|Yes, since I show Maine Coons, I've only seen Norwegian Forest Cats in the ring, and don't know how fluffy they are supposed to be. If you have a breeder or mentor he/she should be able to answer this question. You can communicate with other NFC owners at http://www.norwegianforestcatbreedclub.org
I myself joined the NFC club just in order to answer your question, but didn't find any information about grooming that was new to me. You should consider joining, though--it's free. They do ask you (oddly) why you want to join, but I'm sure that if you say you have a Wegie and want to show it, they'll let you join. It takes a day or so, however.
I also checked the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) site to see what the NFC breed standard says about coat. It didn't say anything about fluffiess, but from what I've seen at shows, it seems that NFCs are fluffier than Maine Coons, partly because the coat is somewhat different in texture, and perhaps partly because of different grooming techniques. Taking hints from Maine Coon and Persian exhibitors might be a good idea, as I suspect that NFC grooming falls somewhere in between the two breeds. There's a very good article somewhere on the Web about shampooing/bathing/grooming Maine Coons (you'll find it if you search), and PandEcats.com is a resource for Persian and Exotic breeders. However, PandEcats requires a subscription, and takes only PayPal.
Remember that every exhibitor has their own grooming routine, and that this routine will change and become refined as the exhibitor gains more experience. You don't have to be perfect your first time, and other exhibitors will give you advice. However, good grooming ("presentation") is always a plus in the ring; judges will often tell novices to hone their grooming skills, for example. As I noted in my post on grooming powder, I'm considered good at grooming, but I learned mostly by trial and error. I've had three Regional Winners (Harvey, Harvard, and Lowell) so far, and all three have imperfections (Harvey is too skinny, Harvard and Lowell don't have fluffy tails) that I've tried to cover up as much as possible with good grooming. This isn't considered cheating, just a smart strategy, and the judges appreciate it.
Grooming can be divided into the following steps:
1. Initial preparation
Decide when to bathe your cat. Most exhibitors I know bathe their cats the night before the show, but I like to do it the morning of the show, so that the cat is freshly groomed. This means getting up at around 4 a.m. Some cats (Harvard is one) actually look better if they are given their show bath two days or so before the show, so that the natural sheen can return to the fur. Whatever you do, don’t do what I’ve done on more than one occasion—take a half-wet cat to a show. I’ve been penalized for this, but sometimes I oversleep, or underestimate how much time I’ll need.
Decide where to bathe your cat. Most people do it at the sink, but I don't have a sink large enough, so I do it in the bathtub. A hand-held shower head makes rinsing much easier. Then, put your grooming supplies next to where you're going to bathe your cat--you don't want to have to run to get something when your cat is midway through its bath. Will you be doing this solo, or getting some help? Some people find it easier to bathe a cat with a partner--one holds the cat, the other does the bathing. I do it alone. Ideally, your cat should have been acclimated to baths since it was a kitten; if not, some cats don't like bathing much, while others don't seem to mind. I've never had a cat who enjoys show baths, but they do seem to appreciate being clean afterwards, and the fact that dead and loose fur has been removed by the bath, so that they don't have to hack it up as hairballs. Aside from things like degreaser, shampoo, and rinse, also make sure that you have towels on hand. I like to drop a large towel on the cat right after its bath so I don’t have to chase a wet cat all over the house.
Next, prepare your cat. First, cut its nails. I always forget to do this until the cat is already in the tub, so I keep an extra pair of nail cutters in the bathing area. A basic comb-out with a metal comb should be enough, but if you have mats, try to detangle them slowly with your fingers. Avoid using scissors on mats; it's much easier than you may think to nick your cat's skin with them. If you must use a sharp blade of some sort on a mat, you can use a letter opener (the kind with a sharp metal blade inside a plastic square) or a seam ripper--the kind used in sewing. Insert the blade at the top of the mat, divide the mat with your fingers, and proceed downwards, pulling out dead fur as necessary. (No, cats don't like this.)
