By Darlene Arden

Parts of this article first appeared in Catnip

Mio is a little heart-stealer, who has certainly captured the
heart of his owner, Michele Matrischiani. Photo courtesy of Michele Matrischiani.

Most pet owners think of cats as self-feeding, self-watering, self-eliminating and self-cleaning creatures. Of course that’s more myth than fact. Our feline friends may cherish their independence, but we know that they need some help from us to buy and serve the food, keep the water bowl refreshed, clean the litter box, and, yes, help them with their grooming.

But, being both independent and fastidious, they may not always appreciate that necessary assistance when it comes to grooming.

“I think it’s important to try and start when they’re kittens, especially longhaired cats,” advises Dr. Richard Anderson, Board Certified Veterinary Dermatologist at Boston’s Angell Memorial Animal Hospital.

“Sometimes kittens are rather impatient so it’s a good idea to not do too much at any one time, be kind of brief,” he adds. “Know what your cat’s limits are and what they’ll tolerate.” He suggests occasionally rewarding them while you’re grooming so they’ll learn to enjoy it. “Some cats love to be groomed and others will tolerate it to a point and then it’s kind of ‘back off!’” Anderson laughs.

Linda Strydio, a professional groomer at Pet-A-Groom in Ramsey, NJ. agrees, “Cat’s don’t really like to be groomed. It’s not natural to them,” she explains.

The first thing Strydio does is cut the cat’s nails. A groomer or your veterinarian can teach you how to do it.

Anderson and Strydio say it’s easy. “You press down on the claw, the claw comes out, extends itself, and you just take off that sharp edge,” says Strydio. “The great thing about cat nails is they’re almost always white so that you can see the quick very easily. Whereas dogs’ nail’s quicks seem to grow right down to the end and you can bleed them very easily. Usually you can take most of the cat’s nails off without having any problem.”

“It avoids having the cat scratch your things in the house,” says Anderson. “It’s a good thing to do maybe once a month.”
Siamese Cats Prince Rama, Kuri, Nina and Chairman Mao.
Photograph courtesy Kari Winters

The grooming equipment you’ll use will depend on the length of your cat’s hair. If you only brush longhaired cats you really don’t get down to the skin, which is why Anderson prefers using a fairly fine-toothed comb, or even a flea comb on some cats, being careful not to irritate the skin.
“We still like slicker brushes,” says Strydio. “You can get one of the flat type slickers that they make for cats for your shorthaired cat. We like the curved slickers on the longhaired cats, it seems to pull the mats out easier. You want a good Greyhound [brand] comb with a fine and a medium tooth on it.”

Most cats have a double coat, “The Rex cat is the only cat that does not, they are single coated with a fine curly hair and that’s also why they don’t shed, or barely shed,” Strydio explains. The double coat is composed of long coarse outer guard hair, and a soft wooly undercoat. “When you start to stroke, brush and comb a cat, it produces a lot of static electricity,” says Strydio. “The cat detests that. It is very uncomfortable for them and they don’t like being groomed. That’s why it’s really important to start as a kitten running your hand down over the body, getting them used to all of that,” she emphasizes. Strydio suggests using a very fine brush on kittens. To minimize the static electricity, she suggests misting the coat with a very light conditioner formulated for cats before you start grooming.


Strydio says that a shorthaired cat should be given a good weekly brushing, to cut down on shedding.

Cats shed seasonally. “I don’t think most people realize that shedding is not dictated by temperature. It’s dictated by light,” Strydio explains. Unlike dog hair which grows continuously, a cat’s hair grows in cycles. “Normally it would only grow maybe a third of an inch a month during the growing phase. As the new cycle begins, the young hair is pushing out the old and that’s what’s known as the shedding. It’s during the growing phase when they start shedding out that it’s most important to keep combing those cats all the time and getting all that hair out,” says Strydio.

