What to Expect in a Small Animal Massage Session

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Every time I give a cat or dog a massage for the first time, they express surprise in some way regardless of whether I’m meeting them for the first time or have known them for years. Just as you recognize the difference between a comforting back rub from a loved one and a professional massage, animals know right away that massage isn’t the usual petting with which they’re familiar. Even when the massage may look a lot like petting, my intention is different and the animal senses that.

There are different types of surprise reactions I’ve seen with both cats and dogs. Some of them look at me and their parent with an expression of, “this is the best thing ever, why doesn’t this happen every day?” Others will be much more skeptical and hesitant, especially those with lots of pain or anxiety. They may react more with an expression that says, “what’s this? I’m not sure I like it. ”

The latter group tends to want less hands-on time (at least initially) and it may take several visits for them to really relax into it. If you’re scheduling a massage session for your cat or dog, whether it’s a wellness treat or to address specific conditions, there are different ways they may react regardless of how much they seem to like everyone and love touch.

What to Expect in your First Session:

  1. After I arrive at your home, you’ll introduce me to your pet. With most dogs, this happens right away. But with cats, I may have to ignore them for awhile until it’s their idea to come say hello. (When I’ve worked in homes with both cats and dogs, the cat gets particularly interested once it sees the dog being massaged!)

  2. We’ll discuss health history and any concerns you have about the animal’s physical and emotional state. Depending on the animal, I may introduce touch at this point (if they’re ready) or we may just be talking and allowing the pet to get used to my presence while I take notes.

  3. Once the session begins, try not to have expectations of how your pet will behave. They didn’t request the session and don’t really know what is about to happen. Some common behaviors:

    • While humans will happily lay still for a 2 hour massage, cats and dogs may walk away often. They may need water, food, or potty breaks during the session. Walking around also helps them to integrate the bodywork and notice how they feel.

    • Instead of walking away, many animals will give me signals that they’re either unsure about a technique or flat out don’t like it. This lets me know it’s time to try something different.

    • Sometimes massage makes them more energized and they may want to play for a bit before returning to massage.

    • In the first couple of visits, we may only get a few minutes of hands-on time, especially if they’re an anxious or shy animal. I don’t force anything on them, and often just a few minutes of hands-on time is enough to make a big change in a cat or dog. Animals are very sensitive to energy and will incorporate the changes more quickly than humans.

    • Of course, some animals love it and will lay still for the entire massage. I’ve even had a few try to sit on me to prevent me from leaving because they wanted more after a full hour!

  4. I will leave you with any suggestions or ideas I have for what you can do to continue the benefits of the work. This may include showing a technique they particularly enjoy.

Every session will be different depending how your pet is feeling each day. There are a few things you can do to prepare for the session to make it easier for them to receive:

  • Try to schedule at a time when your home is quiet and free of other distractions

  • If possible, schedule for a time of day that they are normally less active and not a meal-time.

  • Create a comfortable and calm space for them to relax during the massage, perhaps with their favorite bed or blanket on the floor. Play some calming music to encourage peacefulness.

Like humans, many animals are extra sleepy after a massage. While an easy walk may be beneficial, don’t plan for anything strenuous after the session and just let them sleep if they need to rest.