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What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy uses touch and manipulation of muscles to benefit the health of both humans and pets. Several health conditions in cats can benefit from massage therapy delivered by a trained veterinary massage therapist. Massage therapy for cats may be used in addition to physiotherapy or may be part of physical therapy itself. Specialized touch techniques and manipulation of muscle tissues produce beneficial processes in your cat. It releases endorphins, which are the bodies natural painkillers. They allow the body to better remove toxic waste by causing the release of toxins, improving oxygenation of cells, improving motion and flexibility in muscle tissue and increasing blood and lymphatic system circulation. In addition to calming and relaxing your cat, massage therapy can decrease scar tissue and fibrous tissue buildup and may help locate tumors, lesions and abnormalities present in your cat at an earlier stage when they can be addressed.

There are many different types of massage therapy. Passive joint movement involves stretching and moving affected joints to increase flexibility and range of motion, touch techniques increase blood flow and provide soothing warmth to skin and muscle, kneading techniques manipulate muscles and provide stimulation to deeper tissues. 

Massage therapy for cats by a trained veterinary therapist relieves stress and pain and increases flexibility and movement in your cat. It can decrease recovery time from surgery or traumatic injury. In addition, a trained and certified veterinary massage therapist may share with you some techniques that can be applied at home between professional therapy sessions. 

Massage therapy is not a substitute for veterinary care, but is useful as a rehabilitative therapy under the direction of your veterinarian.

Massage Therapy Procedure in Cats

A certified and trained veterinary massage therapist will first perform a physical examination and assessment of your cat. They will observe your cat's movement, gait, and stress or pain reactions, to determine the most appropriate therapy for your cat, and recommend any traditional veterinary therapy required. If your cat has a condition that will not benefit from massage therapy, or could be aggravated by it, or that requires additional veterinary care, the massage practitioner will recommend this and in some cases may refuse massage treatment if it is not appropriate or beneficial for your cat. 

The average massage therapy session for a cat lasts 30 minutes and may be performed a couple of times a week at first and the frequency reduced as your pet progresses. During the massage, your veterinary therapist will note your cat's responses and adjust techniques if any signs of discomfort or stress manifest.

There are several different massage techniques which have varying effects. Stroking and touch techniques affect circulation and the nervous system and have a calming affect. Kneading and passive joint movement are for muscles, ligaments and tendons. 

Massage techniques may be applied towards the heart, away from the heart, across muscle fibers or in a circular motion, depending on the area and disorder being treated. Various techniques include:

  • Passive touch: Uses no pressure or movement but provides warmth and clams your animal by placing the hand for 30-90 seconds in one spot.
  • Effleurage: Uses circular movements to improve circulation and warm tissue. It is often used at the beginning and end of a massage over the entire body.
  • Kneading: Used to provide stimulation to tissues and involves various amounts of pressure depending on whether relief for deep or superficial tissue is required. Superficial kneading may use skin rolling and pinching to stimulate the skin surface. Deep kneading may be used to affect muscle tissues. Kneading is not a technique used on surfaces where there is little tissue between the skin and the bone. Kneading helps release toxins and nutrients and increase circulation to muscle tissues. Several kneading techniques are available to your therapist, including: compression, digital kneading, finger stripping, chucking, petrissage, cross-fibre friction, angel wing, v-spread and sifting techniques.
  • Passive joint movement and stretching: Involves manipulating limbs and joints into different positions to provide relief, flexibility, and improved movement. 
  • Tellington Touch Method: A specific method involving circular touches, slides and lifts used in conjunction with other physical therapy methods to address physical and behavioral problems.
  • Most massage therapy sessions for your cat will end with stroking to provide a calming affect on your cat.

Efficacy of Massage Therapy in Cats

Massage therapy can be an effective therapy for veterinary care, used in conjunction with traditional veterinary care or physical therapy. By enhancing your cat’s circulation and metabolic functions and improving motion and flexibility, massage can benefit a variety of conditions. If your cat is suffering from medical conditions such as fever or viral or bacterial infection, these conditions require veterinary care and will not benefit from massage. Veterinary advice for any medical condition should be sought and massage therapy used in conjunction with other treatments as recommended by your vet. 

Massage Therapy Recovery in Cats

If used appropriately, there are no side effects from massage therapy and no recovery from this procedure is required. A cat that has just been administered massage therapy may be very relaxed post-therapy or may be active and playful, if relief of pain and stimulation is the result of the massage therapy session. 

Cost of Massage Therapy in Cats

Most cat massage therapy sessions are recommended to be 30 minutes long. A 30-minute long veterinary massage can range from $25 -$50 depending on your location, therapist and techniques employed.

Cat Massage Therapy Considerations

Massage therapy is not suitable for all medical disorders and can aggravate certain conditions, A certified, trained veterinary therapist will inform you if massage therapy is not appropriate for your cat’s condition. If massage therapy is not performed appropriately, it can result in trauma to muscle tissues and joints. A trained therapist should be consulted for veterinary massage therapy. A trained therapist may show you techniques to use at home between therapy sessions. These techniques should be employed as instructed, and professional treatment continued. Remember, massage therapy is useful as a rehabilitative therapy and should be used in conjunction with other therapies as directed by a veterinarian.

Massage Therapy Prevention in Cats

Since massage therapy is primarily used to address musculoskeletal and behavioral issues, providing a safe, stress-free environment for your cat will decrease the need for this form of intervention. Cats that are kept inside are less likely to experience traumatic injury, however inside cats also need to be provided with appropriate stimulation in order to avoid boredom and weight problems. Indoor exercise and play for your cat will improve your cat's overall health and avoid conditions that would require massage therapy from developing. 

Massage therapy in itself can be a form of preventative therapy, as it can uncover abnormalities such as tumors or lesions in your cat and can ensure relaxed, well-functioning muscles and good circulation, which promote overall wellness in your cat.

If your therapist directs you on techniques for providing massage to your cat, there is an added benefit to the pet owner as stroking a cat has been shown to reduce blood pressure in humans.

A healthy diet and regular veterinary care is important for your cat's overall health and to avoid conditions that would require physical therapy.