Regarding combs, groomers and cat show exhibitors swear by Greyhound brand metal combs from Belgium, but any metal comb that doesn’t have sharp teeth that might hurt the cat’s skin should be adequate. You should have one comb with wide teeth, and one with finer teeth; some combs have both in the same comb. The more widely spaced teeth are good for fluffing out the tail; the finer teeth are good for areas where the fur is silkier. I also use a slicker brush, mainly on the ruff, to give it volume.
Most exhibitors I know use "Groomer's Goop." This is similar to the Goop used to get grease and dirt off human hands, but is designed for dogs and cats. Norwegian Forest cats, like Maine Coons, have a naturally oily coat that makes it waterproof to withstand harsh climates. Degreasing (along with rinsing and drying) is the most important step in making your cat fluffy and clean. It looks like Crisco, but it works, and it doesn't harm your cat's coat. I am too lazy to check to see who makes it, but it's an American product, and available over the Internet or at cat shows if it isn't in your local pet store.
Apply the Goop before getting your cat wet. Avoid the face, but apply it everywhere else, concentrating on areas that are greasy, that should be fluffy, or that are stained. This means paying special attention to the area behind the ears, the neck and ruff, the armpits, the fluffy area on the back of the legs, the tail, and white areas that are yellowed. With Maine Coons, at least, oil tends to concentrate on the area on top of where the tail meets the body, so make sure that you rub that area well. You will be rubbing all the areas where you have applied the Goop, but especially the ones mentioned above. If your cat has yellowed feet, that's a separate problem that I'll address in another post if necessary.
After rubbing in the Goop, let it sit for a minute or so, then rinse it off as well you can with (preferably) a hand-held shower head. Not all the greasiness will be removed by water, which necessitates the next step, shampooing.
Once a cat gets wet, I’ve found that it generally just gives up and stops trying to get away. Regarding water temperature, I usually choose a temperature that is pleasantly warm (to me) but not too hot.
There are lots of shampoos out there, but dish detergent is used by many exhibitors. It cuts grease and is non-toxic. Many people like Dawn, the blue stuff. It should be diluted, although I cheat by squirting it on the cat’s wet fur and mixing it in, the way you do when you shampoo your own hair. Dawn or other detergents are great, but can dry out the fur, depending on your cat’s fur type. As I explained in my grooming powder post, Lowell has very greasy fur that really needs a lot of scrubbing with detergent, whereas poor Harvard got the same treatment, but his fur got somewhat dry and brittle. Make sure you pay extra attention to the greasy areas—behind the ears, the ruff, the armpits, the base of the tail, and the breeches.
Usually, I follow the detergent with a number of different shampoos, rinsing thoroughly after each “course.” There are degreasing shampoos, clarifying shampoos, texturizing shampoos, color enhancing shampoos…I change my routine each time I give a show bath, but I usually use a clarifying shampoo after the detergent, then a color enhancing shampoo (I’d advise you to use a whitening one), then a texturizing shampoo.
There are many different brands out there, but many people like the F1R2 products. They have shampoos for different purposes (texturizing, whitening, etc.) and coat types. Jerob House of Anju is another American brand common in Japan. Like F1R2, it has a number of varieties. I like Jerob’s texturizing spray, but while I’ve used their shampoos sucessfully, I don’t like the fact that they are perfumed (F1R2 products aren’t fragranced). You have to rinse very, very hard to get out the fragrance of a scented shampoo. It may be a nice fragrance from the human standpoint, but a cat would rather smell like its own saliva. If you don’t wash out a scented shampoo very thoroughly, your cat may spend the entire show grooming itself to get the smell out.
Fluffiness depends on degreasing, and it’s not just the fur that’s greasy, but also the skin, at least in the case of Maine Coons. Make sure that when you use Goop and shampoos that you scrub all the way down to the skin. When the skin has been sufficiently degreased, you’ll get a “squeaky clean” feeling when you rub it. Your fingers can tell you whether the grease is gone, or whether the shampoo has been rinsed out thoroughly or not. I’ve never had a cat get dry skin, even from weekly show shampoos, but, as I wrote above, Harvard did get dry fur from overzealous shampooing.
