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Is massage therapy allowed in cats?

With more pet parents and vets looking to approach veterinary care holistically, complementary treatments such as massage therapy are becoming more common. You’ve probably heard of massage therapy for dogs, but is massage therapy allowed in cats? Let’s take a look at what massage therapy for cats involves, its benefits, and who can carry it out.

What is massage therapy for cats?

You may be surprised to learn that massage therapy for cats is not a million miles from the massage that you may well enjoy yourself! Massage therapy involves manipulating and applying pressure to the soft tissues in various ways.

Massage therapy in cats usually starts with stroking, from their head to the tail and down their limbs. This relaxes the cat, as well as allowing the therapist to detect any abnormalities.

The rest of the massage will depend on what the treatment aims of the massage are, and partly on the temperament of the cat! Other techniques (known as ‘strokes’) used include firm strokes (effleurage), a form of kneading (petrissage), skin rolling and tapping (concussive stroke).

While many cats really enjoy massage, some may well become fractious. These cats may benefit from acclimatisation sessions, or massage therapy may not be a good fit for them. Remember, every cat is unique!

What are the benefits of massage therapy?

Firstly, it’s important to note that when we talk about ‘massage therapy’, we are talking about therapeutic massage carried out by a trained individual (see below for who can perform massage therapy in cats). Massage therapy can be used for pain relief when used alongside medication, and can help to improve range of movement of the joints. It can also help to alleviate swelling and oedema (fluid build-up in the tissues) by improving circulation (blood and lymph flow). So massage therapy can be useful in a variety of situations, including:

  • Osteoarthritis and other chronic pain conditions
  • Rehabilitation after orthopaedic surgery
  • Rehabilitation after soft tissue injury 
  • As part of oedema management
  • During periods of prolonged recumbency 

In humans, massage has been reported to alleviate stress and anxiety, so the same may well be true for some pets.

When is massage therapy not appropriate?

Massage therapy should not be used where there is any infection; over open wounds; around fractures; or over tumours. 

Massage therapy should also not be started before any pain is being successfully treated with medication. 

Massage is not usually appropriate in cats with blood-clotting disorders. 

Who can perform massage therapy in cats?

Massage therapy can only be carried out by trained musculoskeletal therapists, or physiotherapists, who are over the age of 18 years. It’s important to make sure that the therapist is adequately qualified and insured, since an untrained person could do more harm than good. Animals treated by, or seen by, musculoskeletal therapists must be registered with a veterinary surgeon.

The RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) has recently changed the regulations around musculoskeletal therapists. Treatment by massage therapists (i.e. using massage to treat a specific condition, injury or ailment) can only be carried out when a veterinary surgeon has first examined the cat in person, and has referred the cat to a suitably qualified musculoskeletal therapist. 

You do not need a referral for massage therapy for a healthy animal. However, the animal must still be registered with a vet. If you or the massage therapist discover any signs of illness or injury, then you must stop the massage therapy and book a consult with your vet.

Although you don’t need a referral from your vet for massage in a healthy cat, it’s definitely still best to discuss this with your vet first. They will be able to advise you on whether massage therapy is safe for your cat, and to point you in the direction of suitably qualified therapists. After all, the RCVS still considers them part of the ‘vet-led’ team.

The take home message?

Massage therapy for cats can have many benefits. Many cats really enjoy it in the right hands! Massage therapy can only be carried out on cats who are registered with a veterinary surgery. It can only be performed by a suitably qualified adult musculoskeletal therapist. If the massage therapy is being used to treat an injury, illness or medical condition, then a veterinary surgeon must first examine your cat and then refer them for massage therapy. Although a referral is not compulsory for massage on healthy cats, it’s still sensible to consult your vet first.

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