You’ve probably noticed that your cat spends the better part of their day grooming themselves. The constant licking, primping, and nibbling is for a good reason – they are trying to rid themselves of tangles, snarls, and filth so that they look their best at all times.
While your cat may be a professional at grooming, they sometimes need a little help. That’s where you come in, along with some handy tools, of course. No idea where to start? Let us help you.
How to Groom Your Cat
Cats possess the ultimate all-in-one grooming tool- their tongue. We’re not going to ask you to whip out yours to get this process started. Instead, let’s look at how you can groom your cat go over some of the tools that might help you along your way.
Let’s start with the grooming activity that you’ll spend the most time on and will do most frequently – brushing. Depending on your cat’s hair length and shedding style, you may need to do a thorough brushing every day. Brushing is that important.
Brushing your cat’s hair helps remove dirt and dander, untangle snarls to prevent mats, and distributes natural skin oils to give their coat a healthy shine. It also allows you to collect some shed hair that would otherwise wind up on your couch, carpet, and clothes. For your cat, brushing is like a massage that stimulates blood flow to the skin and further deepens that human-animal bond.
For short-haired cats, once a week brushing will usually suffice, especially if they’re doing a good job of grooming themselves. Long-haired or thick-coated cats, like Persians and Himalayans, may benefit from more frequent brushing. Your cat’s brushing schedule will depend a lot on their hair coat type and their temperament.
Brushing Short-Haired Cats
- Use a metal comb or rake. Start at the head and gently brush or comb your way down the neck and back.
- Continue down the sides, ending with the chest and belly, brushing in the direction of your cat’s hair growth. This will help remove tangles and large pieces of debris.
- You can then follow the same pattern using a bristle or rubber brush to remove smaller debris and loose hairs.
- Brush their legs and tail last, since most kitties aren’t huge fans of these areas being brushed.
For heavy shedders, nothing works better than a Furminator. This tool has a fine comb with very closely spaced teeth that grab onto that loose hair and gently pull it away and hold it so that you can dispose of it in the trash later on.
Brushing Long-Haired Cats
- Start with a metal comb or rake and comb the tangles out, starting at the abdomen and combing the hair upwards towards their head. This will help ensure that you get tangles out of the undercoat.
- Comb their legs and tail by making a part down the middle and combing through each side.
- Follow up with a bristle or slicker brush in the same pattern to get smaller debris and snarls and to spread those skin oils.
Furminator makes a long-haired version as well to help decrease shed hair around your home.
Take your time and make brushing a fun and pleasant experience. Detangle their hair gently, being careful not to pull at their hair. Also, don’t try to rush and go faster than your cat is comfortable with. While you brush, be sure to look at your cat’s skin for any irritation, discoloration, or pests. This also gives you a chance to look for new lumps or bumps that might need veterinary attention.
The majority of kitties are only going to need a bath every couple of months as they get extra greasy or any time they get something sticky or overly dirty on their fur. If this is your first time bathing your cat, it never hurts to have an extra pair (or two!) of hands to help out.
- Brush your cat first to remove excess debris and hair. This will make the bathing process a whole lot easier.
- Gather your supplies. You’ll want to have everything within arm’s reach once you get the water going, so have your shampoo and a towel ready. If using a bathtub, a bathmat works well to provide traction.
- Fill the tub or sink with 3-4 inches of warm water. Gently place your kitty inside. Using a spray hose or cup, wet your cat down while trying to avoid spraying them directly in the face.
- Massage a gentle shampoo into the hair. Human shampoo can be too drying, so stick with a pet labeled product for the best results. Shampoo from head to tail, avoiding the face and ears as best you can. Work the shampoo down to the skin.
- Thoroughly rinse the shampoo from your cat’s hair using the spray hose or cup. Make sure you have every last bubble gone, or else it can severely dry your cat’s skin out.
- Use a washcloth to wipe the face and ears.
- Dry with a towel.
Bathing can be extremely stressful to a cat, so be sure to take it slow and only do what they will tolerate. Having another person help you hold the cat will allow for better control and ensure that everyone stays safe.
