Features November 1998 Issue

Hand-Held Heating Pads

Hand-held heating pads melt tight muscles and soothe anxiety.

Warmth relaxes humans and dogs alike, for physical and emotional reasons. Heat on the skin causes an increase in circulation. Blood flows to the area and tense muscles under the skin begin to relax. A warm touch might also recall the lazy enjoyment of a nap in the sun, or the comfort of a companion on a cold winter night.

Reusable heating pads are a wonderful way to bring the benefits of gentle heat to a dog. The pads I use are portable, liquid-filled plastic envelopes that, with just a push of my thumb, radiate soothing warmth for a few minutes or a few hours.

This is one assignment that Rupe,
our resident test dog, seemed to
enjoy. After some initial concern,
Rupe sighed and relaxed.

The pads can be used to soothe the dog during grooming, a hands-on evaluation, and other physical therapies such as chiropractic, stretching, or massage. I often use heat pads at the beginning of a massage, especially in cold weather. I also find them helpful with a dog who anticipates discomfort rather than enjoyment from new body sensations. The pads also seem to enhance the effects of acupressure relating to muscle, joint, and nerve function.

When the pads are first activated they can be quite hot. At this stage, move them over the dog’s body in slow, flowing strokes. When the pads cool, place them on the dog’s lower or middle back and let them continue to work while you massage other areas.

I always let the dog see and sniff the pad after it’s activated. Once the wonderful heat pad slides smoothly over her skin, however, even the most cautious or distracted dog is likely to dissolve into a cooperative partner.

Some dog massage practitioners and trainers use the pads frequently, in a variety of applications. Robyn Hood, a Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method (TTEAM) instructor from Vernon, British Columbia, who has years of experience with the reusable heat pads. In fact, Hood’s family owns the patent rights for Canada, having brought the concept to this continent from Australia.

TTEAM practitioners use a system developed by Linda Tellington Jones, touching and working with companion animals and horses to enhance their mental and physical well-being. Hood has found that incorporating the use of the heat pads into her regular TTEAM exercises is very valuable.

“I use the heat pads to maximize the effects of massage strokes,” says Hood. She finds them particularly useful during grooming to warm and relax the taut, often painful back muscles of a competitive show dog or canine athlete such as a hunting dog. She also uses them to soothe and bring focus to a nervous dog, by stroking him with a heat pad in her hand.

The pads are also helpful in emergencies. Hood uses them along with massage to raise a dog’s body temperature when it has dropped too low due to shock or stress.

Hood also finds them useful for keeping puppies and older, arthritic dogs warm. “The advantage of the pads is that when they cool, they will remain at the body temperature of the dog, rather than getting cold and wicking the dog’s warmth away,” she says.

WDJ’s Favorite
By far the best and most unique heat pad is made up of non-toxic sodium acetate, stored in a liquid state and activated by pressing a metal disc floating inside the pad. When the disc is pressed, the cool, clear liquid immediately transforms into warm white crystals. The pads remain malleable for about 20 minutes, the length of time it is warm enough to be useful for massage. The pads remain warm for about 40 minutes total, but they stiffen and grow hard in the last 20 minutes, and that final stage of heat is not quite warm enough to feel good.

Once the pads cool, you can easily recharge them by placing them in boiling water (or microwaving them, though this method takes more vigilance, so as not to overheat them and cause them to burst) for about 10 minutes. The manufacture suggests letting them cool all the way before re-activating them. To recharge, just bend the metal tab that floats inside.

With reasonable care, these pads can be used over and over. WDJ has activated and recharged our samples at least 30 times since they arrived, and the effectiveness has not diminished one iota. Hood claims to regularly use a pad that she first purchased and used in 1988.

In the U.S. this pad is manufactured by Prism Technologies and sold under several names, most commonly, “The Heat Solution.” We’ve seen the exact same product in one sporting goods chain with a Coleman brand label. In Canada, they are marketed by TTEAM as “Thermopads.”

Insulation can make the heat last longer. Some manufacturers sell insulated covers for the pads to make the temperature more comfortable and longer-lasting. The covers are unnecessary to protect long-haired dogs from excessive heat, but could help keep the pad from being too hot for an extremely short-haired dog. We found that a sock works almost as well a cover.

Other options
Other reusable heat pads are available, but they do not have the portable, consistent-heat features which come with our first choice. Gel- and water-filled pads are less inconvenient; they must be boiled or microwaved immediately before use. Moreover, depending on the temperature used to warm them, the heat from the pads varies. I’ve found that it’s easy to get them too hot.

The sizes that each type of pad come in also limit their usefulness somewhat. Both the “Heat Comfort” pad (AKA the “Nexcare” pad), manufactured by 3M, and the “Aqua-Relief” pad, manufactured by the Aqua-Cel Corporation, are too big to stroke a dog with easily. Both would be better used in a situation where you were trying to warm a large area of the dog’s anatomy or to treat arthritis, sprains, pulled muscles, and other injuries. These pads also work well if cold therapy is beneficial; simply chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more prior to use.

The powder-filled, disposable heat pads that are activated by shaking, such as the “Sports Heat,” manufactured by Two A Degree, come in the right size, but their temperatures tend to be inconsistent, and never become quite as warm as you’d like. Plus, the single-use, throw-away feature isn’t economical nor in keeping with ecological “whole dog” practices.

Nothing is more wonderful for your dog in the winter time than a nice petting session with a hand-sized heat pad tucked into your palm. I recommend you get together with several other people and purchase a case of the sodium acetate portable heat packs. This way, you’ll be able to delight your favorite canine – or human! – friends all winter long.

Also With This Article
Click here to view "Portable Heating Pads."
Click here to view "FYI."


-By Barbara Chasteen

Barbara Chasteen usually works with horses, offering equine massage, acupressure, and therapeutic in-hand techniques through her practice, the Balanced Horse, in Sonoma County, California. Click here for purchasing information.

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