Towards the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring, there are more sunlight hours which is when the shedding process begins. Cats begin to retain their coat during the shorter days of Fall. It’s especially important that outdoor cats get their Winter coat to protect them.
Russian Blues Kira and Yuri looking their best. Photograph courtesy Sally Bahner.

Anderson suggests brushing a longhaired cat fairly frequently, “If you can spend a few minutes every 2 or 3 days, it’s a lot better than trying to wait until it’s bad. Maintaning it is better than trying to do it periodically. It’s many times more important that you are combing the longhaired cat compared to a shorthair. You just have to,” stresses Anderson who thinks that a lot of people don’t realize that it’s getting ahead of them.


“The guard hair is a single hair and they each have their own follicle. The undercoat is actually clumps of hair. As the cat starts to shed out, those clumps get matted,” Strydio explains.

Many people brush right on top of the coat, but that doesn’t get down to the mats. If the longhaired cat becomes matted, then what? “It depends on the temperament of the cat,” says Strydio. “Some cats are wonderful about letting us comb them out and de-mat them. If a groomer knows how to do it, and do it easily, it’s terrific.” Strydio uses combs most of the time because they often seem to pull the mats out more easily.

“If you can split a mat apart, you can break it down and comb it out.,” says Anderson. It requires patience. “A lot of cats either have to go to a groomer or a veterinarian. Sometimes they’re so badly matted, you can’t comb them out. You have to be careful when you cut them that you’re not cutting the skin, I’ve seen cats lacerated with a scissors,” Anderson warns.

Cats have very sensitive skin. “They have very loose connective tissue and it’s very easy to cut and very easy to hurt them,” Strydio cautions. To manage the cat while trying to de-mat it, Strydio suggests holding the cat supported by the scruff of the neck because that makes it very difficult for the cat to reach back and grab you. “If you can get that comb underneath the mat and start working it out, usually, if the cat will tolerate it, they will lift out pretty easily. You can de-mat them. Sometimes we can brush it out with a slicker brush and combing,” says Strydio. “But the one problem with de-matting is: be prepared because it’s going to be red, hairless patches all over the cat if it’s really badly matted If the cat won’t allow that, then the owner is told that if the cat can tolerate it, it will have to be shaved and start over with a new coat.”

“We shave them close, we don’t do any in between,” she adds. “We use a #10 blade on them because cats, as I said, have a very thin skin. I’ve known groomers that use a wider blade; there’s too much opening between the blades and you can get the cat’s skin in there, it just rips them open and that’s a pretty ugly sight,” she warns.
Pay close attention if your cat is overweight. Fat cats can’t maneuver and aren’t flexible enough to groom themselves. “They have a lot more problems and a lot more coat in them because they’re not able to do it,” says Strydio.

Grooming at the shop is done “in one fell swoop.” They use a noose on the neck they would with a dog. However, dogs usually stand. “We keep the noose down very low, let the cats relax as much as possible. But cats will be exceedingly temperamental when it comes to grooming. There’s a handful of them that just lay there and just love it, so you’ve got to be very quick.”

Clients have said that their cat is totally declawed so there’s nothing to worry about. “Well, yes there is something to worry about,” says Strydio. “It’s called teeth, because a cat that’s totally declawed will use their teeth faster than any animal, and it’s a natural defense for them.”

While grooming your cat at home, you could probably put it on your lap rather than a table, “Or wherever the cat basically wants,” says Strydio who suggests putting down a towel first, perhaps on the couch next to you. “I would try not to make a big production of it when they’re first starting. Just start combing the cat, brushing the cat, put a little conditioner spray on it.” Pay attention behind the ears and under the legs which are areas where they’ll mat the most because they can’t groom themselves there.


“I’m not a big advocate of bathing cats,” says Anderson. “The cat is basically a pretty clean animal.”

