Why Massage has Particular Benefits for Racing and Retired Racing Greyhounds


Voluntary or skeletal muscle works to move the body and is the primary focus of a canine massage treatment. ‘In most dogs (skeletal muscle) accounts for about 44% of the body weight,’ however, ‘this rises to 57% in greyhounds.’ (J. Robertson, A. Mead, 2013). It stands to reason therefore that, owing to their physiology, greyhounds can find massage to be particularly beneficial given the high proportion of their body that constitutes the tissue focused on during a massage session and the variety of needs an average racing greyhound’s body will experience throughout their lifetime.

It isn’t just the proportion of skeletal muscle in their bodies that makes massage a particularly beneficial treatment, however. As a breed ‘designed’ by humans through generations to maximise their natural ability to run fast and race effectively, greyhounds’ ability to transport nutrients and oxygen to cells throughout their bodies, as well as to remove toxins and carbon dioxide, has also been maximised to make them as efficient as possible in running at speed and making a swift recovery.

‘The greyhound has a large heart for its body size,’ indeed, ‘greyhounds have larger and heavier hearts compared to other dog breeds’ (L. L. Blythe, 2007). This, combined with other differences such as higher blood pressure, lower white blood cell and platelet counts and higher creatinine levels (Couto, 2014) plus a proportionately higher red blood cell count (L. L. Blythe, 2007) would suggest that there are physiological differences between greyhounds and other dog breeds that mean the benefits of massage could be experienced within other body systems also to great effect and creating a significant positive impact. 

In ‘The Complete Dog Massage Manual’, Julia Robertson lists the broader benefits of massage to include positive implications for other body systems including the circulatory, respiratory, urinary, and digestive systems (Robertson, 2010).  Judy C. Coates also cites that, ‘some authors suggest that STM (Soft Tissue Mobilisation/massage) has positive effects on the circulatory, muscular, lymphatic, and endocrine systems’ (Coates, 2018). Massage therapy can assist in ensuring a greyhound’s body is able to maintain each of these body systems, which have evolved to be exceptionally efficient to aid sprinting ability, at their optimum level.

In British greyhound racing all races involve at least two bends, which is where the force acting on a greyhound’s body is greatest. The tighter the bend, the greater the forces that act upon the greyhound’s body, particularly through the limbs (J. R. Usherwood, 2006). The physical impact of racing on a greyhound’s body can include muscle tears, tightness and assymmetry caused by running in one direction (as all British tracks are run anticlockwise). With some dogs able to sustain careers lasting several years running as many as 200+ races plus time trials, the long term impact of such repetitive activity can often be seen.

In his book, ‘Athletic & Working Dog: Functional Anatomy and Biomechanics’, Robert L. Gillette cites that, ‘When running, the impact forces are absorbed by the muscles, tendons and bones of the leg as a whole’ and that the ‘shoulder works like a shock absorber to provide cushioning’ (Gillette, 2019). On that basis, it can be argued, there is plenty of opportunity for a dog to pick up a variety of injuries that could at some stage benefit significantly from massage during their career even if they are successful at avoiding collisions with other dogs or any other accidents.

Massage is regularly seen used for dogs prior to them being placed in the traps before a race, to stimulate their nervous system and invigorate or energise the greyhound’s body, stimulating blood flow to the muscles. Used as part of a greyhound’s warm up routine, it can also assist in preventing injury during a race.

Minimising scar tissue is an important role that massage can play in effectively supporting a racing greyhound’s career, and a good technique used appropriately can mean the difference between the dog being able to continue racing despite running many races or sustaining a potentially serious injury, and needing to retire. Massage techniques can aid in preventing or reducing adhesion formation, improving range of motion, promoting healing and reducing pain (Coates, 2018), (J. Robertson, 2013).

The majority of more significant limb injuries such as carpal and hock fractures occur on a racing greyhound’s right side (L. L. Blythe, 2007), as this is the side of the body that bears most force at the bends during a race or trial. Whilst many such injuries will mean the end of a greyhound’s racing career, they can have a varied impact on the greyhound’s ability to enjoy a comfortable retirement with many appearing to be largely unaffected by injuries in their retired life, although potentially experiencing compensatory issues, whilst others are clearly impacted with obvious challenges such as amputation and/or chronic lameness.

