CAM blogs

CAM Meets Sarah Darling

Sarah Darling, AMT IAAT Canine Massage Practitioner, Founder of K9 Gait Massage Therapy.

Sarah transferred 23 years experience as a human sports & remedial massage therapist, to dedicating her life & passion in providing canine massage & rehabilitation therapies for dogs, in the comfort of their own homes, in areas of Herefordshire, Shropshire & Powys. Canine Massage is clinical therapy. A highly specialised soft tissue manual therapy, with gentle yet effective targeted massage techniques, incorporating specific mobilisations, stretches & releases, that aids in the release of both superficial or deep pains, tension & restrictions, to improve freedom of movement, mobility and overall quality of life. Canine Massage aids in the rehabilitation of injury, surgery and supports chronic orthopaedic conditions, therefore a valuable form of complementary therapy alongside veterinary care. With her many years of experience working with sports related injuries, amputees, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis & Chronic Osteoarthritis, Sarah gained deep understanding of the compensatory issues that can develop, affecting not just how you can feel and function physically, but how it can affect how you feel, think and function mentally. Sarah is extremely passionate in raising awareness in identifying pain and discomfort in dogs, and the environmental issues that can have a negative impact on their health and prematurely impact on their longevity. Another passion close to her heart, is her weekly visits at her local rescue shelter, where she provides therapies and enrichment to help ease their pains & stresses. Also regularly fosters dogs that require a little more special care. Sarah is a member of the Association of Merishia Therapists & The International Association of Animal Therapists.

Qualifications/ Training & Development

Level 4 Diploma- Canine Merishia Massage Practitioner
Diploma – Sports Massage Therapy
Pet first aid instructor
Strengthening & Rehabilitation
Myofascial Release, Acupressure, Muscle balance & touch techniques
Canine behaviour & Training
Canine Neurology Training
Canine positional Release


Sarah kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs? 

In an ideal world, owners are able to identify indicators of pain & discomfort in their dogs. They understand how pain can not only affect their mobility and how they feel physically, but can affect how they feel, think and function mentally, seen in behaviours.

They would be aware how environmental factors can play a significant role in the progression of OA from puppies to adults, and know what adaptations would need to be made in their day to day lifestyle & activities, their dietary requirements and within their home environment to help manage their overall physical & mental well-being.

Owners would know what alternative therapies were available and how valuable they could be alongside veterinary care in helping support their dogs’ condition.

Without a doubt, it would be so beneficial to be able to detect, diagnosed and treat OA as early as possible. However, although I have seen a rise in owner awareness in recognising and acting on discomforts in their pets, I am still hearing time and time again ‘he can still chase his ball’, ‘he looks happy enough’, ’we all slow down with age, we just need to get on with it’, ‘it doesn’t seem to bother him’, which of course is far from the truth!

Sadly, it’s still the general assumption that it is a condition to accept as a dog gets older. An owner recently was mortified to be told her 3yr old Labrador had early onset arthritis, she truly believed it was an old dogs’ disease!

I have often heard owners referring their dog’s stiffness to their own achy aging body, with no understanding or acceptance that their pet may be experiencing pain. It is often these dogs that never get to see inside a veterinary practice.

Generally, unless an obvious dysfunction is brought to an owner’s attention, such as lameness; because dogs have the ability to hide their pains and discomforts, they have often suffered in silence long before their issue has been detected or diagnosed.

By this time, further pain, tensions & restrictions may have developed through compensatory adaptations as a result of pain within the dog’s soft tissue structures, which only exacerbates a primary issue and which can cause further mobility issues.

In my experience, in some dogs, once a diagnosis has been made and they have started medication, owners often see what they think is a miraculous improvement as their pooches are racing around happily chasing their balls again with bounds of energy. However, It is only when they see them hobbling around the house, navigating their way over slippy flooring, showing stiffness and not wanting their once much loved cuddles, they then believe it’s down to the treatment not working!

At this present moment in time, I am still experiencing my clients having little or no idea of the environmental factors that may contribute to the progression of OA, whether through their lifestyle & activities, their nutrition, or within their home environment, and what adaptations or modifications they should be considering to help support this.

I feel across all sectors, continued education and awareness into recognising and identifying pain in dogs, will result in earlier detection, diagnosis and intervention.

I believe that providing a more holistic and multimodal approach to patients, with owner education, guidance in environmental issues, adaptations, modifications and husbandry, with long term support, will have a significant impact in helping slow down progression, pain management and overall physical & mental health of an owners arthritic dog.


As a Canine Massage Practitioner, what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively? 

All aspects of their life need to be considered and addressed. It is not just the medicative interventions that play an important role in the management of pain of their condition, but also their lifestyle management, weight control & home modifications that are paramount when managing canine arthritis.

A multimodal approach, professional collaboration and working as a team is paramount. It is important that we share our knowledge and experience as this helps ensure that every aspect of a dog’s physical and mental well-being.

I have often worked alongside behaviourists and hydrotherapists, which has proved invaluable in determining a more positive outcome of a dog’s treatment.

I provide all consultations and treatments within the clients home, which proves valuable. As further to a gait, mobilisation & muscular assessment, to help locate anomalies, imbalances, pains, tensions, restrictions & sensitivities, I can evaluate the dogs natural movement , how they navigate around their home, how they lie down and how they get up and observe their behaviours. all which can indicate further discomforts, pain and stresses.

