How to Groom a Cat

Woman combs a dozing cat's fur.
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How to groom a cat sounds like a pretty straightforward, simple task, doesn't it? Grab a brush, a comb, and maybe a fancy dematting tool, and you're on your way to blissful grooming magic. But nothing is as simple as it seems. Grooming a cat is serious business. And besides being impeccably coiffed, cats need to be groomed for their health.

Yes, grooming your cat is vital and takes a lot more finesse than just brandishing a few cool grooming tools. In fact, you'll need a variety of tools to do the job. And if your cat is not a big fan of being brushed or bathed, you have your work cut out for you. Just keep three things in mind; be gentle, groom head-to-toe, know when to quit, and keep her favorite treats handy.

Ultimately, grooming a cat is essential not only to keep your cat's fur slick, smooth, and shiny, but also for a variety of other cat wellness reasons. Regular grooming controls excessive shedding that causes hairballs, and also may alert you to skin-health issues like dandruff, redness, or scaling, or even fleas or ticks. It's also an opportunity to check for tumors and other lumps, bumps, scrapes, and cuts, or anything abnormal. And, for you, one of the perks of grooming your cat is that your furniture and clothing remain relatively fur-free and less fuzzy tumbleweeds are rolling around your home.

Fluffy white cat lying down looking into camera
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How often do cats need to be groomed?

Longhaired cats: There's just no way around it, most long-haired cats need to be groomed every day. Some with long- or even medium-length hair have wispy, cotton-candy soft, unruly coats while others have silky, smooth coats that tangle less. Either way, these luxurious, long coats need to be brushed (not bathed) daily to keep your bright-eyed and bushy-tailed cat happy, healthy and sporting a gorgeous hair coat. If you don't have the time to invest in this task, avoid adding a long-haired cat such as a Persian, Maine coon or Himalayan (cross between a Siamese and Persian) to your household. Although, if you're not into the daily grooming but would love a long-haired cat, do some research on the Norwegian forest cat, who requires much less maintenance than most long-hairs.

Otherwise, a long-hair left to his own self-grooming will most likely end up with uncomfortable, even painful mats that will eventually require a major shearing at the vets or groomers, affectionately known as a lion-cut. And while being "king of the jungle" is oh-so-chic and super-cute, it does have its disadvantages like sunburn, scrapes and cuts due to exposed skin and what cat likes to be cold? In contrast, a beautifully maintained coat is a cat's crowning glory, and one of the physical characteristics we love most about our cats. Looking all fluffy and exquisite most likely contributes to their smug, confident demeanor. Above all, you love your cat and one of the ways you can keep him sleek, glistening, and contented is by following a consistent grooming regimen.

Shorthaired cats: Considerably less maintenance is required for short-haired cats like the Absynnian or the Burmese. But short-hairs still need regular grooming just not every day. Once a week is optimum for many, such as those with short, wiry, or non-existent fur that does not become densely tangled or knotted like their longer-haired cousins. Among them are the following:

  1. British shorthair.
  2. Devon rex.
  3. Sphynx (hairless).
  4. Scottish fold.
  5. Siamese.
Portrait of one cute cat sitting on the floor
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Prepping your cat for grooming

Begin grooming early in your cat's life to accustom her to the procedure. Introduce brushing, combing, cleaning ears, clipping nails, and bathing gently and slowly. Make the experience of being groomed something to look forward to; almost like a treat. Oh, and as for treats, have her favorite on standby. Be aware of behavioral cues and stop any grooming step immediately if your cat becomes agitated or angry. Patience is key and it's not the end of the world if you have to try again later or the next day.

As with anything that's new or strange, cats may, or more likely, will react. The goal for grooming is to associate the process with positive things, like treats and affection. Ignore any negative behaviors while you are introducing grooming and focus on positive reinforcement, always.

Prepare your space

When grooming your cat, you'll need a space away from the rest of the household and other pets. Ideally, you will have a table or countertop that you can cover with a towel. Your grooming space should include access to water for bathing or alternatively use a waterless shampoo, which your cat will either accept being sprayed directly on her, or maybe not. If not, simply spray some on your hands or a cloth or paper towel, then work into your cat's coat for the same beneficial effect.

