MASSAGE - A HANDS ON EXPERIENCE
Massage is an excellent relaxant
for cat and owner and once you get to know the 'feel' of
your cat you can quickly spot anything out of the ordinary
that might need treatment sooner rather than later. Massage
is regularly used by physiotherapists who can assess the
condition of, and any damage to, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Massage can help free up stiff joints and seized muscles
and promotes healing by encouraging circulation to affected
areas. I found out just how useful massage is as a diagnostic
tool and healing aid after I broke some bones in my foot.
Muscle doesn't show up on X-rays, so a doctor or physio uses
massage and manipulation to find out the extent of soft tissue
Massage can reduce stress
and blood pressure levels in both cat and owner. It stimulates
the cat's circulation and can aid convalescence. It is good
at reducing swelling by breaking down fluid, which has accumulated
in the tissue (it's a bit like massaging congealed soap until
it becomes pliable). Massage is especially beneficial to
geriatric and arthritic cats and, as human athletes know,
it eases stiff joints and rubs out muscle knots at the end
of a hard day's activity. Both cat and owner should find
the sessions relaxing - if you or the cat falls asleep, then
at least one aspect of massage is working, but you'll need
to stay awake a bit longer if you are to use it as a way
of checking your cat's well-being.
Cats need to become accustomed
to being handled by humans; this normally happens during
kittenhood. Massage in later life can improve socialisation
in cats, which are often aloof. How better to relax or reward
a tensed-up show cat or a cat which is stressed out after
vet check-up than a quick massage? While you pet your cat,
it will show its pleasure by massaging you in return using
its front paws.
American vet and qualified
masseur, Dr Michael Fox, recommends that owners massage their
cat(s) weekly, feeling and seeing with their fingers and
comparing what they find with the usual feel of their cat.
With practice, I've found that you can quickly spot anything
that feels different from normal. Dr Fox gives cat owners
six basic recommendations, though much depends on how much
handling your cat enjoys and how confident you are.
1. Get to know
the usual feel of your cat(s)
Once you know what is normal,
you'll be able to detect unusual lumps or bumps. Many cats
have harmless skin tags or other minor bumps and scars (your
vet will be pleased to confirm which irregularities are harmless).
Once you've got to know the 'landscape' of your cat's skin
you will quickly recognise a new bump or one, which has grown
or spread. You will also feel any flea scabs or skin conditions
and whether the cat's fur feels sleek and well-conditioned
or whether it has started feeling harsh.
Get to know how easily you
can feel bones beneath the skin - don't squeeze or prod,
just be aware of which bones you can feel. This will help
you work out if your cat is gaining or losing weight. The
skin of a healthy cat seems to be attached only loosely to
its body. If a pinch of skin is 'tented' (gently pulled away
from the body) it should spring back quickly. If the skin
stays tented or is slow to spring back, then the cat is dehydrated
for some reason.
2. Feel for
signs of pain, heat, swelling or atrophy.
These are usually signs of
injury or illness. You may already know that your cat has
injured itself e.g. it has been bitten by another cat or
it has a sore leg and it may already be getting vet treatment.
Massage can tell you if the injury is getting worse, staying
stable or healing. Massage cannot help alleviate chronic
conditions and can help get a limb working again after a
period of immobility (e.g. a broken leg which has been in
plaster will have lost flexibility and muscle tone).
One of my cats seemed to suffer
from 'pins and needles' or stiffness after waking up. I often
gave his legs a gentle rub-down when he got up. Since he
always got up to greet me when I returned from work, a gentle
massage was a nice way of greeting each other.
3. Check the
Very, very gently palpate
the abdomen. Don't squeeze it or you could do damage, but
very gentle massage will give an indication if the cat is
comfortable. If the cat tenses up there may be a problem
in that area. If you can feel hard masses, there is a potential
problem (it may just be constipation, but it's not worth
taking a gamble with your cat's health).
If your cat has a known condition,
ask your vet or veterinary nurse to teach you about palpating
the abdomen and checking for early warning symptoms of trouble.
4. Check the
In humans, we often talk about
'the glands being up' during an illness. Cats also have glands
in much the same places; while massaging your cat, check
whether any of these are swollen or inflamed.