This also allows me to identify any other areas that may impact on their already compromised muscles and joints. Such as where and how they sleep, what type of bed they have, the position of their food & water bowl, what type of flooring they walk on, ie, are they regularly negotiating slippy laminate/tile flooring! Do they regularly scale carpeted or wooden stairs, jump on and off furniture/beds, or partake in superman leaps off the back of the chair!

I also find out more about their current exercise routine, activities they participate in, such as ball chasing/catching, too many or too little walks, and on what type of terrain. Do they often jump in & out of a car, what type of collar or harness they wear, do they pull on the lead, their behaviour with people and other other dogs.

Assessing these areas gives me a much clearer picture of the adaptations and modifications I would be recommending to my client to aid in the comfort, safety and support of her arthritic dog. Also informing me of any predetermined compensatory issues, stresses and strains they may be coping with.


The importance of building trust and a bond with your furry client. 

Time is needed to accept and trust the practitioner, allowing them to feel comfortable with the treatment and to touch. Some dogs may be a little nervous, especially if they are experiencing any painful tensions, sensitivities and discomfort. ‘Which I’ve found especially in rescue dogs’ Safety is always a consideration for you and anyone else around when handling a dog in pain. The last thing you want is to cause them is any further discomfort, by causing them to bolt and end up slipping and falling.

Dogs have choices and they need to know you’re acknowledging their feelings and fears through their none verbal communication.

This is equally as important to the owner, as they know their precious pooch is in skilled, safe hands.


The importance of owner acceptance & compliance.

Owner acceptance and compliance is paramount to managing canine arthritis effectively.

I have occasionally found during a consultation, that my client believes their condition will not progress and also the treatment I provide is purely for the primary issue, with no awareness of contributing factors.

I take time teaching clients a little more about their dog’s body and their condition and potential environmental factors that may have a negative and exacerbate their condition. I also bring awareness to the compensations that can develop as a result of their condition and how to recognise physical and behavioural indicators of pain and discomfort in their dog.

I also talk to the owner during my gait & physical assessment, so they can understand why & what I’m doing. I find that by seeing anomalies for themselves during their gait assessment, helps with the owners acceptance that their dog may be in pain and discomfort.

As part of their home care plan, which may include exercises, enrichment activities & gentle massage techniques and stretches to do at home to continue to enhance their wellbeing, I also get them to write down any improvements and also any changes in their condition, such as changes to mobility, their behaviours or any

further pain signals. By keeping the record, we can monitor improvements and act quicker and inform the vet if there are any concerns.

The owner may have fully accepted her dog’s condition and has digested all the recommendations, however, it is so important to the management of her dog’s condition that it is achievable, and that their aftercare will be consistent and they don’t give up or get disheartened ! This is why it’s imperative that I consider clients’ lifestyle, commitments, limitations and work around their budget to provide the best care possible.

For example; It may be in the best interest for the dog not to scale a flight of stairs every day, but if their dog has slept upstairs on their bed with them for the last 8-10 years, it is not likely to stop! So, by putting none-slip matting on stair treads, not letting them go upstairs unattended, control their speed, help and support where needed, then this is something the owner is likely to achieve.

With the owner understanding more about how to manage her dog’s condition with the help of long term support. Also recognising the adaptations that will enhance their well being, which are achievable for her lifestyle, and knowing that it is the simplest things she does that can make such a significant difference to their dogs wellbeing, they are more likely to be consistent in the day to day management of their arthritic dog, which will have a significant positive impact on their quality of life.


Supporting the Vet. 

Following the initial treatments, I forward a detailed report of my findings to their vet, with aftercare recommendations that I have suggested.

During treatments and assessments, there are occasions when I have concerns in the dog’s condition, or that I have located an area of concern during a massage that I feel needs further investigation. It is then I refer my client back to their vet and inform the vet of my actions.

This is important information for the vet and client, as because they were not obvious to the client, these may have gone undetected and undiagnosed, which may have continued to develop into further pains and discomforts.

Following an exam, it may have shown further degeneration and require a change of treatment. It maybe, that another therapy would be more appropriate, or that by utilising an additional therapy, may be more effective, determining a more positive outcome for the dog’s treatment.


How do you see treatment options for arthritis progressing over the next ten years? 

I believe the inspirational Hanna Capon, founder CAM, her amazing team and the incredible resources they make available, have already helped and will continue to help raise awareness and educate owners, vets and professionals into the different types of support we can offer our arthritic dogs.

With the continued awareness in recognising and identifying pain & discomfort in dogs and in the way it affects them not just physically, but can affect how they feel, think and function mentally as seen in their behaviours, will enable earlier detection, diagnosis and intervention.

With the continued growth and awareness in owners, vets and canine professionals, to the environmental factors that can contribute to the progression of OA from puppy’s to adulthood, we can make the necessary changes to their lifestyle management to help slow down degeneration, reduce pain & injuries, which will positively impact on the physical and physiological well-being in our dogs.


If you could have had the opportunity to give one tip/piece of advice to an owner with a dog suffering from arthritis what would it be? 

Goodness! I seriously tried to roll this into one piece of advice, sorry!

Never forget, it is the simple things that you do that make all the difference to the quality of your dog’s life! By being mindful of their discomforts, limitations and mobility, you will help keep their lives enriched and spirits high.

Use the amazing resources from CAM through their website or on social media, where you’ll be able to continue with the help and support you need on caring for your loyal companion.