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Los Angeles, CA

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Canine Massage Therapy & Integrative Care with Lindsey Gavel

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Why do we love our Wellness Wednesdays? Because we get to talk about things that can Better Your Pet's Wellbeing, and nothing is better than that! Blooming Culture was lucky enough to interview Lindsey Gravel from Integrative Pet Care in Chicago to learn the benefits of an Animal Rehabilitation Therapist. She is also on the board of Bialys Wellness Foundation which is an amazing group whose mission is to Improve Pet Mobility.

What certifications do you hold / what is your long-term goal?   

I am a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant (CCRA) through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute, a Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT) through the Chicago School of Canine Massage (now Canis Bodyworks), and am currently pursuing my Veterinary Technician certification through Penn Foster. My long term goal is to sit for my national massage certification through NBCAAM (National Board of Canine Acupressure and Massage) and to pursue a Veterinary Technician Specialty certification in Rehabilitation once I complete my CVT and subsequent casework.

How did you get into the field of pet rehabilitation?

I fell into rehabilitation by accident, and what a perfect accident it has turned out to be! I wanted to be a veterinarian from the time I was 7 - I even used my elective credits in High School to take AP Chemistry and AP Biology classes in preparation. Somewhere along the way, I came to the realization that Vet School wasn’t the right fit for me; for as interesting as I found the diagnostic side of things, I was more drawn to hands-on patient care and nursing. I ended up moving away from my small hometown in Michigan to study theatre in Chicago, but I never lost the desire to work with animals - I just needed to find the right fit. I worked in the theatre industry for a little while but was simultaneously working with animals in various capacities when I stumbled across a job posting at IPC. I thought it sounded too good to be true, but I submitted a resume anyway and ended up spending several hours thereafter my initial interview shadowing the doctors and therapists. IPC was the right fit from the moment I walked in the doors, and even though it was a convoluted path I took into the world of animal rehab, I don’t know if I would have ever ended up here had I not made the decision to move to Chicago in the first place. I am constantly motivated and inspired by my fellow therapists and patients - I feel so lucky to have found my dream job!

Integrative Pet Care offers a very comprehensive list of treatment modalities. What are they?

We offer a variety of modalities that ultimately allow all of our patients to work towards the same common goal: improved quality of life. Whether they’re recovering from surgery, trying to manage chronic pain, slow the progress of degenerative disease, maintain their current level of function, or a variety of other scenarios, we can help. Our veterinarians perform acupuncture and spinal manipulation therapy (also known as chiropractic), as well as initial intake examinations and subsequent recheck exams. Our therapists are also part of initial examinations, but perform all of our other modalities: Therapeutic Exercise, Hydrotherapy, Massage, Laser Therapy, Therapeutic Ultrasound, Shockwave, TENS, NMES, and Sports Conditioning. In addition to providing all of the listed treatment modalities, IPC is also able to offer custom cart fittings and orthotic/prosthetic device fittings thanks to the incredible skills of one of our therapists, Emma Widmark.

Integrative is a referral only facility. Can you explain?

“Referral only” means that we work in conjunction with your primary care veterinarian and specialty care veterinarian to create a plan for therapy. We don’t accept walk-in patients, and you aren’t able to schedule an appointment for a modality unless you’re an existing patient who’s been evaluated by our rehabilitation veterinarians. Most of the time, patients come to see us because their primary care or specialist suggested rehabilitation as a form of treatment for their pet. We also see patients for initial examinations who have been referred to us by existing clients, or because they were looking for alternative ways to improve their pets’ quality of life and stumbled across our practice. Even if someone comes to us by word-of-mouth or google search, we make sure to contact their existing veterinarian(s) for up-to-date medical records so that we can ensure a cohesive plan of treatment that involves equal care and input from everyone. It’s incredibly important for us to work as a team to improve the quality of life for each individual pet.

Can you describe how working as a massage therapist at a rehab facility differs from working on your own?

As a massage therapist working at a rehab facility, I’m responsible for maintaining a far more extensive list of skills and knowledge than if I were simply working in massage on my own - that’s because I’m not just a massage therapist, I’m an Animal Rehab Therapist. In both cases, my palpation skills and anatomy knowledge must be fine-tuned and accurate, but when working in a rehab facility, I must also take into account what other therapies my patient is taking part in that day, how their bodies compensate during certain therapies (like hydrotherapy or therapeutic exercise), how to perform each of our different modalities, etc. I also have a much more limited time-frame in which to perform body assessments and massage at IPC. For example, our appointments frequently include multiple modalities, such as an exercise/massage/laser combination. If my patient needs 15 minutes of laser that day, that only leaves 15 minutes for massage and exercise. I have to take into account how my patient is feeling overall, and make a decision about what we’ll focus on that day based on palpation and visual assessment. We may focus on some active stretching and strengthening work and then some compensatory massage for tight muscles, or focus mostly on massage if the pet parent is active with exercises at home or particularly sore that day. As a massage-only therapist, I would work on all of the same myofascial and muscular issues as a rehab therapist, but I would be using massage as my only modality.

