Cats are unique massage subjects that require equally unique techniques and approaches to massage. As massage therapists our human clients come to us for massage and are willingly put their bodies under our hands for nurturing. With animal massage generally we go to our clients if they are cats or horses. Dogs can be brought to us and are either willing or unwilling to be massaged depending on their mood or energy level. It is to expensive to bring horses to us and cats do not travel well so it is best for us to go to them.
Before we accept the appointment we should get an approval from the clients supervising DVM and obtain a copy of any medical history from the DVM’s who have treated the animal. The animals caretaker should ask the DVM if their are any contraindications or cautions to massage and this should be documented through email or a letter from the DVM. Every state in the USA regulates veterinary practice so you should become familiar with the laws in your own state if you wish to do professional animal massage. It is safe to say that all states require a DVM to supervise any treatment done with animals that constitutes veterinary practice and each state defines what constitutes veterinary practice in that state. Even if the states didn’t regulate animal massage or veterinary practice you should understand that DVM’s have gone to veterinary medical schools for at least four years and generally have more knowledge of health problems in animals than the vast majority of animal massage therapists. We want to help animals with massage and not hurt them so we should rely on the DVM’s education and experience in the field to guide us.
Humans can give us oral feedback that we can use to modify our treatment. Animals generally communicate with us in their own language of body positioning that other animals will be able to read clearly so it is important for an animal massage therapist to learn the language of each animal species that they plan to work with so that we are speaking the same language or at least understanding the signals that they are communicating to us with.
An excellent book for learning the language of cats is
When we arrive at the cats residence we will need to complete a client intake form if we haven’t had the cats caretaker do this before hand. After we have completed a thorough intake, both written and oral, and determined that there are no general or local contraindications for massage we should do a gait analysis to determine if there is any gaiting irregularities. If the cat is in the room moving around during the intake you should watch the cats movements for any irregularities. If the cat is not moving around we can encourage the cat to move with play toys or by having the cats caretaker offer them treats and move around the room to different locations to get the treats. If we do find any gaiting irregularities we should note them on the client assessment form and determine which muscles and or bones are involved before determining our treatment plan. If we can, we should film the cat in motion and keep a record of the gait analysis so we can slow the motion down on our computer and get a clearer picture of what is happening with the cats gait. We can also use this material for reassessment purposes to determine if the massages we have done is helping correct the faulty gait.
The time that we spend on doing a thorough intake and gait analysis will also allow the cat to get familiar with us and scent mark us with their tail and cheeks. If the cat does not mark us during this time we can safely assume that the cat is not acting normally towards us and might have some psychological problems as well, because cats normally mark anything that comes into their domain. If the cat is reluctant to mark us and come to us we can try to entice it with healthy treats or have the animals caretaker hold the cat in their lap so we can approach the cat while the cat is in a safe place. If the cat is still fearful we can use a feather to stroke the cat or put a light towel around the cat leaving the head exposed and allowing the cats legs to be free to move. If the cat has a history of aggression to humans we will need to be very cautious in our approach. Make sure that you have the caretaker put a folded towel on their lap or we should put a folded towel in our lap if we have the cat in our lap so the cat doesn’t scratch us or them while trying to get away. We can stroke the exposed head of the cat with a feather or the back of the closed fingers of our hand so we don’t get bitten. Stroke with the feather over the towel lightly so the cat gets used to this light touch through the towel. Linda Tellington-Jones has a great video on TTouch for cats
that shows the correct approach for aggressive cats. Using her method of TTouch for aggressive cats you should be able to significant progress in a few ten to fifteen minute sessions. Gaining the cats trust is crucial to making progress in a massage with cats. We are trying to get a parasympathetic nervous system response that disengages the fight-flight-freeze mechanisms of the nervous system.
If the cat does mark us and allows us to touch them we should begin with soft effleurage strokes from muzzle to tail a few time and off of the cranial and caudal limbs to determine if their are any hot or cold areas, painful areas that the cat will not let you touch, or particularly empty or full areas of tissue. For a clinical massage therapist we might also do a pulse diagnosis from the traditional Chinese acupressure pulse points along the femoral artery on the medial surface of the caudal limbs or the radial artery pulse on the cranial limbs. A professional animal massage therapist should pause after the initial palpations and create a treatment plan at this point so the animal will benefit from a well planned session that takes into account all of the information that has been gleaned from the written and oral intake, gait analysis, pulse diagnosis and opening palpation.