Aztec and Thunder photo Shara Rendell-Smock
“I would say the least you can bathe them, probably the better,” says Strydio. “We use a hypoallergenic shampoo and I think that’s probably the best to use on any animal rather than going with any of the heavily scented things. Cats have sensitive skin. I would use the least offensive thing possible.” Use a shampoo formulated for cats.

he thinks most owners will probably have problems. “Cats naturally detest water.” She’s seen very few that enjoy it. “Be quick!” Strydio advises. “The whole key to cat bathing is to be fast. Don’t prolong it.”

Strydio says she’s never found a trick to get the cat to enjoy being bathed, “I don’t think there’s any way to make a cat like something. It’s just not their nature. The key to it is if you can start when they’re very young because the Show cats are taught from a very, very young age and they love it. But I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule for it,” she adds.

Be especially careful not to get soap in their eyes or water in the ears. Anderson cautions against putting a lot of soap on at any one time and suggests diluting the soap out with water first before you apply it, otherwise it’s difficult to get all the soap out.

You can bathe the cat it in your sink. “Have a screen or a mesh that the cat can kind of get their claws into and yet the water will kind of run through the cat, run through the screen,” says Anderson. “The cat kind of sits there and attaches itself to it and you can use a nozzle and just gently rinse the soap out. Otherwise it’s so hard to get soap out of a cat,” Anderson explains. The cat will lick off any soap you don’t get out, thereby ingesting it. Anderson thinks using a cream rinse is a good idea.
“If a cat comes in with a skin problem, I don’t push an owner to bathe their cat unless they’ve done it and the cat enjoys it,” Anderson continues. “It’s just adding to their aggravation. For example, for cats that have ringworm, I will use sponge on, leave on solutions rather than bathing the cat.”

Bathing can cause dermalogical problems. “I think there are certain soaps you have to be careful of and, again, leaving soap residues on,” says Anderson. “I think I see that probably more in the dog than I do in the cat mostly because I don’t see that many cats that people tell me are bathed at home.”

“Normally, a cat’s ears are perfectly clean,” says Anderson. “If there’s any wax or irritation at all, there’s probably something going on. If it’s a young kitten, it’s more apt to be ear mites. An adult or older cat sometimes will have a yeast in the ear that can cause some wax. Infections in cats’ ears compared to dogs is not very common.”
Strydio suggests using a little bit of a veterinary type ear cleaner on a cotton ball. Do not probe into a cat’s ear because you can hurt them very easily.

You should brush your cat’s teeth at home. “If they can do it every day or a couple of times a week, the more they can do it the better,” says Anderson.
Annual professional cleaning should be done by your veterinarian.

Hairballs, too, are “a veterinary thing,” says Strydio. “Cats by grooming themselves are basically pulling out their hair and that’s what’s causing their hairballs.” Obviously, they swallow the hair.

“There are shorthaired cats that probably are never combed or brushed and do very well,” says Anderson. “They probably get a few furballs and they throw it up and everybody goes their way.”

“We’ve actually seen some cats in here that have had so much fur that it has literally clogged their esophagus and they’re in dire stress,” he adds. That occurs mostly with longcoated cats.

“You have to be careful if they have furballs that they (owners) don’t start pouring oil down their cat’s throat that’s going to go into their lungs, too,” Anderson warns. You should discuss the available mild hairball products with your veterinarian.

Viva does Lenox, Platinum Mink Tonkinese
Photo: Joan Bernstein
“It’s interesting the number of cats you see with skin problems,” notes Anderson. “Most cats that have hair mats are not due to skin problems, they’re due to the fact that they haven’t been combed out,” he states. “It’s important, really, at times when animals are more apt to be shedding, especially when they’re losing their coat in the Spring, to be grooming more vigorously, and more often, if you have longhaired cats.”

“Certain cats, Siamese for example, seem to shed all the time,” adds Anderson. “Then you’ll get others that go through shed cycles, but oftentimes the Spring is the time for losing a lot of their undercoat and they’re more apt to get hair mats and hairballs.”

