Cat Grooming Tips

posted: 05/15/12
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Cat Grooming Tips
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Despite the fact that they're relatively self-sufficient, cats do still need a little assistance in the grooming department. Trimming claws and cleaning ears are just two of the things you'll need to help your furry friend with. Here are some tips on how to properly groom your cat.

Trimming Claws

Trimming claws needn't strike terror in the heart of you or your cat. Even an adult cat that is unaccustomed to nail clipping can grow to accept the procedure, although it's best to start when the cat is young and everything is novel. Kittens' tiny needlelike claws should be trimmed once a week; by the time a cat is about eight months old, you can reduce the trimming to once every two to four weeks for the rest of the cat's life.

Place your cat on a table or hold him on your lap, or kneel down and clamp him between your legs. Grip a paw firmly and gently press on the pad to expose the claw. Don't forget to also trim the dewclaws that are further up along the paw. If you have a polydactyl cat, one with extra toes similar to thumbs, the claws in the folds between the paws and the "thumbs" also need trimming.

Using special clippers, trim off the clear, curved part of the claw in one rapid motion, cutting straight across and making sure to stay at least one-tenth of an inch away from the thicker part containing the vein, or "quick." When in doubt, cut off less claw and do the job more often. If you do accidentally cut the vein, stay calm. The claw will bleed, but your demeanor will affect your cat's reaction. Ideally, have clotting powder, a styptic pencil, cornstarch, or soft bar-soap on hand before you begin and apply it to the end of the claw. Or, you can press a gauze pad, clean cloth, or tissue over the damaged nail for several minutes until the bleeding stops.

Some cats (even first-time adults) will allow you to cut all their claws right away. For less cooperative cats, start by simply handling their paws more and more, pressing lightly on the paw pads to extend the claws. Once this is accepted, try clipping one or two claws, stopping and letting your cat go whenever he starts to resist; eventually, you will cut them all. A team effort may be necessary to contain a writhing cat, with one person firmly grasping the loose skin at the scruff of the neck or holding the cat wrapped in a towel with just one paw at a time free, leaving the second person to handle the task of clipping.

Cleaning Ears and Eyes

Check inside the ears every week and if you see a waxy residue, wipe it off with a cotton ball moistened with a small amount of feline ear cleaner or baby oil. (Never use a swab on a stick; if your cat moves suddenly, as he is wont to do, you may injure his ear canal or eardrum.) Hold the earflap gently and dab carefully with the cotton ball. If your cat fidgets during cleaning, restrain him as you would when cutting his claws.


Although cats are tidy creatures by nature and groom themselves, they still need regular brushing. In addition to removing loose hair that would otherwise be swallowed or left on furniture, brushing promotes good circulation, stimulates the skin, and keeps the coat shiny. It's also a way to bond with your cat, as well as to check for any body changes that may signal a visit to the vet.

The procedure is much the same for shorthair and longhair cats, but the tools will differ, depending on the length and texture of your cat's fur.

- Be sure to check a longhair cat for mats before you start brushing and very gently untangle any you find using your fingers or a wide-toothed comb. Soak more tenacious knots with detangling liquid or spray.

- If a mat won't come apart, you can, if you're very careful, snip it out with blunt-tipped scissors. Your cat's skin is very sensitive, as well as being loose, and it's fairly easy to make an accidental nick. Protect your cat by placing a fine-toothed comb between the mat and his skin. The alternative is to have mats removed by a professional groomer; if your cat is badly matted, this is the only option.

- Begin grooming by passing the brush along the cat's head and back. By following the same line you would if you were petting him, chances are the cat will relax, lulled by the pleasant sensation. Then, brush down the length of each side. As you go, stop often to clean the brush of collected hair.

- Next, brush down from below the chin along the throat and chest. To brush the inside of your cat's leg, hold him against your chest and reach over the outside of the leg. Your cat may object when you get to such areas as the rear thighs, the region where the legs join the body, and the belly.

- Be gentle and reassuring, but persevere without overdoing it. If the cat is getting anxious, stop and continue later; otherwise, you risk turning grooming into a hateful experience.

- Do the tail last, one small section at a time, carefully combing in the direction that the hair grows. Then, repeat the sequence with a fine-toothed comb, taking particular care on sensitive areas, to pick up any remaining loose hairs.


An older or injured cat may not be able to keep itself adequately clean and may need to be bathed. Some cats become very agitated during the process, however, so it's up to you to make bathing as stress-free as possible for all participants. You'll probably want a helper so one of you can hold the cat while the other does the shampooing. Both of you will probably get quite wet, so have lots of towels at the ready. It's also possible that you may get scratched, so take a few moments to trim the claws first.

- Placing something in the sink or tub that your cat can grip with his claws -- a window screen, rubber mat, or several thick towels -- may help him feel slightly more in control and less inclined to struggle.

- Never dump your cat into a sink full of water; total immersion is not the idea here. Instead, fill the sink with just enough warm water to rinse him easily.

- Hold your cat firmly, with one hand grasping his front legs, and place him in the water. Pour water over him with a small container and use a washcloth to wet more delicate areas such as the face and ears.

- Standard shampoos formulated for cats should be rubbed in thoroughly, and fully rinsed. Any traces of shampoo left on the cat's coat can cause irritation; so don't rush through this stage. If you are washing the cat with a flea shampoo, follow the directions for the product to the letter.

- After properly rinsing your cat, wrap him in a thick towel and hold him close to absorb the excess water. Continue drying by carefully squeezing the towel against his body and pulling it away again.

- You can gently rub shorthair cats with a towel, but this may cause matting in cats with longer coats. A small hair dryer can be useful (unless your cat is frightened by the noise of the motor). Keep the hair dryer on its lowest setting and never point it in your cat's face.

- Once he is dry, brush him thoroughly and compliment him effusively on how wonderful he looks.

Dental Care

As part of a regular checkup, your vet will look for signs of plaque and tartar buildup on your cat's teeth. Left unchecked, periodontal disease can actually contribute to heart, liver, or kidney disease. If a significant problem has begun to develop, a thorough cleaning, requiring the cat to be anesthetized, will have to be scheduled.

To avoid the bother and expense of such cleaning, which is typically required every few years, brush your cat's teeth at least every other day. This is not as difficult, or crazy, as it might sound, as long as you introduce the procedure very slowly. For the first few days, sit quietly with your cat and gently stroke the outside of his cheeks. Then, let him lick a small quantity of cat dentifrice -- never human toothpaste mdash; off your finger. Next, place a small quantity of the paste on a cat-sized toothbrush or gauze square. Gently push back the cat's top lip with your thumb and brush one or two teeth and the neighboring gums in a circular motion, pressing very lightly. Over several days, gradually brush a larger number of teeth. After each short session, reward your cat with a treat, preferably one for tartar control.

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