Categories: massage

Stress Relieving Cat Therapeutic Massage Works (It worked for a Hedgehog)

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.

Spineless Derek

Feline Therapeutic Massage (Thai style)

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.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • My poor 17 y/o dog, Hobbes, suffered terribly from arthritis. I made attempts to lightly massage his back and hips, but it was too painful for him. That's when I employed therapeutic touch in which contact isn't made. It really helped soothe him a lot and he would fall asleep for a while.
    I think that it worked so well because I am one of those sort of odd people who, actually, have hot hands in particular and emit heat that can be felt even 6 - 8 inches away. I'm, really, a hot water bottle. Sometimes, even just lying close to him would make him start sighing and falling asleep.

    • Interesting Dee, that your hands are hot. I remember a famous spiritualist (my girlfriend believes in spiritualism) who had hot hands and he professed to heal with them. I don't believe in that sort of thing but his hands were hot.

  • I tinker with massaging my cats all the time -- probably just because I love touching/petting them. I massage their paws gently also -- I always loved a foot massage after working all day, so I figured they would enjoy it after being on their paws too!When I massage them, I use a gentle circular motion which they truly seem to enjoy. Although I am no professional, I do believe my cats love the attention and being soothed as well as being loved from Mommy! Great post!! ♥♥♥

    • Me, too Diane. I am always massaging my cat in my way. It is not professional and it does not follow Dr Fogle but it does the same thing more or less. My cat loves it and me too. I think it is good to have plenty of gentle contact with your cat. It makes them more relaxed and confident with us. We are rather big to them. We need to reassure them. Also my cat retains his wild character from when he was a feral kitten so it's nice to bond with him as closely as possible.

  • Feline massage if done correctly is a very pleasant and relaxing experience for both the cat and the kitty's guardian.

    But just like anything that has to do with felines, it must be introduced slowly. I massage our kitties from time to time, and I can tell when they are enjoying it when they get that goofy facial expression and are totally relaxed.

    Thanks for an excellent article, Michael !!! Another tool to put in our feline toolbox!

    • Thanks Jo. As I said to Diane, I am always feely touchy with Gabriel. It is a form of massage - my version. It does the same thing. Relaxes him and me and brings us very close together. I love to give my love to him through touch.

  • The procedure you outline is exactly how I learned to give a massage in my training as a physical therapist assistant. I found in practice to much more often be doing manual therapy to mobilize scar tissue or deep tissue work on really tight areas than to be giving a relaxing massage to anyone. But I think I could recall how to do it and apply the techniques to Monty. I just don't think he'd sit still long enough for it. He is a busy cat with things to do.

    He does like when my husband pets him both ways, roughing up his fur. He purrs the loudest during that vigorous petting from my husband and will tolerate it for quite a long time. He enjoys that stimulation, I guess, plus attention from my husband means more since Monty perceives him as the alpha cat. I think Monty would question a massage from me. "Why aren't you feeding me? Scooping my poop? Opening the door for me? Getting me fresh water?" I have specific duties. Petting him is not one of them, though if he is hungry he will tolerate some attention from me.

    The cat in the first video above seems to be smiling. Someone says he opened his eyes and was cross eyed he was so relaxed. Massage could make a laid back cat even more laid back, but I don't think every cat will be interested. Some, like my Monty, are just busy cats with things to do.

    • Ruth, I like your assessment of how Monty relates to you and your husband - interesting. I employ my version of cat massage with Gabriel. I catch him when he is sleepy and he loves it. I love it as much. It is a great way to improve the relationship never mind the finer points of improving blood circulation etc..

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