Grooming by the owner will definitely prevent a lot of this, “The fact that the cat even throws up a hairball is an indication that probably you’re not spending enough time grooming the cat,” Anderson points out. You can consider hairballs a warning signal.

The Older “New” Cat
There are cats who don’t want to be bathed and/or groomed. Perhaps an older cat has been adopted and grooming has not been part of his regular routine.
“Sometimes that’s a really tough situation,” says Strydio. “Cats are a very independent creature and you can’t always predict what they’re going to do. Most people will wind up taking them to a groomer.”

Whether or not a groomer can handle a cat if the owner can’t will depend on the cat. “Sometimes animals are better for people who know what they’re doing, and in other cases the animals have to be sedated,” says Anderson. “There’s obviously cats that nobody can comb out, and there’s others that the owner can’t, but somebody who knows what they’re doing and feels more patience with the cat can do. The cat knows when they’re dealing with an amateur.”

Because Pet-A-Groom also grooms dogs, some cats are just too uncomfortable there. “Even though everybody is caged, they don’t want to be around dogs,” says Strydio. “Some cats are funny, they don’t want to be around other people. I will say it’s rare. But we will not take the chance of injury. Cats can injure themselves easily, as well as they can injure us. It’s not worth trying to let the cat hurt itself or us. We will call the owner and send it home. There’s always two of us in the shop that do cats and we will not do a strange cat alone,” says Strydio. They’ll put the cat in a cage and give it a period of time to quiet down. “We try to keep them far enough away from the dogs but, if when we go to take the cat out, the cat is really that freaked out by it, it’s just not worth it. We will call the owner and we will suggest they take them to their vet. Some vets will do it where they’ll knock the animal out if the cat has to be shaved down and they’ll do it.”

Once you earn the cat’s trust, you can begin to groom it. Strydio suggests getting a grooming mitt that will fit over your hand and using it when the cat begins to come up to you. “They make them with a regular brush, or sometimes with the slicker-type brush which is usually the most effective on a cat’s hair. And sometimes just the cat rubbing up against it will help starting to pull out some of that undercoat,” says Strydio.

“If they’re not used to it you could certainly start with a brush a little bit and see if the cat accepts that,” says Anderson. “And then, from there, maybe going to a comb, so you’re getting them used to it. The secret with cats, I found, is most cats enjoy having things around their face, so if you can kind of rub their face and under their chin and the front end. It’s when you start dealing with the back end of a cat that they get a little bit antsy, or unhappy,” says Anderson. “Definitely start at the head, around the face, and the neck and the shoulder and then move back,” he advises.
When a cat rubs its face up against you, it’s using scent glands to mark you, in a sense, as its property. Would starting the grooming at the head be helping them mark you? “Yes, I think so,” says Anderson. “If I’m examining a cat I’ll just kind of rub its head and under its chin and you kind of get their confidence a little bit.”

Cats don’t get impacted anal glands as much as dogs do, “There’s not that many times you have to do it,” says Anderson of expressing the anal glands. “For some reason, the only breed that we sometimes get anal sac problems with is the Siamese and I don’t know why. It’s about the only breed where sometimes you’ll see anal sac abscesses form. It might be a breed you have to watch more for anal sacs.” If it had an anal sac problem, you might see the cat licking around its rear end.
While you’re grooming your cat, it’s a good time to check for skin problems. Do a quick check starting with the quality of the coat, “looking for signs of excessive dander or scale,” says Anderson. “Obviously, looking for fleas which is why a flea comb’s nice to use.”

When you’re grooming, look, feel, touch, and examine the skin for any little bumps or lumps. “We see animals with little tiny tumors and things like that that an owner picks up because they do handle their animal. We see others where they’re great big things before they bring them in because they’re not handled or brushed,” says Anderson.

“A lot of cats warn the owner that something’s going on because they’re licking,” says Anderson. “A lot of times when they have itch, they have a skin problem, and their grooming will become accentuated.”

