Grooming Basics to Keep Your Cat Looking Its Best

Keeping your cat clean and well-groomed is an essential part of keeping her comfortable and healthy.


Enlarge Image Every cat can benefit from a little grooming assistance.

To some extent, cats are able to keep themselves presentable. But just as many self-cleaning appliances benefit from an occasional swipe with a wet sponge, these self-cleaning animals need regular grooming to be at their best. And although cats and water might not be a classic combination, they can sometimes benefit from more of a bath than their own tongues provide.

More Than Skin-Deep Benefits

Taking time to groom your cat will pay off in several ways -- some of which are essential to its health. Regular brushing or combing and visual inspection can help:

  • Make your cat's coat gorgeously glossy.
  • Prevent matted fur and keep hair balls from developing -- and in turn, spare your pet the discomfort of spitting them up. (Hair balls form in the cat's stomach and intestines after the cat swallows hair while licking and grooming herself.)
  • Nip skin diseases and parasite problems (like fleas and ticks) in the bud.
  • Catch eye and ear ailments in their earliest stages, when they can be treated most easily.
Set a Schedule

How often you need to groom your cat depends on what type of coat it has and what season it is. Longhaired cats generally need to be brushed and/or combed at least twice a week; every day if they are allowed outside. Shorthaired cats usually require coat maintenance once a week.

In the spring and fall, however, most cats go through a shedding season, when they lose more dead hair than normal. At these times of year, you might want to groom your cat more frequently to minimize the occurrence of hair balls.

Beyond Brushing

In addition to brushing or combing your cat's fur on the schedule outlined above, a thorough grooming routine includes the following:

  • Gently running your hands over the cat's body to check for anything unusual, such as lumps or sensitive areas. Give your cat this once-over a couple of times a week.
  • Carefully cleaning your cat's ears with a cotton ball dipped in a bit of olive oil to remove any accumulated dirt and debris. This should be necessary only every two weeks or so.
  • Removing any discharge from your cat's eye area. Dampen a cotton ball with water and gently wipe away the discharge or dirt. Do this on an as-needed basis.
Hands-On How-Tos

The necessary supplies and instructions for a grooming session vary depending on whether your cat is longhaired or shorthaired.

Longhaired Cats

You'll need the following items:

  • Wide-toothed metal comb
  • Wire-bristle brush
  • Fine-toothed metal comb (some combs have wide teeth on one side and fine teeth on the other)
  • Small flea comb or clean toothbrush
  1. Start by running your fingers through your cat's coat. This should help the cat relax, and will tip you off to tangles or any other problems.
  2. Take the wide-toothed comb and first run it through your cat's top side, from head to tail. Then use it to comb the hair under its chin and on the chest. Next, use light pressure to comb the most sensitive areas: stomach, insides of legs, and under the tail. In each area, use the comb to gently tease out any minor tangles or small mats (clumps of matted hair). (Note: If your cat has large mats or many of them, don't attempt to remove them yourself. Bring them to your vet's attention and he or she will remove them safely, possibly anesthetizing your pet to minimize discomfort.)
  3. Go over your cat's coat with the wire-bristle brush to remove any dead hair.
  4. Take the fine-toothed comb and repeat the process in the same order as you did with the wide-toothed comb.
  5. Finish by gently combing the hair on your cat's face with the flea comb or toothbrush. Be careful to avoid the eye area.
For a Shorthaired Cat

You'll need the following items:

  • Fine-toothed metal comb
  • Natural-bristle or rubber brush
  1. Take the fine-toothed metal comb and work it over your cat's coat, moving from head to tail.
  2. Do the same with the rubber or natural-bristle brush, following the direction in which the hair lies.
  3. Keep your cat's coat shiny between groomings by simply stroking it with your clean hands.
Grooming Tools

A specialized brush, sometimes called a deshedding tool (it looks like a miniature rake), picks up where the brush left off to help prevent the underlying fur on your cat from becoming matted and tangled. The tool works its way past a cat's long topcoat to reach and remove the dead, dense, already loose hair underneath. The outer layer is left undamaged, and the skin underneath becomes clean and free from dirty, uncomfortable masses.

However, the tool is not equipped to remove hair that is still connected. So use it before tangling becomes a serious issue for your cat, or after existing mats have been removed. Before using, first make sure your cat's skin doesn't have any cuts or sores as a result of the matting. If this is a concern, see your vet and make sure any wounds are properly healed before proceeding with the grooming process.

Tips to Reduce Hair Balls

In addition to daily grooming, there are other steps you can take to help minimize your cat's shedding and hair balls. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Choose a cat food specifically formulated to help control hair balls. These foods offer vegetable fiber to assist with moving hair through a cat's digestive system, along with other essentials such as fatty acids that support a cat's skin and coat. Examples include Hill's Science Diet Hairball Control Cat Food and Iams ProActive Health Adult Hairball Care.
  • Purchase remedies specifically for hair balls. Always check with your vet for a diagnosis and subsequent recommendation for a particular food brand or medicine before starting a new diet for your cat or treating it for a condition.
  • Use preventive housekeeping measures to minimize your frustration. Invest in easy-to-wash covers for your furniture and car seats and vacuum, dust, and sweep frequently. 
  • If your cat itches and scratches excessively, check with your vet to see if it has allergies or fleas, then treat accordingly.
  • A committed cat-lover always keeps a lint brush at the ready for quick use before heading out the door.

 

Bath-Time Tips

Most cats need to be bathed infrequently, if at all -- a fortunate circumstance given their inherent dislike of getting wet.

However, there are some good reasons to bathe your cat, whether occasionally or regularly. They include the following:

  • Your cat has gotten an unusual amount of dirt or mud on its fur.
  • Its coat has come into contact with a harmful substance.
  • Your pet is unwell and can't groom itself as it normally would.
  • You suffer from allergies, and bathing can help remove the allergens your cat sheds.
  • You have a show cat and are about to enter it in a show.
Keep It Short

Cats won't enjoy an elaborate bath ritual, so keep their tub time as brief as possible. Following these pointers will help you get them clean in a hurry without undue stress:

  • Place a rubber mat in the kitchen sink to keep your cat from sliding around.
  • Fill the sink with 2-4 inches of warm (not hot) water. Pick your cat up and gently place it in the sink. Let it leave its front paws out of the water if it wants.
  • Wet the cat's fur with a sponge, except for its face. Rub cat shampoo into the wet fur. Be sure to use a shampoo made specifically for cats. Some dog shampoos can be toxic to cats, and even the mildest human soap will dry out their skin.
  • Rinse the lather off thoroughly until there are no suds in the rinse water. If your sink has a spray attachment, using it can make this job simpler.
  • If you have a double sink, you can use one basin for soaping up the cat, the other for rinsing it off.
  • Dry your pet off with towels, and keep it out of drafts until its coat is completely dry, to prevent it from catching cold.
  • Once your cat's fur is dry, you can comb it.
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