We’ve talked before about ways to get paid to spend time with cats and dogs, but this is a new one: pet massage.
That’s right: some people earn money for massaging animals. It might sound a little strange, but apparently many cats and dogs enjoy a good massage as much as humans do.
If you like petting your furry friends, why not explore this option? With a bit of training you can make $50 per hour as a pet massage therapist.
Why Dog Massage?
Just like humans and other animals, dogs feel sore and develop stiff joints due to aging, inactivity or recent exertion, according to Lola Michelin, founder of the Northwest School of Animal Massage. Massage can help alleviate these symptoms, and usually starts with petting the afflicted areas to warm the muscles. Then the therapist will gently and repeatedly compress the muscles to pump fluids through the tissues and to relieve pressure on tendons.
Michelin says “regular massage throughout the life of your pet may help prevent the stiffness and pain that contributes to arthritis.” That’s not a bad sales pitch, but before you offer to massage other people’s pets for money you’ll want to learn the proper techniques. We’ll have more on how to do that in a moment.
What About Cat Massage?
Cats, naturally, are a little pickier about their massages. Maryjean Ballner, author of Cat Massage, suggests starting with a “voice massage,” which involves repeating an “endearing phrase” using “a soothing tone.” Then you let the cat get familiar with you by sniffing you. Finally, you start the actual massage, using similar techniques to the ones you’d use for a dog.
According to Ballner, cats benefit from massage in several ways:
Physiologically, massage stimulates the body’s nerves, muscles, circulatory system and lymphatic system. It enhances range of motion, increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells, relieves muscle spasms and helps to flush away toxic compounds, such as lactic acid, that cause pain.
Legal Requirements for a Pet Massage Therapist
If you look at a chart of animal massage laws by state, you’ll notice a lot of inconsistency. For example, a few states, including Arizona, Maine and Arkansas, consider massage to be a medical procedure, and therefore restrict the practice to veterinarians.
Other states, including Alabama, Louisiana, Alaska and Delaware, allow unlicensed massage therapists to work with animals, but only in veterinary offices. If you live in one of those states, you’ll have to find a friendly vet willing to hire you.
Some states, including Oregon, South Carolina and Oklahoma, allow veterinarians to delegate this work. In those states you might still need to get certified, but you could work from home if you can convince vets to refer customers to you.
A few states haven’t yet regulated the practice. For example, the Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork says this about Montana: “No specific wording in state vet practice act.” They add this quote from the veterinary board of the state: “Massage for relaxation and general toning is not prohibited by the board. The board does not restrict animal massage to licensed veterinarians.” The same is true for other states, including Minnesota, Florida, Idaho, California and Connecticut..
In many cases, animal massage is a legal gray area. It depends on how terms like “veterinary practice” and “veterinary medicine” are defined. But equissage.com points out that “only 22 states require licensing for human massage therapists,” so more extensive regulation of animal massage is probably not going to happen in the near future. Be sure to check the regulations in your state before planning your new business.
Training as a Pet Massage Therapist
You can learn quite a bit online, and there are even many pet massage videos on YouTube. But to be certified, you’ll need to be trained by one of the many pet massage schools.
For example, the Canine Massage Therapist (CMT) program offered on Equissage.com costs $895. They claim a 95% passing rate on the final exam of the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).
The Northwest School of Animal Massage (NWSAM) in Fall City, Washington, has three programs, each with a distance-learning section followed by a “5-day practical.” It costs at least $2,000 for each level.
Keep in mind that although you do not need to be certified in many states, it does help you appear more professional both to veterinarians and pet owners.
How Much Can You Make Massaging Pets?
How much you can make as a pet massage therapist depends on where you offer your services and how much experience you have. Here are some of the places you might work:
- Your own storefront
- Your home
- Pet owners’ homes
- Pet grooming salons
- Veterinary clinics
- Pet boarding facilities
At the low end of the pay scale are jobs in grooming salons. As a veterinary assistant who specializes in massage, you’ll make a bit more. The best pay could potentially be in running your own pet massage business — though like all businesses, your earnings may vary.
When working on your own, NWSAM says you can charge between $50 and $120 per hour, and do up to 25 sessions per week. They also advise charging extra for “specialized treatment” and travel.
Actual rates advertised by pet massage therapists from Kansas to California to Connecticut suggest that normal charges are from $35 to $50 for a half-hour up to an hour. The pet’s comfort and tolerance for attention determines the length of most sessions. (Click to tweet this idea.)
If you work from home and have 10 clients each weekend, you can make a few hundred dollars each week doing pet massage part-time. Do it full time and you might make a good living.
Your Turn: Would you consider massaging pets for a living or for extra income?