Self-grooming is an essential part of a cat’s behavioral repertoire. Cats shed all year round, and, it is well worth helping your cat with grooming. This act removes loose hair and prevents the cat from swallowing it therefore reducing the amount of hairballs. Loose hair traps heat, so, in the summertime it is particularly important to assist your cat by brushing. Excessive hairballs (trichobezoars) eventually cause intestinal blockage and must be expelled. Grooming is one of the first lines of defense when it comes to health. An unkempt cat is usually an unhealthy and unhappy cat. Grooming also stimulates blood circulation and distributes natural oils. The grooming session is a good time to examine your cat for lumps, parasites, and sores. Please see the Home Physical Exam page for more information. Another added benefit is the strengthening of the human to cat bond.
Grooming seems to calm cats, it may induce a feeling of well-being by releasing certain chemicals in the brain, possibly the reason why cats enjoy being stroked. Keeping grooming sessions short and avoiding painful pulling and tugging at their coats, is most pleasurable. You will notice where and when it is most enjoyable for your cat to be groomed. Never forcefully groom a cat if it is not in a good mood. Be patient and wait until the cat is receptive.
Occasionally, cats seem to become obsessed with grooming; they may break off hair and create bald patches or even damage the skin. Hair loss may be caused by many things, most commonly flea allergies but diet can play an important role. When the vet has eliminated all physical or medical causes it may be a behavioral problem (i.e. separation anxiety, boredom, dry skin). These self-mutilation problems can be difficult to solve and you may need the help of an animal behavior counselor. If your cat has no desire to groom itself, it may actually be sick, so contact your veterinarian immediately.
Always make cat care fun for your cat. Start off with short easy nonthreatening sessions and work in stages. If the grooming of any body part is too difficult, seek a professional groomer.
A cat’s tongue is a natural grooming instrument; the tongue is covered with small lumps called papillae, which are essential for scraping meat off the bones of prey and the grooming of fur. To begin grooming the cat’s fur you will need either a comb or flexible wire slicker brush. For longhaired breeds choose a wider toothed comb before moving on to the brush. For shorter coats, a grooming mitt and flea comb are sufficient. There are many grooming products available at your local pet shops and they can also be found online. There are several styles of grooming mitts, brushes, combs, and other products to choose from, so experiment with the different styles to see what both you and your cat prefer.
Begin by petting the cat from head to tail with your hand (if your cat is unresponsive stop and wait for a later time). Locate matted spots with your hands, but be careful when you begin to brush in these areas. Work the mat out slowly. You can begin to put some pressure into your hands in a massage fashion. This is an opportunity to check for fleas, lumps, or sores. Incorporate the brush into the petting slowly, some cats are afraid of unfamiliar objects and this may require some time for your cat to get used to. Start with short and enjoyable sessions and reward your cat with praise or a treat. Next, repeat the stroking session with the comb. As always, if the cat becomes unreceptive, stop. Never use scissors or razors to remove a mat. Furthermore, never wash a cat with mats, moisture only makes mats worse. If you can no longer see a ¼” space between the mat and the skin, or when it starts to pull at the skin, take your cat to the groomer. Too many cats have been wounded accidentally by their caring owners. The money you spend at the groomers is negligible when compared to a visit to your veterinarian. You may try a shedding comb if the mat does not come out with a regular comb.
The papillae on the cat’s tongue also bathes the cat’s fur doing a far superior job than humans could ever hope to. If your cat stops grooming itself you may have to take this job on yourself. Most cats hate baths and further despise water. There are many products that do excellent jobs, even products that do not require water. Vetbasis Foaming Cleanser Waterless bath is for cats afraid of water and is an excellent option. Always use products designated for cats only. Never use any shampoo or bathing product on your cat that contains tea tree oil. It has been shown to be toxic to cats. Many shampoos still contain it, so read the labels carefully. If you have any questions about which products to use on your cat, always consult your veterinarian first. Usually, indoor cats require little or no bathing care since they are not exposed to dirt and other outdoor grime. However, they should still be brushed and/or combed daily.
For optimum health never neglect your cat’s paws. Various scratching posts are available in your local pet stores and many are also available online. Find out which style (sisal, carpet, wood, material, etc.), position (horizontal or vertical), and placement (there should be an appropriate scratching surface placed in each room of your house) your cat prefers. Many cats prefer several styles and both positions so have a good selection. Encouraging your cat to scratch will help them shed their nails. Entice them by waving a feather or fish pole toy up and down a scratching post. It is necessary to trim your cat’s claws weekly to biweekly. If the claws grow too long, the cat may end up walking on the sides of it’s toes or feet causing joint problems.
