Animal massage is emerging as an effective complement to Veterinary Healthcare. Along with regular Veterinary, Acupuncture, and Chiropractic care, massage offers many benefits for your companion animals, including stress relief, stimulation of the digestive, circulatory and nervous systems, increased flexibility, and strengthening of the human-animal bond.
No animal is more suited for massage than your house rabbit. Bunnies are prone to stress related illness and can be difficult to handle during grooming sessions and Veterinary visits.Their innate fear of being lifted and confined can be lessened with regular massages. Here are some quiet-time touch tips to help you turn a devilishly grumpy Thumper into Thumper the purring lil' Angel.
First consider your bunnies' natural activity schedule. Most rabbits are more alert and thus more receptive to massage advances in the morning or evening hours. Wait at least 30 minutes after your rabbit's main meal and, because rabbits are very sensitive to smells, thoroughly wash your hands with fragrance free soap. Experiment until you find the most comforting place for the massage session. I find that for the unaccustomed bunny a tabletop with a towel placed over a non-slip mat works best. You may prefer a rug on the floor. More than likely, "Bunny with Rabbitude" will choose the spot for you. Tune into your rabbit's unique body language. Relax your arms and shoulders, calm your mind, and breathe! Massage should be fun for both of you. Mutual trust develops slowly. Your bunny WILL notice the difference between intentioned touch and simple petting. Start with a few minutes and work up to longer massages.
Have everything you need handy, perhaps a cushion for you to sit on and classical music playing. Keep an absorbent hand towel nearby as the massage may stimulate your rabbit's bladder. Fill a small spritz bottle with water for the end of the massage.
Begin by pointing bunny's face away from you and sweep your hands down bunny's entire body, face to rump. Sweep 3-4 times. Note any sensitive areas. Always stroke the fur in the direction of hair growth and try to keep one hand on bunny at all times. Rabbits need to feel grounded, so resting a hand on the shoulder area will settle bunny and make her feel secure.
Next, stroke gently between the nose, around the eyes and down the back of the head. Softly stroke the ears from the base to the tips holding the ear very lightly between your thumb and index finger. Spend some time on the face and ears. There are many acupressure points located here and you will be doing a preventative health exam at the same time. Notice any swelling, dampness or crusting. Make notes for your Vet.
Once bunny has settled in, begin making dime-sized circles down the left side of the spine. Use your thumb to create clockwise circles in the soft area just beside the spine. Work gradually from shoulder to hip being careful to use light pressure only. Never massage directly on the spinal bones. After you complete the left side continue down the right side. This may be enough massage for the first few sessions. Close each massage with 3-4 full hand sweeps, again from face to rump.
If Bun-Bun is enjoying your touch time, progress to light stroking around and down the legs, across each side of the chest, and farther back on the hip area. Once your bunny becomes addicted to short massages you can venture into the trustworthiest areas, including stroking between the toes, around and down the tail and finally, soft side to side sweeps under the lower belly. Many rabbits also enjoy the rock n' roll rhythm of both your hands on their shoulders as you alternate rolling the skin from left to right.
The ultimate goal is for bunny to accept your gentle hands creating large clockwise circles over her entire belly area. Massage the belly with bunny in a "cat stretch" standing position or cradled "baby style" in your arms. You and your Veterinarian may be thankful for this technique when Thumper has a bout with Gastrointestinal Stasis, or gut slowdown. Digestive disorders in rabbits often cause pain from gas buildup and a light tummy massage may relieve this pain until a Vet can administer relief with fluids etc. Words of caution- NEVER massage a rabbit's stomach if it is distended and hard! SEE YOUR VET A.S.A.P. WHENEVER YOU SUSPECT G.I.STASIS.
End the massage with a mist of water to your hands, then a complete sweep over Bun-Bun's loosened fur from head to rump. Your damp hands will remove the halo of hair left behind from the massage. Rub your hands together and Voila; the fur is contained. You don't want Bun-Bun ingesting this hair! As much as the little furball loves you, it is his fastidious nature to groom obsessively until he smells like a respectable lagomorph. Finally, hydration is very important. Always offer dampened fresh greens to your rabbit following a massage.
Explore the world of purposeful touch with your animal companions. You will benefit in so many ways by finding increased awareness of your rabbit's health and body condition, better ease in handling Thumper at the Vet's office, and stress-free grooming sessions. Most importantly, you will create a closer bond with your house rabbit through a sense of love, trust and well-being.
THE RELAXED RABBIT, Chandra Moira Beal
ACU-CAT, Nancy Zidonis and Amy Snow
THE TELLINGTON TOUCH, Linda Tellington-Jones