While most companion cats will groom themselves, maintaining a regular grooming routine will benefit their health and welfare. How, and how often, you need to groom your cat will vary depending on the individual cat. Grooming requirements are usually greater for long-haired and medium-haired cats and increase for all cats during the shedding seasons when cats shed more hair. It is generally recommended to groom long-haired and medium-haired cats daily, while short-haired cats can usually be groomed about once a week. Some cats may need grooming more often; for example, older cats, or cats who might have trouble grooming because they have mobility or flexibility problems such as arthritis.
Grooming your cat has a number of important benefits:
- helps to prevent the formation of hairballs which can cause intestinal blockages
- promotes a healthy, shiny coat
- provides the opportunity to check for fleas, flea dirt, skin problems or lumps and bumps
- helps to prevent the formation of fur matts
- enables the removal of debris, burrs, twigs, leaves etc
- reinforces the positive bond between you and your cat when it is made an enjoyable experience for your cat.
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 on the areas of their body that they like to be stroked 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, the amount of grooming time, and areas groomed, rewarding as you go, 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 showing signs such as swishing their tail, flattening or flicking their ears, tensing their body, growling, hissing or by grooming themselves intensely for a short period (which indicates stress). If you see these signs, stop grooming and resume another time, gradually building up again and rewarding them during grooming sessions to build positive associations.
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 and look for flea dirt when you do so.
If your cat seems uncomfortable, you may need to change equipment or brush in a softer way, applying less pressure.
It is a good idea to also check your cats’ nails when you are grooming them. Most young healthy cats will keep their nails in good condition through scratching and wearing them down during exercise. However, some cats (especially as they get older or if they have a medical problem) have a tendency to get overgrown nails which can be uncomfortable and even cause serious problems (such as growing into the foot pad) if the overgrown nail is not noticed and addressed. Ask your cat’s veterinarian for advice on how to check and trim your cat’s nails and on cat-specific nail clippers.
When cats groom they swallow loose hair. These loose hairs can accumulate and form a large clump inside the cat’s gut, forming a hairball. It’s not uncommon for a cat to regurgitate a hairball once every week or two but if it is more frequent or the frequency has changed (i.e., your cat never vomited hairballs but now has started to) then it could indicate a problem and you should consult with your cat’s veterinarian.
A large clump of ingested hair can block a cat’s intestinal tract and pose a deadly threat. Therefore, grooming by owners has a very important role to play in helping to reduce the amount of loose hair swallowed and minimising the size of hairballs. Talk to your veterinarian about other things you can do in addition to grooming, to help prevent hairballs.
Regular grooming helps to prevent fur 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, very large, or you are worried about or unable to remove it yourself, then professional help may be needed. Contact your local veterinary 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, veterinarians may recommend bathing as part of a treatment plan for cats with skin disease.