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What Is Cat Massage Therapy? Types, Benefits, Downsides & FAQ

If you’ve ever received a therapeutic massage, you know how effective it can be against severe muscle aches, muscle pain, tension, and tightness. Massage therapy also reduces muscle spasms, helps aid the rehabilitation process, and helps you regain flexibility and strength. All these benefits and more can also be provided to your cat when they receive cat massage therapy.

Cats, not surprisingly, rely on the flexibility and suppleness of their muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints as much, or more, than humans. If your cat has been injured, sick, or is getting on in years, cat massage therapy can go far toward helping cats recover or give them a better quality of life. If your feline friend is suffering and you’d like to know more about the benefits of cat massage therapy, what it does, and how it works, read on.

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How Does It Work?

Cat massage therapy is quite similar to massage therapy for humans and uses many of the same techniques. That includes manipulation (i.e., movement) of the so-called soft tissue of your cat’s body, which consists of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Cat massage therapy, like its human counterpart, also involves the application of pressure to the soft tissue in various ways. These movements and pressure are referred to as “strokes,” and a massage therapist will use a wide variety of strokes on your cat during a therapy session. Each stroke is meant to provide a different result and is used to help improve a different muscular problem or reduce a symptom your cat is suffering.

Cat massage therapy increases blood and lymph circulation in your cat’s body. While your cat is being treated, nutrients that they need to recover are also better circulated throughout their little body. Improved circulation is one of the critical benefits of cat massage therapy. It allows life-giving oxygen to be delivered throughout your cat’s body to help it heal faster.

Massage therapy also helps your cat’s body eliminate metabolic waste like feces and urine. These waste products can become trapped and delay the healing process if your cat is sick, older, or injured. By helping to eliminate them, cat massage therapy speeds up the healing process.

One of the fundamental ways cat massage therapy works is simply by relaxing your cat. An older cat, one that’s been traumatized by a recent accident, or a cat that’s been sick will typically be super tense. That tension, if left unchecked, can start to cause other physical problems that can hurt your cat even more, so getting them to relax is essential.

Another way massage therapy works for cats is to increase their flexibility. Older cats often lose muscle flexibility due to their sedentary lifestyle. Cats that have been sick and immobile lose flexibility also, and a cat that’s been through an accident and has had a cast will sometimes lose all of the flexibility in the paw or leg that was cast. Cat massage therapy significantly improves the flexibility in your cat’s muscles and, by doing so, allows them a greater range of movement in their joints with less pain.

Lastly, cat massage therapy works via the healing power of touch, which is incredibly potent. For centuries, experts in the art of massage therapy have known this secret; when applied in a loving, caring, and compassionate manner, touch has the power to heal. If your cat is hurting, just the act of a therapist putting their hands on its body can have an impactful healing effect.

Cat Massage
Image Credit: Gumpanat, Shutterstock

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The 5 Types of Cat Massage Therapy

There aren’t many types of cat massage therapy, per se, but there are a wide variety of massage techniques. Most cat massage therapists use several or all these techniques when massaging your cat. The movements they use are called massage strokes or simply strokes. Below, we’ll explain the most commonly used strokes your cat massage therapist will use when treating your cat.

1. Simple Stroke

One of the techniques is simple stroking, which is more or less petting your cat from head to toe while applying low to medium pressure. The benefit of this simple stroke is that it helps relax your cat for the more intense massage strokes to follow. This initial stroke also empowers your cat’s therapist to determine the state of its muscles and soft tissue.

For example, if there are “knots” in your cat’s muscles, one side of their body is tenser than the other, or the temperature in one part of their body is significantly different than in another. Temperature differences usually mean that some of your cat’s muscles are badly inflamed, as inflammation produces heat.

A British shorthair cat enjoying a massage
Image Credit: TigerMysterio, Shutterstock
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2. Effleurage Stroke

Another cat massage therapy stroke is called effleurage. When performing effleurage, a cat massage therapist uses their entire hand to gently but firmly massage along the main lines of a particular muscle (aka “going with the grain”).

