Err...no need for cat relaxation therapy here...photo by Shamey Jo
Relaxation therapy for cats is available and we can be trained to do it ourselves. Personally I have never thought about it as an alternative therapy although I do things which I hope calms my cats down when required. For example, gentle rhythmical stroking and a calm soft voice helps I feel. But that has no basis in science so what is relaxation therapy for cats?2
It is probably more normal for the cat to apply relaxation therapy to humans by their mere presence! However, in the modern, and for a cat unnatural world, (such as full time indoor living) a cat can become stressed. I feel the stress is sometimes hard to see, it is hidden but comes out in unforeseen ways which could include allergic reactions that would not otherwise be there (but that is not a scientific statement, just gut feel). Or the cat might display behavioral problems such as over grooming.
History of Relaxation Therapy
There is a long history of relaxation therapy in the east in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine (a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian Subcontinent and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine1).
The Mind/Body Medical Institute of the Harvard Medical school carried out research on the effectiveness of transcendental meditation, which apparently lead to its acceptance in the west. Relaxation therapy can affect the boy's physiology (the functioning of the organs and cells of the body).
In a cat relaxation therapy can (a) reduce levels of adrenaline (b) reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels (c) reduce levels of lactic acid in the cat's muscles (d) improve digestion (e) make the immune system more active (f) improve alertness.
Dogs and Relaxation Therapy
The concept of applying relaxation therapy to companion animals occurred in 1990, when Professor Karen Overall (head of animal behavior at the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school) adapted human relaxation therapy to dogs. Conditioning training is the same for all animals and so it can be used on cats too.
Signs of Cat Stress
I think there are long term health issues associated with continuing stress but immediate signs of stress in a cat include short shallow and rapid breaths. The general demeanour of a cat when stressed is actually quite noticeable. My lady cat pants when stressed (going to the vet in the car). Charlie, my other cat, actually had a case of involuntary defecation when he became stressed (coming to live with me after my mother died - I was more stressed than him, though!).
Relaxation Therapy for Cats - Technique
This is where my information dries up a little I am afraid (if anyone can help, please leave a comment). The techniques are the same as any other cat training that is reward based. In other words the cat is rewarded when it has become relaxed.
Cats are harder to train than dogs. In American it is apparently available at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school. I presume that cats and dogs are referred there from local veterinarians.
I suspect that you might be lucky in finding a vet who is prepared to pass on his or her knowledge.
Background Stress Therapy
Clearly we can take steps to reduce stress in the home on an ongoing basis and in the background. An awareness of our cat's behavior is important.
Active daily exercise is important for all indoor cats. This probably means us getting involved in play with our cats. Games that require mental as well as physical stimulus are useful.
Allowing our cats to sleep well is important too. For me it is the other way around. It is getting my cats to allow me to sleep well!
There are people who think that music can de-stress cats. Well it can help calm people so there is no reason to believe that it can't help cats. You can listen to and read about music for cats on this site: Music for Cats.com
1. Wikipedia authors
2. Natural Cat Care by Dr Bruce Fogle - publisher: www.dk.com
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