When grooming a longhaired cat, you always walk a fine line between washing thoroughly and washing too much. As this past year’s show season progressed, I noticed (as did the other exhibitors and the judges) that Lowell and Harvard were getting LESS fluffy because they were losing too much fur. The first time a cat gets a show bath, it’s likely to lose wads of fur, but subsequent shampoo routines probably should be shorter; if you get gobs of fur coming out each time, that’s not good. Harvey got the same shampoo routine, but didn’t seem to lose much fur.
Cat show exhibitors like the phrase “Rinse, rinse, rinse.” Rinsing is extremely important. You want to get out all of the remaining grease, dirt, and shampoo residue. Assume that you will spend at least five minutes rinsing your cat (again, preferably with a hand-held shower head). Whether you use a conditioner or not depends on your cat’s coat. As with humans, conditioners can make your cat’s coat oily. On the other hand, they are good for dry coats, help control static electricity, and texturizing rinses can help fluff up the fur. If you use a rinse, it should be thoroughly rinsed out with warm water. I like to use a white vinegar rinse as the final step; white vinegar diluted in water and dispensed with a spray bottle is convenient (in fact, I use it on my own hair). This gets rid of even more residue, and makes the fur look healthy and shiny. Rinse with water until you can’t smell the vinegar anymore. I’ve never heard of a cat harmed by a vinegar rinse; just be sure to rinse it out well.
Depending on the size of the cat and its fur type, the amount of time needed for the bath differs, but for a full grown Maine Coon, it usually takes me around 30 minutes.
Before you throw a towel over your cat, and when it’s still in the tub or sink, squeeze as much water as possible out of the tail, ruff, breeches, and feet (because feet take a long time to dry, for some odd reason). Then wrap your cat in a towel (some people use towels warmed in the dryer, but I don’t have a dryer). Rub the cat with a towel to get out as much water as possible. Paper towels are also useful for blotting up the excess water that collects in the tail and feet.
The next step is the hair dryer. Using a hair dryer directly on the cat’s coat while repeatedly combing and backcombing is the best way to create a fluffy coat, but many cats are afraid of the hair dryer. If you look at Lowell’s page, you’ll see my hand and wrist after he bit me when I tried the dryer the first time. I had to go to the hospital after that show and get an IV of antibiotics and a week’s prescription of oral antibiotics for that. If your cat is going to savage you when you dry it, save yourself and your cat a lot of pain and try the alternative method I will describe below. Bumpurr, by the way, gives excellent advice on how to train a cat to get used to the hair dryer, but it helps if you start when your cat is still a kitten, and you have to do it gradually over a number of sessions.
If your cat will put up with the hair dryer, you have various options. I usually clasp the cat firmly, sitting it on my lap, and use my right hand to hold the dryer or comb. I will often rub and separate the fur with my left hand while drying it with my right. If you have a partner, the partner can take charge of holding the cat and or combing it. If you have a hair dryer stand, that makes it even easier.
You don’t need to buy a groomer’s dryer or dryer stand—both are hideously expensive. A hair dryer and hair dryer stand meant for people are fine. Make sure you get a hair dryer with lots of power, since it’s the wind speed that’s going to make your cat’s fur extra fluffy. Set the hair dryer to warm, or hot if you make sure to keep the dryer far enough away from the cat’s skin so that it will not burn it. If the dryer is directed on the hand that is rubbing or combing the fur, you’ll know if the temperature gets too hot. Obviously, the hotter the air and the faster it’s moving, the faster your cat will dry. When I dry my cats this way, an adult male will take around 45 minutes to dry thoroughly, or at least to the point where it is only slightly damp.
