There is no denying it; cats are masters of the stretch!
Whether it’s a flex before breakfast or a yawn after dinner, cats have long understood the many benefits that come with stretching. Like people, cats stretch to keep themselves supple and feeling good. This is because a decent stretching program can help reduce the risk of injury by improving circulation to an area (I.e bringing in nutrients and oxygen and removing waste products), decreasing muscle tightness, improving joint range of motion, and enhancing the overall mechanical efficiency and functional performance of the musculoskeletal system. Being hunters, it is imperative that our feline friends are ready for sudden bursts of motion at any moment. They also need to ensure that their muscles are warm and ready for action after long bouts of prey-stalking.
Although cats regularly stretch themselves out, these non-specific, patient-controlled stretches are known as active stretches, and are not necessarily as effective as targeted, assisted (or passive) stretching. Older cats may also struggle to indulge in stretches which would be advantageous to them. It is, therefore, just as important for cats to be on a regular stretching program as it is for dogs and people!
Stretches, when executed properly, are relaxing and enjoyable, and performing them daily with your cat will also help to strengthen your bond – a form of kitty-yoga if you will. Below are some guidelines to help you get started:
1.What types of stretches can I do with my cat?
There a few generalized stretches that you can do daily with your whiskered companion to ensure that he or she is always feeling fantastic!
– The Kitty Soft-Paws (forelimb protraction stretch)
Wait till your cat is sitting or lying on his side. Cup behind his elbow in your hand and gently extend the limb forward until you feel the start of resistance.
– The Cool Cat (forelimb retraction stretch)
Wait till your cat is sitting or lying on his side. Place your hand in front of his elbow and shoulder and gently stretch the limb backward until you feel the start of resistance.
– The Prepare-To-Pummel (hindlimb protraction stretch)
Wait till your cat is lying on his side. Gently grasp your cat’s hindlimb at his hock (I.e ankle joint) with one hand, while placing your other hand in front of his stifle (knee) and extend his limb forwards until you feel the beginning of resistance.
– The Meown-Walk (hindlimb retraction stretch)
Wait till your cat is lying on his side. Gently grasp your kitten’s hindlimb at his hock (I.e ankle joint) and extend his limb backwards until you feel the beginnings of resistance.
– The Down-With-Dog (spinal and hamstrings stretch)
Most cats love being scratched at the base of their tail and will, in response, stand on their tip-toes behind and move into a bowing position in front. This stretches out the spine and also encourages a gentle hamstrings stretch.
- For how long should I hold the stretch?
Our goal with any stretch is usually to hold it for between 15-20s, but it can occasionally take a while to work your way up to this number. Generally, it is advised to stretch once or twice daily and perform each stretch 3 times in a session.
- Important Tips:
- All animals have receptors in their muscles that are activated when a stretch is performed too quickly. This will stimulate the muscle to contract and the cat will fight against the movement. This is why it is extremely important to do each stretch slowly and carefully.
- Stretching cold muscles can result in injury – make sure your cat is warmed up before your sessions together.
- If your cat has a musculoskeletal injury, stretching will not always be indicated. For a specific stretching program that is tailored to your individual cat’s needs, it is important to contact a registered animal physiotherapist.
- Not all cats will tolerate being stretched In the manners described above, so it will be up to you to modify the way you perform the stretch to your individual pet’s needs. This may mean picking your cat up to keep him from wiggling away or using treats or toys to encourage the stretch that you want.
Remember, Cats may have nine lives but that doesn’t mean that they are immune to injuries and arthritis – it just means that they hide their pain well. A stretching program is both a fantastic way of helping to prevent injury, as well as of alleviating pain that is already present and that you may not even be aware of!