Most massage clients are happy to see their therapists—but Julie Polvinen often receives over-the-top greetings in the form of meows, purrs and head rubs. As a certified small animal massage therapist, she counts several cats among her furry clientele.
Arthritis and other issues associated with aging are a major reason people seek massage for their cats, and an increasing number of veterinarians recommend it for their patients. Like humans, cats also experience stress relief from massage.
Calming for Cats
“It’s very calming for them,” said licensed massage practitioner and small animal massage practitioner Jennifer L. Streit, owner of Hands to Paws Animal Massage in Seattle, Washington. Streit also does abdominal massage, which can help relieve constipation, a common problem in cats.
Massage often positively affects cats’ behavior. Polvinen experienced this firsthand when she started massaging her 15-year-old cat, Nonnie, who had always had trouble socializing with humans.
“She would lunge at your ankles, or swipe you with her paw and grab your shirt—or skin,” Polvinen said.
She started with 10-minute sessions, gradually increasing their length. Nonnie became more playful; was able to jump higher; and her behavior was transformed. “She went from crabby to a little more friendly … to extremely loving.”
Considerations for Cats
Many cats aren’t eager to greet strangers. Polvinen handles this issue with first-time clients by ignoring the cat, doing her medical intake with the owner, until the cat takes an interest in her. Streit soothes nervous clients using reiki, and resorts to reiki-only sessions for fearful felines who won’t accept touch.
Massage techniques are similar to those used on humans, adjusted for cats’ size and preferences. For example, most cats enjoy having the head, face, neck and shoulders touched, but may become aggressive if the stomach or tail is handled. Sessions begin with simple patting and graduate into effleurage and other strokes, delivered with healing intention, for as long as the cat will allow.
“You have to watch body language 100 percent of the time,” Polvinen said. “The animals are our boss.”
About the Author
Allison Payne is associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and managing editor of futureLMT.com, MASSAGE Magazine’s publication for student and beginning massage therapists. She has written several articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Military Life Armed This Veteran for a New Career—Massage.”