On writing this title, I can already feel the raised eyebrows and hear “Seriously?” in my head. I thought the same thing. After all the things we already have to do for Kitty, it can seem over the top to add yet another thing. Hear me out. There are a lot of benefits and almost no extra work for you. Think of Kitty massage as targeted petting. The benefits are endless including reduction of pain and inflammation, stimulation of the endocrine system, getting the endorphins flowing, and relieving stress. After all, there is a reason we humans sometimes pay an arm and a leg to get a massage – it is awesome!
We know that Kitty will rub their cheeks and body against objects to leave their scent, and in watching them, this really seems to be a pleasurable thing. There are a lot of glands and nerve centers around the face and cheeks. The nerve centers around the whiskers are very sensitive as they can serve as antennae to detect danger and alert them if their latest hiding place is too narrow for the rest of their body. The top of the head at the ears and near the eyes stimulate calm and relaxation. We all know scratching Kitty’s cheeks and chin will usually start that purring. Instead of stroking or scratching, try a little gentle pressure in these areas. All of my cats seem to love a circular slightly firm massage above the eyes and in the cheek area. Keep in mind, I have four cats, and they basically agree on nothing, so this must be a pretty good thing. As well, there is another set of glands near the tail on the back. This is why when scratching that area, Kitty will usually arch their back up for more. We all know what our own Kitty likes already, and it is so easy to take a half step up to massage.
Is this really beneficial to Kitty’s health? Yes! It is also beneficial to their humans. It is very difficult to be stressed out while petting or massaging a purring cat. It is not just the glands we can focus on either. As many of us have aging kitties, the same basic massage principles that apply to human muscles can work for Kitty as well. Gentle massage around their large muscle groups such as the shoulders and hips can relieve pain from arthritis and release muscle tension. This can help keep Kitty active even as they grow older. I usually start at their face and head to get Kitty nice and happy and then work my way over their entire body. It is okay if Kitty gives you “the look” when you first try this. Just let them go, and try again the next day or another time when they are more likely to accept extra attention. Some cats feel trapped if pet or massaged with two hands. It is completely okay to use one hand if Kitty prefers. We really want Kitty to enjoy this new attention so the benefits can continue to build over time.
Stimulating the endocrine system is another HUGE benefit of massage therapy. Remember, that pancreas is part of the endocrine system, and while we obviously cannot massage that, we can get the other glands stimulated, and hope that pancreas will eventually follow. Instead of just scratching the cheeks, try a slightly firm circular motion there as well. This will really get their salivary glands going and stimulate that all-important scent marking Kitty loves. (They may drool – fair warning.) Starting with this area will help relax Kitty and allow you to work your way around their entire body. Even if Kitty is not a “lap cat”, go to them, or work on massage at the times throughout the day when they come to visit. It does not have to be a whole body session at once. Sometimes, I will go pet them while they are napping, and my kitties are open for just about anything that involves attention, including rolling over for some belly rubbing, which is NOT a regular thing in my house. (Full disclosure: I cannot resist their little paws kneading in the air, so I do this A LOT!)
Besides the benefits of the massage itself, this can help you relax too. As well, periodic massage all over Kitty’s body can alert you to potential health issues early on. Perhaps, Kitty shies away when you get to an area of the hip or shoulder. If that is the case, keep an eye on how they walk or if they are guarding that leg or limping. Make a note in your journal of any irregularities so you can track if they are improving or getting worse. Massage can also be an easy way to catch things like skin irritation which we may not see until it is bad enough to cause fur to fall out, areas of swelling, small lumps, and other less visible issues. We all know catching problems early is of huge benefit leading to shorter treatment in many cases. For this reason alone, a bit of massage can be an amazing benefit for Kitty.
Overall, the benefits of massage are many and underrated a lot of times. However, if you try it out, you will likely find that Kitty will tolerate it well, add to more bonding time, and allow for a thorough exam while making Kitty feel good! These techniques will also help you next week when we talk about desensitizing Kitty for testing, injections, and other medical treatments at home.
The Feline Diabetes Support Group on FB is always available for support.
*Shipping Update: Things are moving with some delays here and there. As COVID cases are rising, I have had a few supplier e-mails stating deliveries will be delayed because an employee tested positive, and they are, of course, taking steps to clean and mitigate the spreading of the disease. If this happens to you, please try to be patient. I am happy to wait a little longer if it helps keep people safe.