While most people are familiar with the circulatory system and how it pumps blood through the arteries, veins and capillaries, few know as much about its lymphatic system. It’s time for us to get up-to-speed! Your dog’s health and well-being are dependent on the lymphatic system. Knowing how to support it will allow you to live a longer, healthier, more active life.
Lymph is a clear, milky fluid. It flows through a network known as lymphatics, as well as through lymph nodes and bone marrow. The spleen also contains lymphatics. Lymph is rich in fats, proteins and white blood cells, called lymphocytes. Although lymph is often referred to as the body’s waste or sanitation system it also provides nutrients to muscles and other tissues.
The lymphatic system is responsible for absorbing excess fluid and returning it to the bloodstream. It also absorbs fat from your digestive tract, transports white blood cell and certain proteins, and makes antibodies and immunoglobulins.
Health problems can develop when lymph circulation is affected by illness or accidents. The following are the most common lymph-related diseases in dogs:
Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma (a malignant cancer)Lymphadenopathy (a lymph node enlargement)Lymphadenitis (inflammation of the lymph nodes)Lymphedema (an accumulation of lymph in the soft tissues of one or more legs)
These conditions can be treated with medical attention, but it is possible to prevent them from happening by improving your dog’s lymph circulation. Lymph stagnation can lead to arthritis, pain in the joints, eye drainage, itchy skin, lethargy, frequent infections, low immunity, and other symptoms such as: stiffness, joint swelling, itchy eyes, dry skin, itchy skin, crusty or cracked skin, itchy eyes, dull vision, and frequent infection.
These are 10 ways you can give your dog’s lymph systems a tune up at home, or with the assistance of veterinary professionals.
1. The fastest way to increase lymph circulation is exercise. Exercise stimulates blood and lymph movement, which increases oxygen supply to tissues and enhances removal of toxins from muscles and organs. Deep breathing improves lymph flow, which is one reason why breathing exercises for humans are highly recommended.
Dogs that are in motion can breathe deeply and activate their rib cages. Any movement that your dog can manage comfortably will be helpful. Dogs who are sedentary can be at risk as lymph stagnation can lead to pathogenic substances, inflammation markers, and cell debris that may interfere with their immune response. Even if you exercise at a moderate pace, your dog can benefit from lymph circulation by stretching and bowing.
2. Ayurvedic practices such as dry skin brushing are popular in complementary and alternative medicine. They originate from ancient India. Because the lymphatic system is so close to the skin’s surface, it doesn’t need the same pressure as for massaging the muscles. A coarse bristle brush such as a Japanese bath brush is used to massage the skin. It’s used for massaging the skin from the soles and palms of the feet towards the heart.
Daily brushing your dog with a stiff-bristle brush can also stimulate his lymph system. Start by brushing your dog’s feet towards the heart. Next, brush the abdomen gently.
3. Another popular technique for moving lymph is massage. You may even want to be an expert in it. C. Sue Furman (Ph.D.) explains how to use effleurage to stimulate lymph flow in her book Canine Massage For the Athlete In Every Dog.
Furman says that effleurage is similar to petting. Furman explained that it is called “petting with purpose”. You glide over the coat with your open hands, moving towards the heart. She explains that effleurage is done from the knee to the hip and the toes towards the knee. This may seem unusual, as the hands are moving in the opposite direction to the direction the hair grows. However, it is vital to ensure healthy lymph and circulatory systems.
Roger DeHaan DVM, a North Carolina veterinarian, is an expert in holistic pet care. He recommends vigorously rub your dog’s right side over the last three of his ribs for 10 to 15 seconds every day to stimulate lymph flow. Deep pressure is not necessary.
For a 10-minute demonstration of lymphatic canine massage using manual manipulation, check out the video by PetMassage founder Jonathan Rudinger at bit.ly/WDJ-dog-lymph-massage. For older dogs and those with injuries, he suggests gentle movements such as lifting the legs and turning the neck. This is especially helpful for dogs who are unable to exercise outside.
Additional resources for dog massage are available at “Dog Massage Instruction,” WDJ August 20,21.
An increasing number of veterinarians are offering acupuncture to their canine clients. Scientific research has shown that acupuncture can increase blood flow and decrease pain. It is believed to stimulate lymph movement. Photo credit: Sylvie Pbion/Dreamstime.com
4. The stimulating effect of acupuncture on lymph circulation is widely recognized. Kelli Ator DVM, Montana veterinary acupuncturist, explains that when a needle is inserted, it causes a neurochemical release which induces biochemical and physiological changes by stimulating the nervous system. This neurostimulation causes vasodilation which results in both systemic and local effects. It also increases venous return.
You can find a licensed veterinary acupuncturist by visiting the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA.org), clicking on “Find a vet,” and searching for acupuncture. The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS.org) also allows you to find veterinary acupuncturists.