Making the transition from a working dog/athlete to a companion dog and family pet living in a home constitutes a huge upheaval for a greyhound who, depending on their trainer(s), the location of their kennel and their racing life, may never have seen any other breeds of dog, busy roads, children, and many day to day objects and situations that we take for granted. With so much to take in, greyhounds can often be described as being aloof or stubborn, struggling to bond with the new people in their life during this period and appearing to ‘freeze’ sometimes seemingly at random when out on walks with their new family.

This is where, in addition to the physical benefits already discussed, the emotional positive implications of massage for greyhounds can really be demonstrated.

In her book, ‘Touch Therapy,’ Tiffany Field cites that, ‘data from research on rats and monkeys support the use of touch as therapy,’ (Field, 2000) and although she is talking about humans when she states that, ‘several studies have documented the positive effects of massage therapy on depression and stress hormones’ (Field, 2000), there is significant anecdotal evidence to support that a variety of touch therapies, such as massage and Tellington Touch (TTouch), may assist in relieving stress and supporting relaxation in dogs. Massage therapy, therefore, could be a fantastic way to support the development of a more secure relationship between a dog and their new person or family in retirement.

Many greyhounds will seek out physical contact, indeed the ‘greyhound lean’ is a common characteristic of greyhounds of all ages and they are known generally as being dogs that enjoy human contact, often making good therapy dogs. Having experienced a lot of handling by people during their racing careers (and hopefully massage therapy also), greyhounds are well used to being touched and may therefore find massage aimed at relaxing and calming them to assist in alleviating tension and stress (rather than for stimulation) reassuring. Those with specific sensitivities, paws (from nail cutting, possible toe injuries, and post race paw washing) and ears (from being tattooed) as common examples, can potentially benefit from massage work to gradually desensitise these areas.

As well as the potential emotional benefits, most retired greyhounds will have minor injuries resulting from the stresses and strains of racing including old muscle tears, minor wrist injuries are common and for most, as old age sets in, arthritis. These conditions and any other injuries sustained since retirement, along with any compensatory issues are further areas that can experience benefit from regular massage therapy.

As any dog ages it is vital to work in maintaining well being and quality of life, and massage sessions also provide a fantastic opportunity to check for any lumps and bumps, ticks, plus hot or cold areas in order to pick up on any potentially developing issues quickly to then arrange a visit to the vet.  

In conclusion, greyhound physiology means they can feel particular benefit from massage. For a racing greyhound, massage can energise and stimulate the muscles, nervous and lymphatic systems as well as circulation prior to running and can also play a vital role in post race treatments, removing toxin build up and managing injuries when used appropriately. In turn, this can minimise scar tissue formation, maintaining range of motion and strength within the body to support a greyhound in undertaking a long and healthy career, with the option to enjoy a comfortable retirement at the end of it. It could be argued that the very nature of a greyhound’s physiology means that they are designed to receive maximum benefit from massage therapy.

As a greyhound transitions into retirement, massage therapy offers even greater benefits, providing emotional support whilst the dog undertakes the greatest transition of their life, easing tension and stress, and assisting in building resilience through developing a close and secure bond with their new person or family. Having put their body through extremes with regards acceleration, speed and G forces, the physical benefits of massage continue to provide opportunity for quality of life and physical comfort throughout, and into, old age.

There is a very strong argument to support the use of massage throughout a greyhound’s life from their racing career right through into retirement and old age, in order to ensure maximum quality of life, longevity and well being.

References

Coates, J. C., 2018. Manual Therapy. In: C. Z. a. J. B. V. Dyke, ed. Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. s.l.:John Wiley & Sons Inc

Couto, D. G., 2014. Are Sighthounds Really Dogs?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.coutovetconsultants.com/blog/are-sighthounds-really-dogs.html
[Accessed 4 January 2020].

Field, T., 2000. Touch Therapy. First ed. London: Harcourt Publishers Ltd.

Gillette, R. L., 2019. Athletic & Working Dog: Functional Anatomy and BIomechanics. 1st ed. s.l.:Amazon Fulfillment.

J. R. Usherwood, A. M. W., 2006. Research Gate. [Online]
Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7428886_Biomechanics_No_force_limit_on_greyhound_sprint_speed
[Accessed 4 January 2020].

J. Robertson, A. M., 2013. Physical Therapy and Massage for the Dog. s.l.:CRC Press.

L. L. Blythe, J. R. G. A. M. C. D. P. F., 2007. Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound. 1 ed. s.l.:American Greyhound Council.

Robertson, J., 2010. The Complete Dog Massage Manual - Gentle Dog Care. 1st ed. s.l.:Veloce Publishing Ltd.