Cat Grooming: A Primer on Keeping Kitty Clean
Grooming your cat does more than just keep your cat looking her best. It's also an opportunity to bond with your cat as well as inspect her body for lumps, ticks and tender spots.
Some cats require more grooming than others. Generally, the more fur a cat has, the more grooming she will require. Senior cats require more grooming because they groom themselves less meticulously as they age.
If you acclimate your cat to the grooming process as early as possible, grooming can be incident-free. No matter whether your cat is a longhair, shorthair or no-hair, she will require at least some grooming periodically to keep her happy and healthy.
If your cat simply won't allow you to groom her, engage the services of a professional groomer.
The frequency with which you brush your cat is determined by the length and thickness of the coat as well as the time of year. Frequent brushing is essential to keep your cat from getting hairballs which can sometimes require surgery to remove.
Brush shorthaired cats once weekly and longhaired cats every other day. When the warm weather hits in the Spring, you may need to groom more often as your cat sheds her winter coat. As a rule of thumb, if you pet your cat and fur comes out, she needs brushing.
A tool like the FURminator® is especially effective at removing hair, but care should be taken when using it. Don't start by enthusiastically raking your cat's backbone and drawing blood. Gently stroke her, then draw the brush across the very top of her coat without catching any hair in the teeth or bristles. Concentrate on getting her used to the feel of the brush or comb. Then gradually work the brush more deeply into the coat, stopping short of raking the scalp. Don't force it, and stop when your cat has had enough.
If you have several cats with varying coats, you may need more than one type of brush or comb. Don't assume that what works for one will work for all. You may have to try several different brush or comb types before finding one that works well on a particular cat.
Some cats have hyper-sensitive areas, especially on the back, so take care and watch your cat's body language to ensure you don't get bitten or scratched. If you notice her pinning her ears back, take a break and continue later.
Mats are painful to your cat and can restrict movement, so they should be removed as soon as you notice them (before they become impossible to remove).
If you brush your longhaired cat every other day, it will obviate the need to remove mats. But inevitably, every longhaired cat will develop them, and you'll need to be adept at removing them without harming your cat.
The safest way to remove mats is with clippers. Have a helper hold the cat still while you shave away the mat.
If you don't have clippers you can use scissors, but exercise caution so that you don't harm the cat. Before you attempt the scissor method, have a vet tech teach you how to do it properly so that you cut the mat and not your cat.
Use scissors with blunt ends. Slide a fine-tooth comb between the mat and the skin so the skin won't get cut. Once the comb is under the mat, cut the hair between the mat and comb, like so:
If your cat has a number of mats, it's much easier and safer to take her to a professional groomer.
Bathing is easier if the cat has been accustomed to bathing since an early age. If she is not a frequent bather, you may need to prepare for battle. It helps if you have a helper so that one person can hold the cat while the other washes the cat.
Before the Bath<
- Ideally, you should trim your cat's claws or apply nail caps before the bath to reduce the possibility that you'll be scratched.
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt and gloves.
- Draw the water first, filling the tub or sink with about 4 inches of water. Bathing in a kitchen or utility room sink is often easier than a tub.
- Fill one or two buckets with warm water so that you don't need to run additional water to rinse your cat.
- Put a rubber mat in the sink or tub to provide solid footing for your cat.
- Have cat shampoo or mild baby shampoo ready with a wash cloth and a couple of dry towels (sometimes it helps to warm them in the dryer).
- If your cat is longhaired, brush thoroughly to remove knots, tangles and burrs.
- If the cat has oily stains like engine grease, motor oil or flypaper goo, pre-treat the stain with a runny edible oil (butter, bacon grease, vegetable oil) to help "melt" the stain. Do not use water. Rub the fur gently until the stain blends with the oil. Blot with a dry wash cloth. Then massage some shampoo directly into the oily patch and bathe as usual.
- Use a calm soothing voice and work as quickly as possible. Soak the cat from the neck down, using care not to get shampoo in her eyes or ears. Use just enough shampoo to clean your cat.
- Rinse the cat thoroughly, first using the water in the tub or sink. Then drain the tub and use water from the buckets to rinse at least two more times or until all traces of shampoo are gone.
- Using a wet washcloth, clean the face and head.
After the Bath
- Using the dry towels, gently press out as much water as you can from the fur before you wrap your cat in the towel. Large hand towels are handy for this step. Rub gently with one towel. When the first towel gets too wet to be effective, switch to the dry towel. Don't stop until the cat is just damp.
- If your cat is longhaired, comb out the fur before it dries.
- Leave your cat alone to finish drying in a warm room with no drafts (Most bathrooms are a good choice.) Provide a warm dry towel for her to sit on.
If Your Cat Really Really Hates Bathing
- Consider using bath wipes for cats (important: they must be made exclusively for cats, not other animals) to remove surface dirt.
As a general rule, you should trim your cat's nails at least monthly. This procedure is best done with a helper who holds the cat in his lap while you trim the claws. If your cat isn't wild about this procedure, wrap her in a towel to immobilize her, exposing one paw at a time.
As you look at the claw, you'll notice a triangular pink area which is the quick. Avoid cutting into this area, as doing so will cause bleeding and pain.