As with all strokes used in massage, the therapist moves their hand towards the heart, never away. This stroke helps your cat’s blood circulation and effectively lowers muscle swelling and inflammation. It can also remedy edema, a type of swelling caused by poor fluid circulation.

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3. Petrissage Stroke

While simple strokes and effleurage strokes are generally performed with mild to moderate pressure, petrissage is a deeper, more powerful stroke. You can compare petrissage to kneading a ball of dough, as while it’s being performed, the massage therapist will grab, lift and roll the affected muscles and other soft tissues. Petrissage is best for relieving deep muscle tension your cat might be experiencing and also reduces muscle spasms and muscular “knots.”

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4. Skin Rolling

Skin rolling is a form of petrissage that focuses on, not surprisingly, the rolling part of the stroke. Many cats who have gone through a traumatic experience like an accident or dog attack will have a problem with their skin sticking to other, deeper tissues in their body, which isn’t good for them.

When using skin rolling, your cat’s massage therapist will work from your cat’s lower body to its upper body towards the heart. Skin rolling can increase the circulation of lymph and blood in your cat’s body, which benefits the healing process.

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5. Concussive Stroke(s)

This final stroke is called a concussive stroke, and there are three: chopping, tapping, and tapotement. All three involve the massage therapist using the edge of their hands in a rapid-fire up-and-down motion. While similar, all three concussive strokes are used slightly differently and on different parts of your cat’s body.

Massage the body of the tabby cat with the edges of the palms of your hands
Image Credit: Ekaterina Kuzovkova, Shutterstock

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The 4 Situations Where Cat Massage Therapy is Used

Cat massage therapy (aka feline therapeutic massage) is used for a wide variety of problems that your cat might be suffering. Most cat massage therapy is performed at a veterinarian’s office by a trained and licensed therapist. However, you can sometimes find therapists who work independently and have their own offices.

Some will even make house calls so that you don’t have to traumatize your cat further by putting them into a crate for travel. Below are several reasons you would want to seek a licensed cat massage therapist to treat your ill, injured or senior cat.

1. Accidents and Injuries

If your cat was hit by a car or attacked by a dog, the injuries they suffer can be devastating and take a long time to heal. Often, one or several of their muscles, ligaments, and tendons will have been damaged or torn, as well as broken bones. To help them heal faster, cat massage therapy is an excellent solution.

cat on old woman's lap
Image Credit: Pixabay
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2. Old Age

Like humans, when cats get older, their bones, joints, muscles, and other body parts become stiff and sore. When they do, your cat will have no choice but to slow down and take it easy, which can cause even more tension and stiffness. When an older cat receives cat massage therapy, it will be more relaxed, have less pain, and have more freedom of movement.

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3. Stress and Anxiety

Many situations can cause your cat to become stressed out and anxious. For example, a new baby in your home can be very stressful for a cat. Massage therapy is a wonderful elixir for stress and will help your cat to be more relaxed and able to deal with whatever life throws at it.

man holding himalayan cat
Image Credit: Suthin _Saenontad, Shutterstock
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4. Recovery after Surgery

If your cat was recently in surgery for some reason, cat massage therapy could go far toward helping them recover. Massage helps improve blood flow and, thus, oxygen flow. Also, it enhances the flow of lymph, a natural fluid that contains white blood cells, the key to healing. Lymph also has protein and fat, which your cat’s body will need in abundance as they recover from surgery.

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Advantages of Cat Massage Therapy

Cat massage therapy, as we’ve seen, has multiple benefits that will help your cat.