How do you differentiate yourself from other massage therapists?            

I love to teach, and I like to think that I’m pretty good at figuring out how to explain things in terms that anyone can understand. Working at IPC offers me the unique opportunity to palpate and work on incredibly different tissues all day, 5 days a week. I’m constantly honing my palpation skills and my ability to recognize tissue subtleties in order to provide the very best customized care that I can for my patients. As a CCMT, part of my job involves teaching our clients how to palpate and massage their pets in the comfort of their own homes - often requiring me to assess a brand new patient and provide a customized massage plan, all in the course of one appointment. I love feeling a new patient and watching their parent’s eyes light up when I’m able to explain why certain muscles are compensating for specific mobility issues, and how they can help their furry loved one just FEEL better overall. I feel like my background in theatre has helped me learn to be a good multi-tasker (explaining while doing), and to be creative (thinking of ways to explain techniques and skills in a way people can understand). I think that this helps to differentiate me from other massage therapists - I’m good at empowering others and sharing my knowledge so that they can feel confident working on their pets at home!


How do animals benefit from canine massage?            

I could sit here and write out all of the benefits of massage in detailed medical terms, or I could simply say this: massage benefits every system in your pet's body. Sure, it feels good - of course, it does. It feels good when you or I get a massage too. One of the benefits of massage is always going to be that it “feels good.” But it can also help anxious and touch-reactive dogs learn to accept human touch. It can improve circulation and lymphatic system efficiency. It can help boost the immune system, it can help improve the condition of the skin and coat, and it can help improve mobility in pets with chronic or acute pain. The list of the benefits of massage is almost endless. When I begin working on an animal who has a parent that’s a little skeptical about paying someone to massage their dog, I usually ask if they’ve ever a massage, and why. Oftentimes their answer includes relief from an injury, relief from chronic pain, or just because they wanted to try it out. Then we start talking about how they felt after, and sometimes the lightbulb goes on. Sometimes, I have them get down on the floor with me and simulate the way that their pet moves - how does it feel in THEIR body? What muscles feel like they’re working overtime, and what muscles are being neglected that would normally be used? Feeling even a hair of what their pet is feeling often helps a pet parent understand why massage and soft tissue work is so important. I love explaining all of the benefits of massage, but most of the time, I’m working with folks who just desperately want their dog to feel better, and the best place to start teaching them is by discussing (and demonstrating!) the effects on the musculoskeletal system.

What are the most common issues you address? The most unusual?

As a massage therapist in a rehab facility, I most commonly address mobility issues due to chronic pain and overcompensation (secondary to an injury and/or surgery). It’s fascinating to me how multiple dogs with the same mobility issue can compensate in such similar yet different ways. I also really enjoy working in rehab, because I’m able to assess on a daily basis how all of our modalities are working in tandem to improve the quality of life for our patients. We see a lot of post-op dogs that benefit from massage for their current acute injuries but will benefit long-term from in-home massage as they age. We also see a lot of geriatric patients that benefit from massage as it improves their day-to-day mobility and quality of life. The most unusual cases that I see tend to be dogs with congenital abnormalities - dogs that were born differently-abled is some way. These dogs are usually dealing with musculoskeletal overcompensation but are often concurrently dealing with neurologic or degenerative issues as well. Using a multi-modal approach to their care that allows for strengthening can sometimes increase overcompensation, or may require them to rely on muscles that they normally wouldn’t use in certain ways, so we have to be mindful of that.

Can you give us one of your favorite success stories?

I have so many! I’ll pick two very different ones, though.

  • A sweet 15 yr old mixed breed who came to us for chronic pain management. She had arthritis and degenerative changes to nearly every joint in her body, including her spine; this caused her to walk so hunched and bent over that her nose almost touched the floor, and she could barely lift her head. Her owner explained at her initial evaluation that she knew we wouldn’t be able to restore her dog to the same vitality as when she was much younger, but she wanted to help manage her chronic pain. We used a multi-modal approach to her care, focuses mainly on pain management and comfort. I’d had three sessions with her consisting mostly of massage, and at the 4th session, her owner came in crying and gave me a hug - her dog had gotten up, held up her head, and met her at the door wagging for the first time in 3 years.