Trimming Your Cat’s Claws
Working patiently by yourself or with an assistant, you can trim your cat’s claws fairly easily.
Trimming reduces the amount of damage a scratching cat does. In the winter you may have to trim them once every two to four weeks and in the summer, you may need to trim your cat’s nails once every one to three weeks.
Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed will keep them blunt causing less damage to whatever they scratch on. Your scratching post will have a longer lifetime if your cat’s nails are trimmed regularly.
Your cat has 5 claws on each front foot and 4 on each back foot unless he is polydactyl (having more than the normal amount of toes on each foot). The fifth claw on the front feet is the dew claw and must be trimmed as well.
If you can only manage to clip one nail per day, that is fine. Your cat may eventually get used to the procedure, at least enough to remain mostly relaxed and calm while you are clipping the nails. Just do one nail a day or one paw a day. It is still better to clip the nails individually than doing them all in one day if this is the only way you can accomplish the task.
Start with a relaxed cat; let your cat get comfortable with you touching his paws. You may also get your cat used to you massaging his paws and pressing out his retractable claws. Trimming will require; adequate light, sharp clippers (you may use specially made cat scissors or human clippers), and styptic powder (flour or cornstarch will do).
Giving your cat a treat before, during, and after the ordeal may help him accept the nail trimming. Speak calmly throughout the procedure reassuring him constantly.
- Get into position by either kneeling behind your cat or by supporting your cat in your lap. You may also opt to do the trim on the kitchen counter where you can place your arm around your cat at standing height. Another, very successful method, requires you to sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Cross your legs at the ankles and gently place your cat upside down with his head away from you between your legs (make sure his spine is on the floor, not on your legs). You can gently squeeze your legs together to keep him there and slowly begin to trim the nails.
- If you are kneeling down, secure the cat between your knees and take his front paw in your left hand. If your cat is on your lap, have him facing upright, and support him securely with your knees and take his front paw in your left hand. It may be easier to start off with the cat wrapped in a towel with only his paws extended, however, this may place undue stress on him. (Reverse this procedure if you are lefthanded.)
- Place your thumb on the top of the paw and your other fingers underneath; apply gentle pressure to extend a claw.
- Find the pink portion called the quick, if nicked this blood vessel will bleed and it is very painful. If this happens, press the nail into some corn starch or flour to stop the bleeding. You may want to stop the nail trim for the day and try again in a day or two.
- Holding the clippers in your other hand, make sure there is no chance that the clippers will catch any of the pads or sheaths and fur. Press down and snip the claw avoiding the quick.
- Repeat this process for each claw.
Proper grooming of teeth is important because dirty teeth can affect every other organ in the system of the cat’s body by spreading bacteria to them via the bloodstream and pass this infection on to the kidneys, liver, and heart.
To clean your cat’s teeth, begin by stroking the side of the cat’s mouth so it gets used to you touching his teeth and gums. Introduce soft gauze or cloth dipped in either hydrogen peroxide (one to one solution with water) or a specially made cat toothpaste, wrapped around your finger. The first couple of times, you may want to just use the gauze without dipping it in the solution or toothpaste. Work in back and forth strokes and eventually a circular motion. Never use human toothpaste! Always reward your cat with praise or a treat.
Many breeds suffer from watery eyes, which stain the fur around the eyes. Persistent tearstains indicate irritation, infection, or a scratched cornea. Bring this to your veterinarian’s attention. Litter or small infectious particle matter may be trapped and impair vision and eye functions. Check for discharge, filminess, and cloudy eyes. If any of these conditions are present, contact your veterinarian immediately. To clean your cat’s eyes, gently wipe away dried mucous with a cloth dampened with warm water.
Be sure to keep ears clean year round especially during the summer months, because this is the time of year that insects/mites thrive in the ear. Once a week during these times should be sufficient. Using a cotton ball or gauze cloth with a one to one solution of alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, or plain water, gently wipe the visible portion of the outer ear. Be careful not to saturate the cloth or ball, to prevent the solution from going into the inner ear. Never stick anything into your cat’s ear canal, you can cause irreversible damage to the ear drum leading to deafness.
For your cat to have excellent overall health, grooming is not only vital but leads to a strong human/cat bond.
Information on this site is for general information purposes only and is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. This site is not intended to replace professional advice from your own veterinarian and nothing on this site is intended as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Any questions about your animal’s health or diet should be directed to your veterinarian.