Senior Cat Grooming — What to Know and What to Do

A ginger cat with a hairbrush.
A ginger cat with a hairbrush. Photography ©Aksenovko | Thinkstock.

My senior cat, Katie, loves to groom herself on our bed — at about 1 a.m. She is extremely thorough and really gets every inch of her shorthaired coat. She pays particular attention to her toes and feet. Because I’m a captive audience to this routine, I’m confident that she is still able to care for her own grooming needs. But senior cat grooming isn’t always that seamless. Let’s take a look at some of the issues you might run into when grooming senior cats.

Senior cat grooming — helping cats reach trickier spots

A cat licking and grooming his butt.
Senior cats might need help grooming hard-to-reach areas, like their bums. Photography ©LeventKonuk | Thinkstock.

At 11 years old, Katie is still on the young side of senior (10 years of age and older). She still has full mobility and can twist her brown tabby body into the strange contortions cats seem to achieve to groom themselves. As she ages, however, she may not be able to reach some of the trickier spots — and that’s when I’ll step in to help.

“A lot of older [cats] can’t clean themselves as they have in the past, because just like us, the older you get, the harder it is to move,” says Carrie Bono, owner of Carrie’s Pampered Paw LLC in Oceanside, California. Carrie notes that medium- and long-haired cats in particular can develop mats near their back ends or their bellies because it is too difficult for them to bend that far to groom themselves.

Don’t worry: Just because your cat can’t reach her back end doesn’t mean she can’t look her best. Regular brushing can help prevent mats, not just on the belly and back end but all over.

“Also, regular brushing will help with shedding and keep down the undercoat, which in turn will help the [cats] that have issues with hairballs,” Carrie says.

You can also help a senior cat who can’t clean her rear end as thoroughly by regularly checking to see if the area needs attention. When necessary, step in and gently clean the area for her.

Be concerned: If mats get out of hand, you may need to enlist the help of a professional groomer. Carrie often recommends a sanitary and belly shave for senior cats who have difficulty reaching those areas, but she encourages owners to help their cats care for their coats.

“The medium- to long-haired kids tend to get matted if not properly brushed,” she says. “If it gets out of control, then they will require a full body shave which can be stressful to a senior cat that doesn’t have any experience with [professional] grooming.”

Senior cat grooming — feline pedicures

A cat getting his nails clipped.
When your older cat can no longer reach certain places to groom or doesn’t use her scratching posts as much, it’s up to you to help. Photography ©Evgeny_Kozhevnikov | Thinkstock.

Although Katie uses her scratching post on a daily basis and pays plenty of attention to her feet and claws, Carrie recommends that pet parents of senior cats carefully watch the condition of their cats’ claws. “Older cats get a thick outer casing over their nails,” she explains. “Because they are older and not as spry as they used to be, scratching posts are not used as often.”

Don’t worry: You may already include nail trimming as part of your cat’s regular routine. If not, a professional groomer can help you care for your cat’s nails.

Be concerned: As Carrie said, some older cats don’t use their scratching posts as often because the movement doesn’t come as easily. “With that being said, the nails are not being filed down and can start growing into the paw pad, causing bigger issues,” she adds.

If you notice that your senior cat is not using her scratching post as often, make a note to regularly check the condition of her claws.

Senior cat grooming — enlisting help

A cat who is not used to extra grooming help from her owner may resist efforts to brush her belly or her rear end — or any other part of her body. I completely understand this situation, as Katie does not like being brushed. I expect that she would give me a hard time if I tried to help her care for her coat.

Katie does, however, love to be petted and scratched, and she actively seeks me out for some affection almost every day. While I’m petting her, I do my best to remove loose fur and feel for lumps or anything unusual on or under her skin. Because senior cats are prone to more illnesses — and because cats are so good at hiding symptoms of illness — I make it a point to look for any changes in her normal body condition.

Because Katie’s coat is short, I don’t have to worry as much about her fur matting. If your cat has medium or long hair and resists your efforts to groom her, you may want to enlist the help of a professional groomer. To help reduce your cat’s stress, Carrie recommends using the services of a mobile groomer.

“As we all know, cats do not adapt well to change,” she says, noting that traveling in a car, in a cat carrier, can make grooming even more stressful for a senior cat. “The older they get, the more set in their ways they are.”

Don’t worry: A mobile groomer will come to you, allowing your senior cat to stay in her own environment. “Do your research, find out who in your area works best with cats,” Carrie suggests. “These are the things that owners can do to make [grooming] more comfortable.”

Be concerned: Don’t wait until grooming issues get out of control, Carrie says. “The easier the issue, the easier it will be on [your cats] and the happier they will be.”

Thumbnail: Photography ©Aksenovko | Thinkstock.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

A lifelong cat owner, Stacy N. Hackett writes frequently about cats, cat breeds and a range of pet-related topics. The inspiration for her writing comes from her cats, Jack and Katie, and her Cocker Spaniel/Labrador Retriever mix, Maggie.

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9 thoughts on “Senior Cat Grooming — What to Know and What to Do”

  1. I have an 18 and a half year old cat named Grace who was in recent months has groomed herself to the point of scabbing and not having fur but only in a very specific spot above her back right by her hips I think it might be due to pain of arthritis in her hips but is there a certain behavior seniors get where they just tear their own fur out? She still can jump up places you still comes outside and walks around the block with me very slowly cuz it's not a dog that's excited to be outside but she'll come with me but the skin itself is just covered in scabs is this a necessary vet appointment that I need to make? I'm on disability and I can only afford vet appointment a year cuz she needs blood work a lot sorry this is rambling I just found your website

  2. My 18 year old short hair tabby has developed bad matting in his coat. He’s always loved brushing, but they don’t come out anymore. Multiplying and I can’t keep up. This happened to another of our cats. He was 22 yrs old.
    Is this something that happens as they age? I’m thinking I will have to have him shaved. I bought a deshedding comb, but they are so tight, it hurts him to pull on them.

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  7. So, which is more important, seizures or the “will not be pretty?”. Vet can handle her so she will be comfortable; they know what they are doing. A lion cut may make her look like a young lion. Would be cute. ☺

  8. My senior cat has hyperesthesia – extreme sensitivity on her back that causes seizures when touched. She can no longer groom herself. She has extensive mats that can only be removed by shaving down to the skin. My vet recommends that I bring her in to be sedated in order for the groomer to shave her. I’ve hesitated because it will not be pretty. She is a short-haired tuxedo.

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