  • A young and extremely active mixed breed dog who came to us for chronic pain and limping in one of his front limbs. The owner explained to me at his first appointment that he had been adverse to touch around his shoulders for quite some time, and often pulled away or growled when she tried to massage his front end. We played a lot of trust-building games with him, until he parked himself comfortably in front of me while his mom fed him a treat. I reached forward and gently placed my hands in front of his shoulders over his tight pectoral muscles, and I felt him tense up briefly, then relax. As I let my hands sink into the muscles, he stopped eating, sighed heavily, and closed his eyes. Having her tell me that he hasn’t allowed that kind of touch in years made me so happy - the last time I saw him for massage, he laid right down in front of me on his side and fell asleep.

  • Alternative medicine is gaining popularity.  What do you think about CBD oil for pets?                                                                               

    Speaking as a pet parent and NOT as a veterinary professional, I think that CBD oil is a wonderful option for a variety of issues. I myself use it for my own dogs to help with anxiety and stress, and I have many friends who use it for their dogs and cats as well. When I first started using it for my dogs, I didn’t notice much of an effect, but I tried products from several different companies before finding one that worked well for my crazy crew. I’m definitely interested in all of the current research being done on its effect on animals.                                                            

    How do you see CBD oil being integrated into your treatment plans?  

      The Federal DEA has not given veterinarians the authority to possess, administer, dispense, or prescribe cannabis or cannabinoid products. Federal Law prohibits veterinary facilities from engaging in such activity. We’re unable to comment on the safety or efficacy of CBD, THC, hemp, or marijuana-containing products in our patients. That being said, there are currently a few veterinary CBD clinical trials occurring across the country that are IACUC approved with quality control oversight to the drugs being used. At this time, due to federal laws, veterinary facilities (including IPC) are unable to integrate CBD oil into treatment plans for their patients.

      Tell us about the work you do with Bialy’s Wellness Foundation.  What are they about?

      I am a board member for Bialy’s Wellness Foundation - we help families and rescue organizations care for pets with mobility impairments, particularly those with paralysis, amputation, neurological or birth defects, and other diagnosed ailments. Care for these animals can be costly, and too often they are put down or surrendered to high-kill shelters. We provide families and rescues with the equipment, medical care, rehabilitative therapy, training, resources, and support to give all of these special animals a second chance when they need it most. BWF was founded by Erin Kowalski, a coworker (and fellow massage therapist!) of mine who may have the biggest heart I’ve ever had the privilege to know. We can help with everything involved in caring for a special needs pet: from wheeled carts to pee pads, teaching bladder expression to aid with the cost of diagnostics and rehab, and simply being an ear for those dealing with daily struggles and challenges. If any of your readers are caring for a special needs pet or know someone who is, they can visit for more information about our organization!

      What kinds of changes have you seen in terms of the acceptance of pets with special needs?

      I feel like people are starting to see special needs pets for what they really are: PETS. They aren’t any different from your fully mobile dog - they want to play, they want to cuddle, they want to get into the garbage can and eat things they shouldn’t, they want to pee on all of the trees, and they want to have grand adventures just like anybody else. In 2019, where everyone is active on at least one social media platform, we’ve seen an increase in the sharing of “feel good” videos, pictures, and stories involving animals getting to be mobile again with the use of things like carts, prosthetics, and rehabilitative therapy. Every “like” and every share means that these vibrant animals are opening doors and opening minds to the fact that they deserve a loving home and a wonderful life just like every other dog (or cat, or rabbit, or goat, or horse, or lizard, etc). I encourage anyone caring for a differently-abled pet or considering adopting or rescuing one to reach out to us at Bialy’s Wellness Foundation - we’re here to help!

      Your job is physically and emotionally challenging.  What do you like to do in your free time to decompress and recharge?

      Haha - “free time.” I’m currently working through my official veterinary technician certification and training for the 2019 Chicago Marathon (which I’m running for Bialy’s Wellness Foundation). Between work, BWF, classwork, running, and taking care of my own pets, free time is a little scarce. I’ve always been poor at self-care, and I tend to run myself into the ground until I’m forced to take a break, which is neither healthy nor conducive to productivity. I try to find a little time for creating (whether by sewing, playing music, cooking, or making art), and lately, I’ve been getting into pole dance fitness, which is a killer workout and incredible for confidence and self-esteem. Compassion fatigue is very real in this industry, so I need to learn how to take mandatory decompression time for myself!