To start, hold a paw and press the toe pad to extend the claw. Talk to your cat in a calm, soothing voice while you clip the tip of each nail. Clip straight up with a vertical cut, not diagonally across the nail. This will keep the nail from splitting.
Many cats only need their front claws trimmed, so don't feel you need to trim the rear claws if they don't require it.
If you snip the quick, don't panic. Use a styptic to stop the bleeding, and calm your cat with a low soothing voice.
If your cat begins to struggle too hard, take a break and finish later.
End the session by rewarding your cat with treats and praise.
Check your cat's ears twice a month for dirt and wax buildup (and ticks if your cat spends time outdoors). Some breeds (like the Devon Rex) produce more wax than others and require more frequent cleaning.
To clean your cat's ears, enlist the aid of a helper to restrain her. Wrapping her in a towel will help. Clean the ear lobe using a cotton ball moistened with warm water to gently remove dirt, wax, and debris. After most of the debris has been removed with the cotton ball, carefully use a Q-Tip® to remove anything that remains within the cartilage of the ear. Never poke the Q-Tip into the ear canal.
Only clean the parts of the ear that are visible. If there appears to be debris inside the ear canal, have a vet remove it.
Related Advice from Other Cat Owners
How to Get Your Cat to Accept Grooming
My cat was terrible to groom when I first got her. She had to be completely shaven as she had fur "wings" off her body at least eight inches out.
What worked for us was shaving her completely, and then I would give her two days with the grooming tools out next to the treats. The next day, when she was letting me pet her, I'd casually pick one up, but I wouldn't use it on her.
We did this for probably about three more days. Eventually, I found out that she really loves getting her face scratched. So I started using the greyhound comb just on her cheeks. At first, she was a little put off, but she quickly warmed up. She loves getting her face brushed now. I'll do two or three swipes on her cheeks, and then gently do her back.
Every day, I start with her face, then slowly move to another body part. It's been about eight months, and I still don't groom her in one fell swoop, but every two days I probably finish up whole body.
The trick for me was this: when we were first starting out and saw that she was uncomfortable, I'd either move back to her face where she loved it or soothe her and give her a treat and then be done for the day.
This way, grooming was never scary. I also brushed her every day when she didn't have hair, just to keep her going and used to it, and it worked!
~Mandii E., owner of Himalayan
Shampooing Your Cat Can Help Shedding Problems
Most long haired cats need some help with their fur. Since I started showing Maine Coons, I have learned the fine art of the cat shampoo. And learned that shampooing my cats removes TONS of dead fur. I highly recommend the occasional shampoo.
My cats have no hairball problems because they are shampooed regularly. Yes, we do have shedding, but we would have more shedding if I didn't shampoo them regularly. Any shampoo that works for your cat is fine. Maine Coons tend to get greasy, and dish detergent is often used. Find out what shampoo works for your cat.
Personally, I think that if you aren't up to grooming your long haired cat, you should have chosen a short hair. On the other hand, using that as an excuse to put the cat in a shelter sounds cruel. Learn to groom.
~Valerie D., owner of Maine Coon
Constant Maintenance is Key to Controlling Cat Fur
I've come to the conclusion that constant maintenance is the key, at least for my long-haired cats. I use one of those furminator de-shedding tools to wipe out much of the undercoat, but still, even with vigilant brushing and vacuuming, there's still hair everywhere.
I balked at the price of furminators when I bought mine initially, but I feel they do work well, and the blade on mine has yet to wear out after over two years. Furminate, then brush a few times weekly, but either way, long-haired cats are prone to matted fur which needs to be clipped out periodically.
~Aaron L., owner of Domestic Long Hair
Helping Your Cat with Hairballs
You can help the hairball situation by grooming your cats with a Furminator, Zoom Groom, or the professional groomers' favorite, a metal comb. A regular bristle brush or a metal pin brush can also be useful, depending on your cat's particular fur type. Finally, a bath every once in a while (make sure to scrub well and rinse, rinse, rinse) will also do wonders for getting rid of loose and dead hair. If you help out your cat with regular grooming, there won't be so much necessity for hairball remedies or hairball control food.
~Valerie D., owner of a Maine Coon
If Your Cat Vomits a Lot
If your kitty vomits a lot and hasn't been to the vet in a while, I would take her to the vet for an exam. I have a cat that vomits a good deal sometimes and there is nothing wrong with her, as she maintains her weight. But, something could be wrong with your kitty and only a vet could diagnose the problem. When one of my cats starting vomiting and losing weight, he became allergic to the foods he was eating. It could so many things.
~Patricia P., owner of a cat
Don't Get Too Alarmed
As long as the hairball is mainly hair, I would not worry. It is a normal part of being a cat. I give my cats Petromalt, which they absolutely love and lick right off my fingers. Give it 2-3 times a week until hairball symptoms subside and then lower it to once or twice.
Brushing and bathing can also help remove the loose hair and can help reduce hairballs. I have also heard that Vaseline, butter, and canned pumpkin can help reduce hairballs (although I am not sure of the proper amounts on these last few).
~Ellie C., owner of a Domestic Shorthair