By Tracy Line
Ever tried to groom your finicky feline pal? It’s not easy. Cats have always been self-cleaning machines, and it’s something they’re happy to do without human intervention. But times have changed. In today’s world of pampered pets, more and more kitties are finding themselves being bathed, brushed, and clipped to the hilt by their human companions.
But as you indulge, be sure to keep kitty’s best interest in mind. Grooming your pet may be a fashionable fad, but more importantly, it’s vital to good health. And if the word “feisty” comes to mind, do not despair—there are ways to get the job done. You can groom your cat without losing your mind, and you can enjoy it.
Regular brushing minimizes shedding, stimulates skin, and promotes a healthy coat for your cat. It is also the best way to prevent the formation of dangerous hair mats, according to Dr. John Aldridge, a veterinarian at the San Francisco Animal Hospital. As you brush, check your cat’s eyes, ears, skin, and teeth. Nancy Peterson, issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, says cats are stoic when it comes to pain. Routine inspections of his body will alert you to any poor health conditions your cat may be experiencing.
For some, combing a cat is easier said than done. Arden Moore, author of 50 Simple Ways to Pamper Your Cat, suggests coaxing a dubious kitty by calling him invitingly and rewarding him with a treat. Next, stroke and brush him with a soft-bristled brush. Start at the tip of the fur and work deeper into the coat. Comb in the direction the fur grows; going against the grain irritates sensitive skin.
If your cat is fearful, start with gentle rubs or a scratch behind the ear. Always remember to reward your kitty for his patience. In extenuating circumstances a cat may need his fur trimmed, otherwise a weekly brushing should do it (long-haired cats do best with daily brushing).
Should you bathe your cat? Not necessarily. “Felines are very good self-groomers and rarely need baths,” Aldridge says. However, there are exceptions. An older cat or one with medical problems may not be adept at keeping himself clean. Cats who roam outdoors (a practice generally not recommended) may occasionally get into something sticky. In this case, bathe your cat immediately or seek out a professional groomer.
Bathing does not have to be uncomfortable or stressful. To make the job easier, Peterson recommends using a rubber mat and sprayer. The mat will keep kitty from slipping and the sprayer is quieter and allows for better control of the water. Hold your cat by the scruff (skin behind the neck) to maintain control while you wash. With warm water, gently work the shampoo into the fur. Rinse thoroughly; leftover shampoo can cause skin irritation.
A cat that’s older, anxious, or has severe mats may benefit from professional grooming. Even if he is a feisty little devil, he can get used to it. “You can desensitize an animal to the experience by taking your time and by being thoughtful to what the cat is experiencing,” says Jay Andors, a professional groomer and owner of HydroSurge in New York City. Andors believes regular bathing decreases shedding. Professional grooming normally costs $35 to $40. Look for a facility that is clean and well-lit and has a knowledgeable staff who have experience specifically in feline hygiene.
When it comes to cats, long nails are not a fashion statement. Overgrown claws make walking difficult and pose a hazard as they can easily get caught on curtains, blankets, or carpet. Trim your cat’s nails every four to six weeks, distracting your kitty through talk or treats while you do so. If you are unsure about the best way to trim, ask your veterinarian to show you how.
While declawing is common, Peterson doesn’t recommend it. Doing so involves removing the first bone in the paw, and is very painful. A scratching post is a kinder alternative, and cats can be trained to use them. For more information, check out the “Cat Behavior Tip Sheet” at the HSUS website, www.PetsForLife.org.