Massage is the therapeutic manipulation of the soft tissues of the body. In people, it has multiple benefits: mechanical, physiological, and even psychological. These benefits may extend to our feline friends, and such manipulation can be helpful for older cats, cats recovering from surgery or trauma, highly stressed cats, and cats with certain medical conditions.
Mechanical benefits: Stretching and rubbing muscles can increase tone and flexibility. Massage can be particularly helpful in reducing the harmful effects of scar tissue, which tends to tighten muscles and decrease flexibility.
Physiological benefits: In cats with edema of the limbs, massage can help reduce the edema by promoting improved lymphatic flow. Gently squeezing the lower leg, stretching it out, and then stroking toward the body, can help return the buildup of fluids to circulation. This reduction in edema can decrease pain and inflammation.
Psychological benefits: Massage can reduce stress and anxiety. Picture a momma cat giving long, steady strokes along her kitten’s body. Massage can be especially helpful for shelter cats and kittens if they settle enough to allow it.
There are four basic massage techniques:
Simple stroking. This is medium pressure with a continuous movement. You can do this from front to back or down the legs. If your house is very dry, wet your hands and then lightly dry them to reduce static electricity. Stroking can be done with just a couple of fingers.
Effleurage. Using your whole hand, you can apply a bit more pressure. Traditionally these strokes move toward the heart, so from the tail forward and up the limbs. Some cats may not like having their hair “rumpled” so watch for your cat’s response.
Petrissage. This is the “kneading” and skin rolling we think of with massage. Muscles are gently compressed and rolled. This helps with circulation, muscle tension, and spastic muscles. Many cats prefer this stage of massage.
Concussive. Cup your hand and use the edge to tap on the body. You may see this referred to as tapotement. This can be similar to coupage used to loosen up respiratory secretions.
One area most cats love having massaged is the head. Circular ear rubs and gentle neck strokes are popular among kitties. Rubbing and stroking under and up the chin is usually well tolerated.
If your cat has been injured or is recovering, check with your veterinarian before performing any manipulations. And, as always, let your cat tell you what she wants and likes.