5. Acupressure can be described as acupuncture without the use of needles. Acupressure uses the same “acupoints”, as acupuncture, and applies gentle pressure to certain points for about half an hour. Acu-Dog by Amy Snow and Nancy Zidonis (2011) Tallgrass Publishers, 188pp. This book is a great introduction/how-to guide to canine acupressure.
6. Red light therapy is becoming more popular for canine and human patients. It’s also known as Photobiomodulation Therapy, Low Level Laser Therapy, or Cold Laser Therapy. Dr. Ator says that a laser is not a mechanical stimulator. Instead, it uses light wavelengths to trigger a photochemical reaction within the mitochondria. The light photons are absorbed into the cells’ chromophores. This cellular reaction is similar to the sequence of events that happens after acupuncture stimulates the cells. The neurochemical process results in improved circulation, less inflammation, edema and pain relief.
More than 100 phase III, randomized and double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials supporting Low Level Laser Therapy were conducted between 1967 and 2009. These studies, supported by more than 1,000 laboratory studies, proved the effectiveness of Low Level Laser Therapy. Researchers concluded that further advancements will increase acceptance of LLLT within mainstream medicine.
Although red light therapy is recommended to treat lymph-related issues, the market is confusing. There are many options, including medical-grade LED lights, infrared red light and lasers. However, no clinical trials have been done to determine which device is most effective for dogs with specific conditions. The cost of veterinary lasers is often more than the budget of dog owners. Red light therapy can be tried by a veterinarian chiropractor or veterinary practitioner who is certified in this treatment.
7. Because inferior ingredients can cause lymph congestion, it is sensible to improve the diet. Dogs can be upgraded by reducing or eliminating soy and other cheap grains, while increasing the quality of their protein. WDJ’s reviews on dry, canned, frozen and freeze-dried diets will keep you informed about the latest trends in canine nutrition.
Supplements such as prebiotics and probiotics or other digestive aids may be helpful. Dr. DeHaan recommends that beets be added to foods to aid the lymph system in removing toxins. For long-term administration, Dr. DeHaan recommends adding 1/4 teaspoon grated raw beets to 15 pounds of bodyweight once per day for five days. After that, let the body rest for two more days before resuming the five-day, two-day pattern.
8. Lymph circulation is dependent on water intake. Hydration is the main ingredient in blood and lymph. Enough water helps the body transport oxygen, move white blood cells that fight infection, and aid digestion.
Water from less-than perfect sources can contain contaminants like prescription drug residues and radioactive substances.
Is your water safe? To find out what is in your well or tap water, check with local sources. You might decide to buy bottled water (look out for trusted brands that guarantee their safety), or to purify your tap water using a whole-house filter, faucet filter, counter-top filter or home distiller. See “Drinking the purest water possible is important for your dog’s health,” March 2002. It can make a significant difference in your dog’s health by improving the water quality.
This glycerin-based cleavers tincture can be purchased at iHerb.com
9. For centuries, medicinal herbs have been used to aid animals and people. One of the most important herbs for the lymph system is cleavers, (Galium aparine). It can be purchased fresh or as a tincture in natural markets, herb shops and online retailers.
Mary Wulff, Greg Tilford, in their book Herbs for Pets, state that cleavers can be used for any condition where there is general swelling, local swelling, or impaired lymphatic circulation due to scar tissue, ulceration or infection. Clever activities aside, cleavers is thought to improve lymph circulation in areas that are affected by infection, scar tissue, ulceration, or other conditions.
A glycerin-tinture of cleavers of dogs is usually 0.5 to 1.0 milliliter (ten to twenty drops) per 50 pounds, twice daily. Wulff & Tilford recommend that you check labels to ensure your tincture was made from fresh (not dried!) plants.
Calendula (Calendulaofficinalis) is another herb that can help with lymph. Its cheerful yellow and orange flowers will brighten any garden. Rosemary Gladstar, a Vermont herbalist, said that Calendula tea and tincture are her favorite treatments for lymph system support.
Tilford and Wulff recommend that you add up to 1 teaspoon of dried or 1 tablespoon fresh flowers petals to your 20-pound body weight each day to your food.
10. The topical application of essential oils can help support lymph circulation and immune function. Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts of the plants’ essences. Frances Fitzgerald Cleveland, a Colorado aromatherapist, teaches pet owners about essential oils. Grapefruit is her favorite essential oil for lymph system. She mixes seven drops of grapefruit essential oils in 5 ml (1 teaspoon), safflower and then stores the mixture in either an airtight container or a self-dispensing 5-ml dropper bottle.
She says that she places a dime-sized amount of the dog’s food in my palm. I continue this motion from his stomach to his chest, then move my hands up his legs to the top of his head.
Cleveland refers to this as “feather massage” and her dogs love it. Cleveland says she uses this method for pain, lethargy and edema in feet or limbs. She also recommends it for routine maintenance and to boost immunity.
Ten Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Lymph Circulation Whole Dog Journal.