A cat's glands are situated
under its jaw, before its shoulder blades and in the armpit,
groin and upper hock areas.
5. Areas to
Unless your cat, and your
vet, are happy for you to gently massage areas which have
been injured, you should avoid those areas. Avoid areas that
are tender because of illness, injury or operation. In particular
be careful of sites where the cat has had surgery, you don't
want to pull at stitches or risk damaging muscles or bone
which are beginning to knit together and heal. Later on the
healing process, the cat may enjoy a gentle massage to stimulate
circulation. The vet will advise you of exceptions to these
guidelines e.g. where you can use massage as a form of physiotherapy
to get a cat mobile again after broken limbs.
The secret is don't try too
much too soon and don't massage areas which are tender and
which the cat doesn't want touched. If it solicits a pain-relieving
massage (such as Scrapper with his pins and needles) then
6. See the vet
If you find an area that feels
abnormal in some way or your cat shows signs of discomfort,
get it checked by a vet. You have done your bit by detecting
early warning signals. Later on you can help with a therapeutic
DOING THE MASSAGE
I like to start my massage
sessions by stroking the cat in the ways it enjoys most.
First I feel the coat's condition and take a closer look
at any areas that feel harsh or sparser than normal. By dampening
my hands I can use the palms of my hands to stroke out moulted
fur. After the initial flat-palmed stroking, I press my fingertips
down more firmly to feel the skin as I stroke. That way I
can feel if Sappho's eczema is flaring up, or if Aphrodite
has any scabs under her long thick fur which means I need
to use flea spray sooner than I thought. On Cindy I thought
my fingers had found a skin tag, but it proved to be a small
rabbit tick. Later on, that area became permanently hardened
due to a reaction to the tick's saliva. I added this information
to my mental map of my cats' bodies.
After stroking and checking
for signs of external parasites or skin troubles, it's time
to start the real massage. I always start the massage with
their favourite attention areas, usually the ears, neck and
back though all cats have different preferences ranging from
belly to paw-pads and even inside the mouth (seriously).
The edge of the jaw between ears and chin is often a favourite
area. I then work along their sides and down to their belly
as by this time they are lying full length on their backs
doing Tai Chi with their front legs.
Many of my cats have loved
having a belly rub and I love running my fingers through
their warm silky belly fur. I wouldn't belly rub if they
disliked it and I always stop if they get overexcited and
decide to play-fight my hand. If your cats hate belly rubs
or fight your hand then you should move straight on to the
While they're upside down or
lying on their side, I massage each leg in turn, gently flexing
the paws and feeling the pads and between the paw pads for
thorns or splinters. I also check whether any claws need
clipping! Then I go back to the belly until one or other
of us gets tired of it though you should go back to whatever
bit your cat likes best.
American behaviourist Warren
Eckstein recommends you first relax your cat by stroking
it and talking gently. Then massage using small circular
motions of your thumb and fingertips as you stroke, never
losing contact with the cat's skin. He suggests you start
either side of the spine and work along the cat's back, shoulders,
sides and hind legs. These areas see a lot of wear and tear.
Then work from the chest to the belly and finally the forelegs.
Massage gently and stop if your cat protests.
NO GO AREAS
AND YES PLEASE! AREAS
Many cats are unhappy having
a tummy rub - they feel vulnerable and switch between kittenish
enjoyments to defensive aggression. Another area to beware
of is the back of the hind legs. Relatively few cats are
happy being touched here though many can be gradually accustomed
to having these areas touched or stroked. Once again, it's
up to the owner and the cat to work out between them what
feels good. If the cat decides that one part of its body,
e.g. the belly or backs of the legs, is a no-go area, then
you must respect that.
With Squeak (my neighbour's
cat who used to sneak in for a regular rub-down) I always
had one extra area to massage - she loved to lie with her
mouth wide open for a roof-of-mouth massage. I've never worked
out why, but it's something she loves and she will lie flat
out for five or ten minutes for this. If I forget, or I try
to skip the mouth massage, she grabs my hand and sucks my
finger against the roof of her mouth to remind me.
Most cats just know how good
it feels to be massaged and after a while they will probably
pester their owners for more.
This article is part
of Sarah Hartwell’s article “CAT MASSAGE -
A HANDS ON EXPERIENCE”. If you want to read the full