Cat massaging person - just as nice, really -- photo by mcwetboy (Flickr)
This article is about humans massaging cats. My girlfriend does cat massage on my lady cat. She seems to like it but I have never assessed it. I think my girlfriend likes it as much. After all, touching, stroking and being close to a purring cat is very pleasant indeed and it helps us to reduce our stress levels and lower our heart rate. But what about the real benefits to our cat of cat massage?
Well, it is said that when a mother cat licks its young vigorously you can see the "origins of therapeutic massage". The mother's tongue not only cleans but stimulates the kittens muscles, blood and lymph circulation (in fact a mother's lick can stimulate a kitten's bowl movement as well, just after birth, but that is another story). That tongue is an awfully effective tool.
Massaging is also said to "disperse pain and restore mobility and flexibility". Cat massage should therefore be particularly effective for more elderly cats.
Not only does massaging our cat help our cat but touching our cat in such a purposeful way can help us keep an eye on our cat's health through an inspection, by touch, of her or his physical condition. Cat health problems such as swelling and tenderness can be discovered, which may help in diagnosis of behavioral problems.
Cat massage - picture is all over the internet
so must be in the public domain
How it Works
The skin is a sensory organ; the cat's largest. Massaging gently stimulates the release of chemicals called cytokines in the cells of the area massaged. It is thought that cytokines then instruct the brain to release the natural pain killing chemicals, endorphins.
Cytokines affect the cat's hormonal system and reduce the levels of hormones related to stress. Stress hormones weaken the immune system so there is another benefit.
In increasing the blood circulation there is a corresponding increase in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues of the body, which in turn helps to flush out toxins and waste.
Apparently young cats benefit from massage later in life through being less stressed. Less stress means less stress hormones and a stronger immune system as mentioned.
Types of Massage
Effleurage: stroking in one direction, which is used at the beginning of the cat massage session to calm the cat.
Petrissage: refers to the specific muscle tissues and skin being stretched, kneaded, rolled, gently pinched and "wrung" (but very slightly). Tapping is also a form of massage (I actually use this but it is a very gentle and loving form). "Kneading" is the application of circular pressure with the palm of the hand over the cat's body. "Gently pinched" means picking up the soft tissues between fingers and thumb and then releasing. Wringing means "gently pushing and pulling the skin in both hands. "Rolling" describes the action of the skin being pushed away and pulled towards you. This is of course done with the greatest of respect and care for our cat (with gentleness and tenderness).
Commonsense and gentleness apply. Never massage areas of the body that are in anyway not healthy such as bruised or inflammed skin, fractures, ligament damage tumours etc.. A cat that has fever, clinical shock or heatstroke should not be massaged.
If your cat is recovering from an injury it should be done by a professional therapist. A vet should be able to advise.
As mentioned the first stage is effleurage aiding relaxation if done slowly. Next aid circulation through petrissage. First knead then pick up (see above). Then move on to wringing and rolling if your cat is enjoying it all as much as you!
Reference: Natural Cat Care by Dr. Bruce Fogle pages 80-81 published by DK. www.dk.com