In Florida fleas are probably the most common cause of a skin problem but with the newer flea products, Anderson says he doesn’t see that many fleas in the Northeast. What he does see are itchy cats, “They’re cats that are licking their hair off,” says Anderson. “And some of these are allergy, some of these are excessive grooming, compulsive grooming, that’s probably a very common complaint we see in cats.”

There are benefits to helping your cat maintain his coat, “The cat’s an independent creature and some of them really don’t appreciate you invading their territory and that is,” Anderson says of grooming. “I would look at grooming as a little bit of socialization with your cat. Some cats are very sociable and some are rather independent and I think it’s one way for people to interact and socialize with their cat.” It’s also helpful to the veterinarian if animals are handled a lot. “Cats that are never handled come in and see a veterinarian are more difficult, I think, sometimes to examine if they’re not used to being handled. Part of it’s interacting with your cat. If you’re going to pet it, comb it!”

Some owners think adding things to their cat’s diet will change the coat, “I think with most balanced diets you don’t have to be adding a lot of extras,” says Anderson. “I think that’s important.”

There can be a problem if your cat gets grease or paint or other substance on his coat. “If you get paint, of course, the best thing probably is to let it dry and then clip it off,” says Anderson. “Don’t use any paint thinners or paint remover,” he cautions. “The cat’s going to lick it some but it’s hard to clip. It doesn’t have to dry completely but as soon as you can clip it off, obviously clip it off. If it’s road tar or oil or grease or that sort of thing, you can put mineral oil on the cat’s skin and then you can use a (liquid) detergent like Palmolive or Joy, and it’ll take the tar off. Again, being very careful and rinsing it off and then maybe even bathing the cat with its regular shampoo afterward.”

Strydio suggests using baby powder or cornstarch if the cat’s really dirty, or has a very oily coat, and the owner doesn’t want to take the cat to a groomer, “Sprinkle it into the cat’s coat , rub it in, let it set for about 20 minutes and then start brushing it out, they’ll be surprised how clean that will make the cat. That’s an old show groomer trick. That’s often how they make those real pretty cats get all fluffed out.” Be careful not to sprinkle the powder into the cat’s eyes, ears, or let it fly into the cat’s lungs. “The powder will also help to absorb the oils if they do get into anything. But cats can tend to get an oilier coat and that will help cut down a lot on the oil.”

Some people opt to take their cat to a professional groomer on a regular basis. “We have cats that come in once a month,” says Strydio.

If you’d rather have your cat groomed professionally you’ll want to find a good groomer.

“They’re going to find that most groomers don’t do cats because it is one of the higher liabilities,” says Strydio. “If the cat is good, quite honestly, cat grooming is wonderful and it probably makes you more money than dog grooming because we charge more for cats because it is higher liability. A cat can put us out of business by injuring us, very quickly. The worst bite I ever had has been by a cat.”

Strydio suggests calling around and talking to the groomers to ask if they groom cats, “Talk to people that have cats that get them groomed.” She also suggests getting a recommendation from your veterinarian. And look for somebody who has a good reputation. “Ask them some questions, see if they seem to know what they’re talking about. Ask to see their facilities, where the cat’s going to be kept, ask them their procedures. We don’t often fluff dry cats. There are a few cats that we can that are fine, most cats we’ll cage dry in open cages, they can’t get overheated. Our dryers never get exceedingly hot, we’re very careful about that. I would make sure that the cages are large enough that the animal isn’t exceedingly confined. I would ask for their experience, do they do many cats? I think they’ll be able to tell by talking to the groomer whether they even like cats. And if they don’t like cats then they shouldn’t be doing cats.”

NOTICE OF COPYRIGHT: No material from this website (designs, art, photographs, graphics, or written text) may be used, duplicated or reproduced, in part or in its entirety, without written permission from Darlene Arden
Design by Lisa Croft-Elliott