I use a metal comb while drying, backcombing in order to increase volume and promote drying, and then forward combing to smooth out the fur again. I don’t know about NFCs, but Maine Coons will get curls on their breeches and stomach if the fur isn’t dried properly. I spray texturizer spray on the ruff and tail. On the ruff, I use a slicker brush to backcomb the fur while drying it, and on the tail, I backcomb the fur and then dry it thoroughly, forward combing as the final step.
For some odd reason, the stomach and feet are always the last to dry. Blotting these areas with a paper towel while drying them is effective, I’ve found.
After drying is complete, you may want to spray on a finishing spray, like Show Sheen or Bay Rum. This can add luster to the cat’s coat, if needed, straighten out poodle curls, and cut static electricity. You can prevent these sprays from puddling on one particular area by spraying them on the comb rather than directly on the fur. Conversely, once the coat is dry, you can use a grooming powder (dry shampoo or cornstarch), to add volume and keep hair from clumping, or a color enhancer. If you use a powder, make sure that it’s well combed out, or your cat will leave powder on the judging table and/or sneeze.
In the case that your cat refuses to tolerate a hair dryer, you can put it in a large carrier, the square plastic type with a metal grill door in the front (the type used for air cargo transport—the bigger the better). Put an absorbent wee wee pad on the bottom of the carrier and put the cat inside. Close the door firmly. Aim a hair dryer on a stand at the door. A fan heater can also be used, but a hair dryer has greater air speed. This method can take several hours, and the cat will not be uniformly dry; you’ll have to do some combing out and waiting for the fur to dry naturally. This method will not give as much fluffiness as using the dryer directly on the cat, but you can make up for this to a certain extent by doing a lot of backcombing when you remove the damp cat from the carrier. Doing this in front of a space heater or in the warm sunlight is pleasant and speeds up the process. (I often do it in taxis on the way to the show.)
The cleaner the fur, the less time it will take for it to dry, I’ve been told. But depending on the method used, I’ve found that a full show grooming routine takes between two and three hours. Again, it depends on the size of the cat and the type of coat.
6. The finished product
A well-groomed longhaired cat should have shiny, clean, healthy looking fur. The fur should not clump together anywhere, especially on the oily areas behind the ears, on the neck, behind the armpits, and at the base of the tail. Maine Coons should look “shaggy but silky”; Norwegian Forest Cats, I think, are meant to look fluffier, more like Persians, although I suspect that is because Maine Coons and NFCs, although genetically related, have slightly different coat types. If the coat refuses to look smooth because of static electricity, you can use an anti-static grooming spray, or some people rub a used clothes dryer sheet over the fur.
7. And when you’re done grooming…
…it would be nice to give your cat a treat, and if you need it, have a drink. I’m just joking about the drink, but grooming a cat is thirsty work, so you might want to have some water or soda (in a plastic bottle so the cat can’t spill it) at hand so that you can have a drink while grooming.
Also, try to make sure that your cat doesn’t frolic in the drinking water, as Maine Coons are wont to do, after grooming, or have a potty accident on the way to the show. If your cat does have an accident, a comb-out with dry shampoo, or a butt wash followed by a dry shampoo comb-out, can be used as an emergency measure. I usually don’t feed a show cat after 9 p.m. on the night before a show, although I allow it to drink water. My cats usually don’t use the portable cat toilet I take to shows, but several times I’ve had a cat do number two in the judging cage. You don’t get penalized for that, but it is sort of embarrassing.
8. At the show
Most exhibitors will give their cat a good combing once they arrive in the show hall. They may use texturizing spray or grooming powder. A cat is customarily groomed before each judging ring, and some exhibitors will give the tail a final shake after they place the cat in the judging cage to give it some added fullness. Even cats who don’t like being combed and brushed at first will usually come to enjoy it, and frequent grooming can help owner and cat to bond. Many exhibitors give their cat a treat after every ring so that the cat comes to consider shows a fun thing. Using a wand toy (they sell lots of neat toys at cat shows) to amuse your cat while waiting for your number to come up is also a good way to bond.
Have I forgotten anything?
Edited by author Sun May 15, '11 10:44pm PST