Observations on Unruffling Animals

By Barbara Janelle M.A.

Vision and Reality Conference

November, 1997

My neighbour called to ask me to come and treat her cat. Snagsi, a long-haired tortoise-shell cat, was home after a bout with FUS (Feline Urologic Syndrome) and two days at the vets. This problem can be caused by high ash content in the food that leads to a blockage in the urinary tract. The cat cannot urinate, and without rapid veterinary treatment, the animal experiences great pain and can die. Snagsi’s owners had taken him to the vet quickly, but it was two days before he was allowed to go home.

Even though he had been home several hours, Snagsi was still in a lot of discomfort. He was lethargic and having trouble urinating and excreting. Snags was on the floor in the back of the closet, unwilling to come out. I went in on my hands and knees, and unruffled and scanned his field briefly. He growled and hissed.

Snags has never learned the joy of being touched, and prefers that humans keep their distance. In his current state of discomfort, the chance of his lashing out with his claws was pretty high, so I raised my hand to twelve inches away from his fur and continued to work. He quieted down and let me unruffle his field. After a few minutes, the strong congestion over his sacral chakra and hindquarters lightened. I stopped working to allow the field to integrate the work. Snagsi stood up and walked out of the closet.

He stretched out on the floor and I was able to massage his ears for a couple of minutes. Each ear has almost 400 acupressure points, and rubbing the ears helps to normalize all systems in the body. (This approach to supporting well-being comes from Linda Tellington-Jones’ Animal Companion Training and Equine Awareness Method.)

Snags drank a bit of water and then came back and stretched out near me so I could continue to clear his field. I tried working closer to his fur, but he started to move away. I moved my hand out to about 14 inches from his fur and he relaxed and accepted the Therapeutic Touch. After five minutes of work, he went to his litter-box and urinated. He seemed more comfortable, so I went home.

The next day, my neighbour asked me to come back again. Snagsi was using his litter-box fairly regularly, but at this moment, he was very uncomfortable and walking with a severely hunched back. Again, I started the Therapeutic Touch, and again he made it clear that my hand was to stay 12 or more inches away from him. The field at the sacral chakra and hindquarters was sluggish and congested. After several minutes of work, Snags headed for the litter box and had a good bowel movement. He walked around for a few minutes with a normal gait and then urinated. He seemed much brighter and happier. The next day Snagsi was almost his normal self.

Unruffling Animals

Snagsi was not the first animal to make it clear that working within 6 inches from the coat was too close. Many animals have made this point. A few years ago, an opossum at the Oswego, New York Wildlife Rehabilitation Center made it very clear that ten inches was about as close as he could tolerate having my hand. Dogs with areas rubbed raw due to “allergies” are very sensitive and often react by growling and snapping at unruffling too close to the skin. Horses may move away from unruffling done too closely over a painful area.

I think that animals react to unruffling too close to the skin for a number of reasons:

    1. the heat of the hand may be too strong for sensitive areas
    2. a hand that is too close and moving too slowly can increase congestion and discomfort
    3. an animal may be afraid of humans or afraid of an open hand (which is too much like a grasping hand).

My work in exploring “edges” in the field (see “Working with the Edge:Scanning and Unruffling”), resulted in my recognizing that there are distinct density changes in the field over such problem sites as cuts, swellings, infected areas. Finding the place of density change (the edge) over the site and unruffling there results in much faster clearing than in unruffling within the density patch.

Please note that words such as “edge”, “density”, etc. are my way of trying to describe what I feel in the field. The “edge” may be a few inches from the skin or considerably further out.

So when I combine this understanding with the animals’ direction, I realize that it is important to be flexible about the distance from the skin in unruffling. Indeed, there are advantages to being willing to go further out from the skin to unruffle. Last summer a local farmer asked me to work with one of his dairy cows. The veterinarian suspected a twisted stomach and was planning to operate late in the day. Meanwhile the cow was in considerable discomfort: her body was very tense, her breathing rapid, and her eyes were inward-looking and staring.

I have very limited experience with cows. I do know that they can give a lightning-fast kick in any direction. Wanting to remain safe, I chose to work at a distance of several feet from the cow. I found an edge there that was very apparent and when I thoroughly unruffled that edge, she began breathing better and her entire body relaxed. Therapeutic Touch, even at this distance, kept her more comfortable until the vet came and operated on her.


Animals communicate very clearly that, in some situations, unruffling too close to the skin is uncomfortable and unacceptable. When working with them, it is essential to pay attention to their directives both for their comfort and for human safety. The willingness to move the hand farther out from the skin often leads to gentler and more effective Therapeutic Touch treatments with animals.

Tellington-Jones, Linda with Sybil Taylor. The Tellington Touch. New York: Viking, 1992.

Barbara Janelle. “Working with the Edge: Scanning and Unruffling.” First Published In Touch, Vol. VIII, no. 2, June 1996