The healing benefits of massage reach far and wide -- even to cats! You probably already know if your feline likes a rub around the ear or a scratch at the base of the tail, but massage takes the idea of touch one step further, incorporating focused and intentional techniques that truly soothe.
Here we will look at the many benefits of cat massage and how to do a massage at home.
Cat Massage Benefits
“All pets can enjoy physiological and emotional benefits from massage,” says Maryjean Ballner, a licensed massage therapist and author who spends her days performing cat and dog massage. “And all owners, pet parents, and pet guardians can benefit as well.”
The emotional benefits of cat massage include:
- A close and strong bond between you and your cat. When you massage your cat, it is unique time spent together. This can help to develop a bond or enhance an already existing one.
- Cats value touch from the first time they receive it from their mother. Loving touch, therefore, offers comfort and a sense of calm.
- Massage can help cats suffering from anxiety, stress, or fear-based aggression.
The physiological benefits of cat massage include:
- Increased blood circulation. This is beneficial because blood delivers nutrients and removes waste.
- Relief of sore, tense, or stiff muscles
- Improved flexibility and muscle tone
- Lymph drainage, which boosts the immune system
- Treatment of specific medical conditions such as hip dysplasia, arthritis, or an injury. Massage to treat specific medical conditions should be carried out by a licensed practitioner. You can find a qualified massage therapist on the International Association of Animal Massage Bodywork website.
How to Give a Cat Massage
Ready to try it out for yourself? The first thing to remember is that petting is not the same as massage.
“Most petting tends to be inconsistent and doesn't encourage interaction from your pet [...]” Ms. Ballner says. “Traditional petting tends to be fast and unfocused.”
Unlike petting, massage is slow and deliberate. Particular attention is paid to hand motions, pressure, and speed. If this sounds like something your cat wouldn’t fancy, consider thinking again.
“Pet owners, particularly some cat owners, take a sense of delight in saying, ‘Oh, my cat just doesn't like to be touched.’” says Ms. Ballner. “They accept this, and go no further.” You could be missing an opportunity to bond with your pet.
To give your cat a massage, try the following:
1. Meet your cat at a place of comfort. Maybe this is your cat’s favorite window perch or corner of the couch. If your cat is already relaxed and in a place of rest, they are more likely to be receptive to massage.
2. Start with a touch that your cat knows and loves. Offer a scratch on the ear and wait until your cat leans into it. “Then consider the massage components and upgrade that petting to massage,” says Ms. Ballner.
3. Massage components are hand motions, pressure, and speed. Treat your cat to “Four Magical Minutes,” Ms. Ballner says. In these four minutes, you can incorporate some of the following motions and techniques recommended by Ms. Ballner:
- Waving Down the Neckline: “Stroke sideways, like a windshield wiper, or like you're waving goodbye,” says Ms. Ballner. Start at the base of your cat’s neck and work your hand along the back and sides of the body with this motion.
- The Long Graceful Slide: Slowly slide the tips of your fingers from the base of the neck down the entire length of the back.
- Chin Ups: Gently rub under and around the chin. You may find that your cat lifts their head straight up as they enjoy the sensation.
- Check Out My Cheeks: Using your fingertips or finger pads, slowly caress your cat’s cheek area. “Or,” Ms. Ballner says, “use ‘knuckle nooks,’ the flat surface that forms between your first and second knuckle when you bend your fingertips against your palm.”
4. Pay attention to your speed. “The verse in the classic Simon and Garfunkel ‘59th Street Bridge Song’ says it
beautifully,” Ms. Ballner says. “‘Slow down, you're moving too fast…’ That's probably the biggest mistake people make with pets.”
5. Pay attention to your pressure. A massage isn’t a massage unless you’re thinking about
the strength of your touch. “And of course, you always start with a mild pressure before working deep,” Ms. Ballner says. “And the deeper you go, the slower you'll want to go.”
6. Put it on repeat. “Just like a little child can watch the same DVD over and over and over again, once a
animal finds a comforting massage stroke, they're often delighted to have it repeated over and over and over again,” says Ms. Ballner.
Other Types of Massage
Interested in trying some other types of cat massage? Try a brush massage using a soft brush like a shoe brush or toothbrush. “The bristles may remind the animal of their mom's raspy tongue,” says Ms. Ballner.
Many cats also enjoy “voice massage,” wherein you talk or sing to your cat whenever you can.
“At first, especially with a new cat, frequent to almost constant communication by talking is essential to soothe anxiety,” says Ms. Ballner. “When talking is in a warm, low, soothing tone, you've upgraded talking to Voice Massage, a reassuring verbal reminder of affection and attention.”
Good luck as you embark on this new healing journey!
To learn more about Ms. Ballner’s techniques, or to purchase her instructional videos and books, visit www.catmassage.com.
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