Woman using a comb brush the Persian cat
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Gather your tools and products

You don't need the most expensive tools in town but purchase the best-quality tools you can afford. Quality tools do indeed make a difference. Your local pet supply store should have oodles of them to choose from. Here are some to consider adding to your grooming arsenal:

  • Wire slicker brush: A flat, metal brush, a wire slicker brush features small, fine-wire bristles bent at an angle. It removes loose fur and helps keep mats out of long hair.
  • Undercoat rake: This tool features a combination of wide and narrow teeth and is invaluable for grooming double-coated cats. The way they work is to thin the thick undercoat, thus keeping it free of tangles.
  • Deshedding tool: This must-have tool comes in several iterations. For example, the Furminator is an excellent tool for reducing loose fur. And there are several others on the market worth considering.
  • Soft-bristled brush: This old standby is excellent for removing dirt, debris, loose hair, and dead skin cells from your cat's coat. Also really helpful for distributing oils through your cat's coat to leave it shiny and smooth, you'll want to wrap-up your grooming session with this helpful brush.
  • Metal comb: This comb should feature teeth that have wide spaces between them and is used to prevent a dense undercoat from matting.
  • Mat Splitter: Regardless of your attention to grooming, sometimes long-haired cats still get mats in their coats. A mat splitter does what it says; splits mats. A pro-tip is to use a seam ripper if you don't have an authentic mat splitter. Beware of breaking up mats, unless they are obviously not dangerous to work apart, otherwise, you could inadvertently cut your cat's sensitive skin.
  • Flea comb: This comb features teeth that are close together to capture the diminutive fleas (hopefully not) in your cat's coat. The flea comb will remove fleas from your cat, but keep in mind it's just the tip of the iceberg. Fleas do not live on your cat but in the cracks and crevices of your home. A flea comb is an early warning that you need to get rid of a flea infestation in your house. Also, this cue indicates you should consider flea/tick preventives for your cat.
  • Nail clippers: It's important to keep your cat's claws under control, otherwise, they can grow so long they not only become uncomfortable for walking but end up growing into the paw pads.
  • Dematting spray or mousse: This product is developed to break up mats and application is followed up with combing.
  • Waterless shampoo, no-rinse shampoo, or regular cat-safe shampoo: Select the most appropriate shampoo for your cat.
  • Coat conditioner: Choose from a wide array of cat conditioners to impart shine and softness to his coat.
  • Cat wipes: Fragrance-free, hypoallergenic cat wipes are safe for daily use and fabulous stand-ins between grooming sessions. Their mild cleansers neutralize odors, freshen, and clean your cat with a few swipes of the wipe. Goodbye dander and saliva build-up, which are the leading causes of human/cat allergies. Plus, cat wipes leave your cat soft, shiny, clean and smelling better than you ever thought possible. Common ingredients in cat wipes are natural, such as aloe vera and Vitamin E.

Make every grooming session fun

Treats, treats, and more treats! While salmon or turkey tidbits might be your cat's weakness, your love and affection are most important to him. During a grooming session, change up the game a bit by stopping and cuddling, dole out a couple of treats, and then, back down to business. Cats will always let you know when they are completely fed up with whatever is happening. Don't wait until he gets a bee in his bonnet, perhaps even lashing out; read his body language and you'll soon know when to take a break from grooming and bring on the fun.

Happy kitten likes being stroked by woman's hand.
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The side benefit of grooming

On top of the physical benefits of grooming your cat, consider grooming the perfect opportunity to solidify the special bond you have with your feline friend. Many cats not only readily accept grooming, but enthusiastically love to be brushed and fussed over.

Grooming precaution for cats with mats

Always keep in mind when dealing with mats in your cat's coat that you can easily cut your cat's tender skin with one wrong move. Sharp tools like scissors and dematting tools need to be used with extreme caution. Depending on the extent of the mats in your cat's coat and your grooming experience, it's wise to consult with your veterinarian or seek the services of the local cat groomer to safely get your cat's coat back in shape.