The importance of cat grooming
Most cats take real pride in their appearance, spending almost half their waking hours preening themselves to perfection. Being independent creatures, cats are keen to look after themselves, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lend a hand in their pampering routine. Grooming your cat plays a big part in caring for your pet and regular maintenance will mean your cat looks great and feels great too!
As well as helping to keep your cat looking beautiful, regular cat grooming allows you to spend quality time bonding with your pet, and gives you the opportunity to check their body condition and spot any unusual signs of health problems, such as lumps or bumps.
Cat grooming might seem superficial, but while your cat is beautifying themselves or being brushed by you, they enjoy other benefits too:
- Circulation is stimulated
- Muscle tone is improved
- Fur is smoothed down for better insulation
- Glands at the base of the coat are stimulated to waterproof the fur
- Sebum is spread evenly which helps to waterproof and protect the coat and skin
- In hot weather, the saliva they spread during grooming helps to keep your cat cool
If your cat has ever tried to show their affection with a fond lick, you’ll know that they have rough tongues. This is because their tongues are covered in lots of tiny bristles, which help them to comb out dirt and loose fur from their coats - much like the hairbrushes that we use.
As cats use their mouths a lot during grooming, they often swallow strands of hair during the process. This can cause them to cough up fur balls – this is quite normal, so don’t worry. You can help to reduce the amount of fur they shed, and therefore minimise fur balls, by helping your cat with their grooming with a gentle brush.
Most short haired cats are very good at grooming themselves – longer haired cats will need a little bit of extra assistance when cat grooming. After all, they have a lot of fur to clean, so may miss a spot!
Try to start grooming your cat from an early age so that it becomes a normal part of their routine. Curious kittens can also find themselves in sticky situations, so you may find yourself having to help your little one clean up! As they age, cats can get stiff so they might not be able to easily reach to clean some areas. Therefore regular cat grooming is an important part of your caring routine throughout the whole of your cats’ life.
Grooming a cat from their younger years allows you to build a strong bond through physical contact, and create a shared level of trust between both of you.
As shorthaired cats are quite capable of grooming themselves, a brief brush once a week should be enough to spend time with them whilst maintaining their coat, while longhaired cats will benefit from a cat brush once a day to avoid matting, knots and excessive fur ball build up.
Matting can be very uncomfortable and even painful for cats, so your help will definitely be appreciated – even if they don’t show it at the time!
- For shorthaired cats, use a fine-toothed metal comb once a week to remove knots or tangles. Use a natural-bristle or rubber cat brush to remove any loose hairs.
- Gently brush or comb your cat's hair, using strokes in the direction that their hair grows.
- Use the bristly cat brush to sweep up the coat in the direction of the head, and then smooth it down again.
- For longhaired cat grooming, brush daily with a steel comb.
- Any knots can be teased out with your fingers, using a damp cloth if necessary. Never use scissors, as there’s a risk your cat could move and end up with a nasty nick in their skin. If there’s a particularly bad knot or many knots, ask your vet to help you.
- If cat grooming is a struggle, try offering food treats, gentle strokes and soothing words. As your cat is calmed and distracted by their reward and additional attention, gently start to groom them.
- During cat grooming, seize the opportunity to give them a general once-over and check that their teeth, eyes, ears and gums are all in good health, but if your cat gets stressed out during grooming it’s probably time to take a break.
Most cats really dislike baths and they can find the experience very stressful. If you’re able to, just clean an isolated area, rather than getting their entire body wet. That said, there are rare occasions when bathing your cat is unavoidable, in which case there are ways to make the experience more comfortable for both of you. However, if your cat needs a bath because they’ve come into contact with toxic substances, take them to the vet first.
Get everything you need in one place, so that once you’ve started bathing your cat, everything is within easy reach. You’ll need:
- A large plastic bucket, sink or bath (lined with a non-slip floor mat) to use as a cat bath.
- Specialist cat or kitten shampoo. Find a mild all-rounder with no harsh chemicals or perfumes. Never use human shampoo, as it’s unsuitable for cat hair and skin due to the difference in pH levels.
- A cat conditioner if required. Again, don’t use conditioner for human hair.
- A towel or two.
- Brush your cat to help remove matts and knots.
- Fill the cat bath with just enough warm (not hot) water to wash your cat and lower your cat gently into the water. Don’t overfill, as this will just make your cat more anxious!
- Offer plenty of praise and reassurance throughout. Bathing cats can be tricky, but food treats can make a useful distraction, as can another person holding the cat’s head and providing reassurance.
- If your cat is scared, they may try to bite or scratch you. If this happens a lot, stop what you’re doing and consult your vet for advice. They may be able to bathe your cat for you, or recommend an experienced groomer who is good with nervous cats.
