A hedgehog, Derek, lost his spines because of stress-related alopecia caused by an injury. He was found injured in a garden in Bishop’s Stortford, UK. He recovered from his injuries but began to lose his spines. He was taken to a local animal whisperer, Monique Blackford, who gave him massage therapy and now his spines are starting to grow back. It would appear that the diagnosis was correct as was the required therapy. He will soon be returned to the wild.
What is cat therapeutic massage? It is said that it originates in the mother cat’s vigourous licking of her kittens, which not only cleans her young, it also stimulates the kitten’s muscles, lymph and blood circulation. When a cat becomes adult, massage can help to disperse pain and restore flexibility and mobility.
In fact, massage is possibly the oldest and most natural form of medical care. Massage is used more frequently on dogs than on cats probably because it is more likely to be accepted by a dog.
How does feline massage work? The touch of the hands is perceived through the cat’s skin which is the cat’s largest sensory organ. Gentle massage triggers the release of cytokines. These are chemicals which exist in very small quantities and which were discovered about 20 years ago. They affect the cat’s hormonal system bringing down the levels of stress hormones which weaken the immune system.
Massage also stimulates blood circulation. This increases the amount of oxygen that reaches tissue and also flushes out toxins and waste. It is thought that massage probably induces cells at the site being massaged to release cytokines which instruct the brain to release painkilling endorphins.
The video below is described as Thai Cat Massage! Not sure is that a technical name or if the guys are in Thailand! Probably the latter.
The most common form of massage is called effleurage which mean stroking in one direction. As it calms the cat, it is used at the beginning of a therapeutic session. The first stage of massage therefore is effleurage. Slow stroking aids relaxation. Fast stroking will stimulate the cat. A steady slow pace is required until your cat is completely relaxed.
Once your cat is relaxed you can move onto the next stage, petrissage, which aids circulation. It involves applying circular pressure with the palm all over the cat’s body followed up with what is called “picking up” which entails picking up soft tissues between your fingers and thumb and then releasing.
Stage three is called “wringing“. This entails gently pushing and pulling the skin in both hands followed by “rolling“, the final stage of petrissage when the skin is pushed away and then pull towards you.
Once petrissage is complete your cat should be very relaxed. Provided your cat allows it you can then gently stretch his/her limbs. Cats do not like to be held by their paws so the limb should be held just below the knee. The back and front legs are stretch forwards and backwards each stretch being held for no more than 6 to 10 seconds. This should wake up your cat! You can then finish with effleurage to relax him again.
What is the opinion of veterinarians with respect to feline therapeutic massage? It is thought that early and frequent touch leads to reduced glucocorticoid production later in life. What this means is that cats who are frequently touched when they are young normally experience less stress when they are adult. In theory this would mean that cats who were frequently and routinely massaged should have fewer immune-system problems than normal. However, my guess is that most vets will (a) know little about it and (b) not recommend it or recommend it with caution. Do you know what your vet thinks about it?
Another benefit of cat massage is that it helps you uncover early signs of problems such as swelling, shrinkage or tenderness in your cat. You get to know your cat’s anatomy better.
Finally, there are third and forth benefits: it strengthens the bond and is also good for you as it will help to drop your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
Apparently, cats who accept regular massage tend to make better patients because they are easier to examine and treat; they are more relaxed about being handled and manipulated.
Feline therapeutic massage can be carried out at home with gentleness, common sense and caution, provided your cat is willing to accept it. He must be in general good health. If your cat is recovering from an injury remedial massage should only be administered by a registered therapist who is familiar with a cat’s anatomy. Your veterinarian should (might?) be able to refer you to a therapist in your area.
As a precaution, inflamed, infected, swollen, torn or bruised areas should never be massaged. Do not massage a cat who has a fever or suffering from heat stroke or in clinical shock. Do not massage near tumours, bone fractures, ligament tears or dislocations. Finally, don’t massage an injured neck or back.
You can see that, although feline therapeutic massage is beneficial, it does require quite a high level of knowledge, sensitivity towards a cat’s well-being and anatomy together with a dose of common sense. It may be wise to seek your veterinarian’s opinion before commencing. However, the benefits are there for both cat and caretaker particularly with respect to reducing stress-related symptoms such as alopecia.
In the cat a common cause of feline hair loss is stress-related due to over grooming (almost all hair loss is due to over-grooming). Perhaps massage may be one of the cures. I have not seen this referred to in other articles on other sites but I believe it should be considered.
The video below is a layperson’s version of cat massage and requires little more than love and a desire to administer TLC to your cat. It does not follow the procedure referred to above:
Sources: (a) Online newspapers for Derek’s story and (b) Dr Bruce Fogle’s Natural Cat Care and (c) myself for personal experience.