When it comes to grooming, cats are pretty low maintenance. Why? Because cats do most of their own grooming. Cats like to stay clean, and they will groom themselves regularly. But even the cleanest cat needs grooming help from her owner every now and then. Here’s how you can help your cat look and feel her best.
Have you ever seen two cats grooming each other? Or has your cat ever tried to lick your hand? When a cat initiates grooming another cat or person, she is being affectionate with them. So as long as your cat enjoys being brushed, when you brush her she will consider it a sign of affection from you.
Many cats love to be brushed. It’s often calming for a cat, and they enjoy the attention and affection. Brushing also helps to reduce shedding and prevent hairballs, promotes circulation, and gives her a shiny, healthy-looking coat.
If you have a kitten, get her used to being brushed early by using a soft nylon brush. If you have a short-haired adult cat, brushing once a week with a fine-toothed comb or slicker brush should be sufficient. For long-haired cats, daily brushing with a wide-toothed comb or wire bristle brush may be necessary to prevent tangles and mats. Some cats, like Persians, have dense undercoats and need daily brushing to remove loose fur. Senior cats, particularly those over the age of 12, are prone to arthritis, which can impair their ability to groom themselves.
Brushing should be positive, calm and enjoyable for your cat. Keep your first few brushing sessions short, and at a time when your cat is relaxed. Develop a grooming routine, brushing at the same time of day and same location each session. This helps teach her what to expect, so she grows accustomed to it. You can brush your cat on your lap (you may want to put a towel down first), or up on a table. Gently brush or comb from head to tail, removing loose hair from the brush and her coat with your other hand. Also, use this opportunity to inspect her skin, eyes, ears and paws for any medical concerns. Observe her reaction as you work. If she starts to walk away or act irritated, don’t restrain her. Just try again later. When you finish brushing, reward her with playtime or a treat.
If your cat’s nails get too long, playtime could get a little painful. If they grow too long, the nails can actually curl under the paw and rub the skin, causing painful sores. You can prevent this by regularly trimming your cat’s nails, and by providing scratching posts to allow your cat to file her own nails.
The key to stress-free nail trimming is to handle your cat’s paws early and often. Inspect and touch your cat’s paws during brushing sessions, so she becomes comfortable with it. Aim to trim your cat’s nails about once a month. Start slowly, keeping the initial trimming sessions short. If needed, just trim a couple nails each time, until your cat becomes accustomed to it.
If someone is available to help, have them hold your cat still and comfort her while you trim. With your cat’s paw between your fingers and thumb, gently squeeze it to extend her nails. Using pet nail clippers, trim only the white tips of the nails, avoiding the pink “quick”, which contains nerves and blood vessels. Don’t forget your cat’s “fifth nail”, which is located further up her leg on her front legs (cats only have 4 nails on their back paws). Like with brushing, a play session or treat afterward can help reinforce that nail trimming is a good thing.
Bathing your cat isn’t necessary, unless your cat gets fleas or is excessively dirty. If your cat truly needs a bath, enlist the help of a kind soul and gather your supplies:
- Cat-safe shampoo (NOT shampoo for dogs or humans)
- A comb or brush
- Cotton balls
- A cup for rinsing
Before the bath, brush or comb your cat’s fur to remove tangles and mats, and check that her nails are trimmed. It may be best to bathe her in the bathroom, so you can close the door.
Place a towel or rubber mat at the bottom of a sink or basin so your cat won’t slip. Partially fill it with warm water, and then have your helper place your cat in the water. While your helper holds her, wet her fur with the warm water as you talk to her reassuringly. Be careful not to get water or soap on her face. Lather her body with the shampoo, following the instructions on the bottle. Using the cup, rinse with clean warm water. Wet the washcloth, and carefully wipe her face and ears. Once all the soap is rinsed away, lift her out of the water and towel-dry her as thoroughly as you can. As long as your home isn’t chilly or drafty, your cat can finish drying on her own. Should you decide to blow dry your cat, watch for signs of stress and use low heat to avoid overheating. Last but not least, use cotton balls (never cotton swabs!) to wipe her ears.
If your cat really needs a bath, and you aren’t sure you’re up for the task, find a well-reputed professional groomer who has experience with cats. You may be surprised – some cats love baths! But if yours is not a fan, it may be easier on both of you to leave that job to a professional.
Just remember: if you’re patient, consistent and loving in your approach, your cat will love your grooming sessions together. Be respectful of her limits, and this time together will deepen your bond.