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While pet cats will groom themselves they still need extra grooming help from their owners. How often you need to help will vary between each individual cat. Grooming requirements are usually greater for long-haired and medium-haired cats and increase during the shedding seasons when cats shed more hair. It is generally recommended to groom long-haired and medium-haired cats on a daily basis while short-haired cats require grooming about once a week.
Grooming your cat has a number of important benefits:
Start grooming early on
Grooming should be an enjoyable and comfortable experience for your cat. If you have a kitten it's a good idea to accustom them to being groomed from an early age. Try stroking your kitten first and then try brushing with a few gentle brushstrokes to start with. You can give them some tasty cat food treats for allowing you to brush them and for being calm. Using treats will help your cat to learn to associate brushing with positive things. Gradually increase the number of brushstrokes and the amount of grooming time until your cat is comfortable with the process.
Avoid forced grooming or restraint as this can cause stress and grooming may become a negative experience for your cat. Cats will indicate they need a break by swishing their tail, flattening or flicking their ears, tensing their body, growling, hissing or with short and intense body grooming by the cat. If you see these signs, stop grooming and resume again another time, gradually building up again to the stage they were comfortable with.
Grooming equipment should match your cat's coat type. Generally for short-haired cats a fine-toothed flea comb, soft brush and grooming mittens/gloves should be sufficient to gently remove loose hair and check for fleas. For long-haired and medium-haired cats you may also need a wide-toothed comb and longer brushes.
To check for fleas and flea dirt you can brush in the direction of the hair but occasionally gently brush backwards against the direction of the hair.
If your cat seems uncomfortable you may need to change equipment or brush in a softer way, applying less pressure.
When cats groom they swallow loose hair. These loose hairs can accumulate and form a large clump inside the cats gut forming a hairball. It’s not uncommon for a cat to regurgitate a hairball once every week or two.
A large clump of ingested hair can block a cat's intestinal tract and pose a deadly threat. Grooming by owners is therefore very important because it helps to reduce the amount of loose hair swallowed and minimises the size of hairballs. Talk to your vet about other things you can do in addition to grooming, to help prevent hairballs.
Regular grooming helps to prevent matts developing. If matting is seen, then it is best to tease these out gently with your fingers. Be sure not to ‘pull’ the fur, as this will cause skin tension resulting in pain. Using blunt-nosed safety scissors you can also gently and slowly try to break the matt apart and trim off but be very careful not to touch the skin surface.
If the matt is very tight, close to the skin or very large, then professional help may be needed. Contact your local vet clinic if you need help as they usually offer grooming services.
Cats should generally not be bathed. Most cats do not tolerate bathing well and often find it very stressful. So if your cat is healthy there is usually no reason to give your cat a bath. In some rare cases, vets may recommend bathing as part of a treatment plan for cats with skin disease.