Some advantages cat massage delivers:
  • Reduces muscle and joint pain
  • Significantly decreases inflammation and swelling
  • Improves the uptake of nutrients and helps deliver those nutrients to your cat’s body
  • Helps restore the function of your cat’s organs after they’ve been through surgery
  • Can improve your cat’s flexibility and range of motion (ROM) after they’ve been involved in an accident
  • Can help improve your cat’s immune system and overall immunity
  • Has been shown to improve behavioral problems that some cats suffer
  • Improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and lymph throughout your cat’s body
  • Helps your cat to relax and de-stress, which can improve their well-being emotionally and physically
  • Releases endorphins that help your cat to feel better as they recover from surgery or an accident
  • Improves your cat’s quality of life as they get older

Disadvantages of Cat Massage Therapy

There are no real disadvantages of cat massage therapy per se. However, in certain situations, it should be avoided because it can hurt rather than help your cat.

Those situations include:
  • When your car is suffering from cancer
  • A cat that has an open wound anywhere on its body
  • Cats that are suffering from unstable fractures after an accident
  • A cat that’s sick and has a fever
  • A cat that has been severely traumatized
  • A cat in severe pain that hasn’t been controlled with medication

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Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about cat massage therapy.

Is petting a good substitute for cat massage therapy?

While petting your cat is essential to their health and your relationship with your cat, it’s not a substitute for massage therapy provided by a trained therapist.

Do all cats benefit from cat massage therapy?

Most cats will benefit greatly from massage therapy, but some find it highly annoying and fuss the entire time. This fussing can defeat the purpose and cause more harm than good.

A British shorthair cat enjoying a massage
Image Credit: TigerMysterio, Shutterstock

Should I use essential oils while massaging my cat?

Never use any essential oils or other paraphernalia that is typically associated with human massages on your cat. Many essential oils are highly toxic to cats, even when applied topically.

If my cat is perfectly healthy, will massage therapy be of any benefit?

Yes! Even a healthy cat will feel more relaxed, less stressed, and have improved blood and lymph flow after a massage, which is beneficial to its health.

Is cat massage therapy harmful in any way?

As long as it’s done by a trained professional, cat massage therapy is safe and will not harm your cat. Most cats love it!

Can I perform cat massage therapy on my cat?

Yes, you can. It would be helpful to take a class or watch some YouTube videos first, but there are many ways you can massage your cat yourself.

a woman's hand petting a cat
Image Credit: Yerlin Matu, Unsplash

How much does it cost to get a massage for my cat?

While prices vary across the country, the typical 30-minute cat massage session costs between $25 and $60.

Is cat massage therapy covered by pet insurance?

Many pet insurance plans cover cat massage therapy if it’s given to help them recover from an illness or injury.

My cat is a purebred show animal, will cat massage therapy benefit her?

Massage therapy can help your cat look great and relax during a competition or show.

Is cat massage therapy recommended for older cats?

Yes, very much so. A regular massage can help an older cat stay more active and have less pain due to arthritis.

Cat Massage
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Can kittens get massage therapy?

Yes, massage therapy is also beneficial for kittens, although the amount of force used is significantly less due to their smaller size.

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A Quick Reference Guide

Below is a quick reference guide to the types of massage strokes and the benefits they deliver. Most cat massage therapists will use all of these strokes during a massage therapy session.

Type of Massage Stroke Benefit
Simple Stroke Relaxation before a deep massage
Effleurage Improves circulation, reduces swelling
Petrissage Relieves deep muscle tension and knots
Skin Rolling Improved blood and lymph circulation
Concussive Stroke(s) Loosen muscles and energizes the body

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Final Thoughts

Cat massage therapy is very similar to massage therapy for humans and, as with humans, is very beneficial for your cat.  Massage therapy helps your cat in a wide variety of ways. For example, massage therapy can help your cat relax if they’re stressed out and give them better, improved mobility after an accident or injury.

Massage therapy can also be beneficial for older cats and give them a higher quality of life as they age. Cats that have been traumatized respond very well to cat massage therapy and will recover from their experience faster. In short, if your cat is recovering from surgery, was involved in an accident, suffers from anxiety, or is getting on in years, consider getting them a massage from your local cat massage therapist. A cat massage performed by a skilled therapist can make a huge difference in your cat’s life.

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Featured Image Credit: Pencil case, Shutterstock