How (and Why) to Massage a Cat

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  • Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

These days, you might be spending some extra quality time with your favorite kitty, and maybe you need a new way to do that. There’s only so many cat toys and games, after all, and all of those tend to rile your cat up.

Sometimes, what you need is a bit of calm. We’ve got an idea: why not indulge her in a relaxing massage?

The amazing thing about massaging a cat is that it’s great for both of you. Massage helps you bond with your cat, helps both of you relax, and actually reduces stress hormones in your body. 

How to Massage a Cat

Need to brush up on your massage tips? The professionals have a few key pieces of advice to make sure you get the massage right. 

Choose the right time and mood

Veterinarian Pippa Elliott explains that to provide a relaxing massage for your cat, you should be in a relaxed, calm mood before you begin.

By breathing slowly, deeply, and rhythmically, you will relax both yourself and your cat. If you are feeling frazzled, start petting your cat with a calm, light head to tail stroke, and as you breathe and relax yourself, you can move onto more targeted massage strokes.

Wait until at least 2 hours after your cat has eaten, veterinarian Dr. Allen Schoen recommends. Avoid any scratches or other wounds that your cat might have.

Let your cat approach you

For your first kitty massage session, you want to be extra sure that your cat is relaxed and receptive to attention.

Rather than exciting her nervous system by picking her up quickly or giving her energizing scratches, you might try waiting for her to approach you for some affection.

When she does, let her settle into a relaxed position on your lap or next to you and start out with some calm, gentle touch in whatever way she likes best.

Start slow, stay slow

Begin by stroking your cat from head to tail with a gentle, consistent touch. This might be the way you pet your cat every day, and that’s great.

“When you follow the direction going forward to rear over the head, neck and back, you are actually following the acupuncture meridians,“ explains Dr. Schoen, who has developed a method of cat massage informed by acupressure techniques for people.

Sing to your cat!

Talk or sing to your cat with a low, soothing tone, Elliott says. Think more “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and less “Macarena.” High pitched, fast tones can stress a cat out, but a steady, calm voice can help soothe her nerves.

Massage each part of the body for about one minute

You can use a few different types of strokes to give your cat a nice massage. Veterinarian Robin Downing explains that simple stroking with a light to medium pressure from head to tail (what you probably already do with your cat) is a perfect place to start.

Simple stroking can be followed by a stroke style called effleurage, which uses the whole hand with medium pressure, moving from any part of the body towards the heart. From your kitty’s head, move toward the chest and stop there, and from her rump, move toward the chest and stop there.

Effleurage helps to move blood and lymph fluids within the skin and superficial tissues. 

A third massage stroke, petrissage, which also includes skin rolling, focusses medium pressure on particular muscles or pressure points. Dr. Downing says that most cats love skin rolling, which is done by gently pinching the skin between your fingers and moving from head to chest, and from rump to chest.

End with some calming strokes

After 10-15 minutes, or whenever you’re ready to wrap up the massage, treat your cat to some slow, gentle rubbing on the inside and outside of her ears, suggests Dr. Schoen. Follow that up with a languid series of head-to-tail full body strokes, and your kitty will be a purring lump in your lap.

 

How to tell if you’re doing it right

Watch your cat’s reaction by paying attention to her tail. A relaxed or gently swaying tail probably means that your cat is happy. But if you see her tail twitching or stiff, slowly and gently back away—that’s a sign that she’s on high alert and her next move might involve teeth and claws.

Obviously, some vocal behaviors will tell you right away that your kitty is just not into it. Vocalizations like growling or whining are a pretty strong sign that the cat wants to be left alone.

Excessive purring can actually be a sign of fear or anxiety, so if your cat is purring her sweet little face off, take a moment to notice her other signals—a tense, compact posture will signify stress, whereas an open relaxed posture is more likely the kitty equivalent of a thumbs up.

Benefits of Massaging Your Cat

In addition to being relaxing, massage can help relieve pain in elderly or injured cats by helping to loosen tight muscles and reduce swelling in the body, says Dr. Downing. Physical contact can help strengthen your bond with your cat as you spend time together.

Petting and massaging your cat for just 10 minutes can reduce your own stress levels by reducing the amount of cortisol in your body, according to recent research from Washington State University.

Massage can also be a great way to detect small health issues or wounds and prevent them from becoming larger problems. Dr. Schoen writes, “If they don’t like you touching a certain area regularly, check it out and make sure there isn’t a problem there. This is actually an excellent way to conduct a superficial physical exam.”

So if you feel a bump or a scab, or if your cat simply HATES to be touched somewhere, make a note of it and check on it the next day. If the problem persists, talk to your vet.

In a heartwarming story of kitty love, massage therapist Maryjean Ballner tells Petfinder about her experience of gently introducing a young feral shelter cat to human touch over the course of a few weeks. “Gradually he began to accept being massaged with a soft bristle brush. Then, one quiet afternoon, I heard him purr for the first time,” she writes. “Needless to say, I adopted him.”

Massage is great for dogs, too

For pet parents with a pup at home, your new skills at cat massage can be great for your dog, too. Massage is a great way to bond with your dog and to help him relax. It’s also useful in calming overactive puppies, Stephen Lindsay, a dog behavior specialist says. 

For more information on therapeutic massage for pets, check out these helpful books:

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