as more people learned about the benefits of dog massage.

She currently operates out of three sites in Auckland, as well as offering home visits.