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.
NAIL IT DOWN
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 www.ShelterPetsInk.com
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
“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,”
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,”
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
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
Aztec and Thunder photo
|“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
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.”
EARS AND TEETH
“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
“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.”