- Apply a small amount of shampoo and warm water to the contaminated area only. If a full body cat bath is necessary, avoid the head altogether and concentrate on lathering the rest of the body including the tail, underside and neck. You might find it easier for you both if you take your cat out of the water and onto a towel for this part, especially if you’re using medicated shampoo that takes a few minutes to activate.
- Don’t put anything inside your cat’s ears to keep them dry i.e. cotton wool. Not only could these get stuck, but your cat will get stressed if they cannot hear clearly. It is far better to keep their heads completely dry and if their face also needs a clean, use a damp cloth only, with no shampoo.
- When they’re ready to be rinsed, use one hand to operate the shower nozzle or pour a jug of warm, clean water and the other hand to protect their eyes and ears from contamination. Repeat the process if you’re using cat conditioner. It is very important to rinse the shampoo and/or conditioner thoroughly as your cat is likely to lick off any excess water, and you don’t want them to ingest any excess suds!
- Once you’re happy that they’re fully rinsed, allow your cat to shake off the excess water. Bathing cats is a simple as that!
- Generally cats prefer to be towel dried rather than dried with a hair dryer. Unless they’ve been used to a hair dryer from kittenhood, do the best job you can with a towel then leave them in a warm room to dry off naturally. Don’t let them go outside until fully dry, so that they don’t catch a cold.
- If you’ve been brave enough to bath more than one cat, or simply have another cat in the household, you might notice some inter-cat conflict after bathing your cat. This will be caused by the change of scent and can be remedied by separating the bathed cats until they’re calm, then rubbing all cats with the same towel to redistribute scents.
Grooming isn’t just about making your cat look good; it provides you with a regular opportunity to keep an eye on your cat’s claws and teeth.
Some cats, particularly outdoor cats and those that are very fond of their scratching post, often take care of their own claws through general wear and tear but if your cat spends a lot of time indoors, or is elderly, they may need some help.
Weekly checks and occasional claw-trimming prevents their claws growing inwards into their pads (much like an ingrowing toenail) which can cause pain and infection. Overgrown claws can be a sign of osteoarthritis in senior cats, so it’s worth checking with your vet in case any additional treatment is needed.
As cats use claws to defend themselves, scratch an itch or climb, we only recommend trimming them when absolutely necessary.
- Before you do anything, check that they really need doing. Outdoor cats, in particular, need their claws for climbing and defending themselves so only trim them if they’re at risk of overgrowing. Even then, only some claws may need trimming. If your cat is one of the unusual few with an extra toe (polydactyl) then keep an eye on those claws, as they don’t touch the ground and therefore don’t get filed down naturally. The same applies to ‘dew’ claws, the claws on the inside of the legs just below the wrist.
- Get into the habit of checking your cat’s claws on a weekly basis. If you spot any ingrowing claws consult your vet, as your cat may need painkillers or antibiotics. Also if any claws are ripped, torn or missing, your vet may need to take a look.
- If it’s your first time, ask your vet or veterinary nurse to demonstrate how to trim your cat’s claws and check your technique. Remember, if you don’t feel confident trimming your cat’s claws you can always ask your vet to do it instead.
- It’s a good idea to get your cat used to the idea of claw-trimming from an early age, preferably from a kitten. However, kitten claws are soft, so they are usually filed instead of clipped.
- For adult cats, use specially designed cat-claw clippers - and keep them sharp and well maintained. These are available from pet shops or your vet - do not use human nail clippers or scissors!
- Press your cat's paw gently between your finger and thumb to unsheathe the claw. Snip off just the transparent tip of the claw; always avoid the blood vessel in the centre of the claw; and never clip higher up than the pointed tip.
- The important thing is to avoid the ‘quick’ (the sensitive part), as if this is nicked it will be painful for your pet and will bleed. If you do catch it by accident, don’t panic. Apply silver nitrate sticks (available from your vets) to the claw and press with cotton wool for a moment. Silver nitrate may sting so it might be helpful to have someone else on hand. If the bleeding doesn’t stop then consult your vet immediately. As well as dealing with the problem, your vet can advise you on how to avoid this complication in future.
- When you check your cat’s claws, also check the paw pads for any cuts or foreign bodies and check between the toes for any signs of soreness. Contact your vet if you find anything unusual.
The final step in your cat’s weekly pampering session is a quick brush of the teeth. You can either use a cat toothbrush or a cotton bud to rub the teeth with. Remember to use special cat toothpaste as human toothpaste can upset pets’ stomachs.
If you’d like more information on the importance of grooming your cat or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM