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Feline Gentling


Gentling exercises teach cats that hands are good things and to accept positive human leadership. It is very important for cats to understand and trust humans and human hands. Establishing a daily routine of doing gentling exercises helps build the cat's trust and compliance with being handled. 

How to begin

Choose a time when the cat is sleepy and relaxed. Begin by gently rubbing the cat's back and sides by sliding the skin back and forth over the body. Couple the massage with praise. Use treats if needed to create a positive experience for the cat. Over time, increase the areas you massage. The goal is for the cat to allow and enjoy you touching every square inch of his or her body every day. Body massage not only teaches the cat that hands are good things, it also teaches the cat to allow people to take charge and control any part of his or her body during routine grooming, exams, treatments, lifting or moving the cat.

This positive association with people and being touched also helps to prevent aggression towards people.

Practical reasons to massage your cat

Teaching your cat to accept handling and body manipulation allows us the flexibility to clean muddy paws. If also allows us to inspect the cat's body for any lumps, sores, scabs or fleas. Daily routine massage helps the cat comply and accept the application of medication to any part of the body throughout life.

Starting the massage early in life, and continuing on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, communicates to the cat that he or she has nothing to fear, should not try to prevent humans from gently touching him or her anywhere, and makes it easier for the cat to accept massage as quality time with people. 

Range of motion

When the cat readily accepts the massage, the next exercise is called,  "range of motion."  Range of motion means moving or rotating each extremity of the cat as far as possible within its normal range of motion. For example, take each leg, push it close to the body, then pull it far away, pull it forward as far as it will comfortably go and then back as far as it will comfortably go. Move the head up and down, and back and forth and in a circle. Over time, move the other extremities including the head, the tail, the ears, and even the nose. With range of motion, the goal is to move every part of the body gently but somewhat against the cat's resistance, to desensitize the cat to this somewhat unnatural
type of human handling.

Positive leadership

In some cases, the cat might become tense, move away, act frightened or  aggressive, or even mouth your hand. These are signs that the cat is stressed by the handling. The best response to these signs of stress is to do less at one time, and couple each exercise with treats and praise. Do exercises daily adding more time as the cat shows acceptance. A little stress is not only okay but can be considered a positive as we want the cat to learn how to tolerate small doses of stress without acting fearful or aggressive.

Another benefit to this type of handling is that it reinforces to the cat that you are a powerful, yet kind and trustworthy leader.

Positive restraint

A gentle short hug is an extension of the gentle, loving massage and body manipulations. Hug your cat a little longer each time. If the cat becomes upset and struggles, you lose points. Once the cat can be hugged easily, try cradling the cat like a baby.  When the cat accepts this exercise, the next step is to hold the cat on your lap on his or her side for a few seconds. For some cats, these exercises may need to be done daily and extended very gradually.

Positive restraint is one of the more difficult gentling exercises. Therefore, it is important to go slowly. Use food treats during the process to reassure the cat that nothing is wrong. Praise the cat for acceptance of any restraint. As soon as the cat begins to relax, let the cat up. When you give back his or her freedom with praise and a cookie, you show the cat that you are NOT trying to hurt the cat.

Unwanted pet behavior is a leading cause of pet neglect, abuse, surrender, and euthanasia!

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