3. Nail Trimming
Even though a cat’s toenails are retractable and you rarely see them, they can still get too long. Trimming your cat’s nails can prevent pain or problems caused by nails that are too long. It can also keep you safe by blunting the ends should you get caught by an errant nail.
Depending on your kitty, you may need to trim nails once a month, while others might only need it a couple of times a year.
You’ll Know It’s Time to Trim Your Cat’s Nails If:
- They start getting their claws hooked in blankets or the carpet.
- You hear that tell-tale click as they walk across a hard floor.
Older cats may need more frequent trimmings.
This is another project where having another person will help, but it isn’t always necessary.
How to Trim Your Cats Nails
Only attempt a nail trim when your kitty is at their calmest. Times that might work well are when your cat just wakes up from a nap or right after dinner. Let them warm up to the idea by first playing with their feet.
- With a firm grip on your kitty’s paw, extend the nail by pushing on the toe pad.
- Make a note of where the quick is so that you can avoid cutting the nail too short. The quick is the nail’s blood supply and will appear as a pink triangle that protrudes into the clear nail.
- Using a comfortable and easy to use pair of nail trimmers, trim off as much of the clear nail as you can without cutting the quick. Do as much as you’re comfortable with. For some, that might mean only taking the sharp tip off, and that’s okay. Whatever you can trim will make a difference.
- Continue through with the rest of the toes, rewarding your kitty when you finish. Repeat the process with the remaining paws.
*Note: Not every cat appreciates their feet being handled. If this sounds familiar, you’ll want to start by working with their feet before introducing the nail trimmers. While brushing, petting, or playing, be sure to touch their feet. You can even gently hold onto them so that they get used to the idea. Make sure your cat is comfortable with this before you try to trim toenails.
Grooming Your Cat’s Ears, Eyes, Teeth, & Anal Glands
Grooming your cat doesn’t end there. You’ll want to clean their ears, eyes, and even teeth periodically.
Cats get ear infections, ear mites, and hair in their ears. All of these can lead to scratching, head shaking, and general discomfort. Cleaning their ears can help prevent these issues and also give you a chance to notice other problems. Cleaning ears can be done as part of a bath, or anytime you have notice discharge, odor, scratching, or head shaking.
- To clean your kitty’s ears, use a gentle cleanser, such as Epi Otic.
- Pour the cleaner into the ear until it fills the ear canal. Watch out for head shaking as you do this; kitties tend not to like their ears filled with fluid.
- Then massage the base of the ear to loosen debris and hair.
- Using a paper towel over your finger, gentle dry out the ear as well as you can. Cotton swabs usually aren’t necessary and can cause some damage if you’re not careful.
- Repeat for both ears.
If your cat has a lot of dark-colored discharge or is extremely itchy, see your veterinarian as they may have an infection or ear mite infestation brewing.
Your kitty’s eyes aren’t going to take a lot of cleaning, usually. However, some cats have a touch of allergies or even an illness that may cause occasional discharge. If that’s the case, wiping them with a wet, warm washcloth will typically take care of it.
Believe it or not, there are vets out there that will tell you to brush your cat’s teeth. And, believe it or not, some cats will let you! If your cat is one of these, great, do it! Using a tiny toothbrush or a finger brush, apply a good flavored toothpaste, and brush those teeth at least once a week.
While brushing their teeth is the best way to avoid dental disease and loose teeth in your cat, it’s not always possible. What you can do instead is provide hard kibble or treats to clean those teeth mechanically. But above all, monitor your feline friend’s smile for bad breath, dirty teeth, or red gums. Then see your vet for a dental cleaning as needed. A quick lift of the lip during brushings or baths is all that it takes to check.
4. Anal Glands
Most cat parents will want to leave this to a professional, but it’s worth mentioning. While anal gland issues are more commonly a dog problem, they can become impacted in kitties. Signs of an impaction include excessively licking their hind end, difficulty defecating, and a strong odor. Cats don’t often scoot the way that dogs do; it’s too indecent for their tastes. Having your vet manually express those anal glands will clear this issue up right away.
When grooming your cat, fun should be had by all. Don’t look at it as a chore and make sure your cat doesn’t view it as a punishment. Grooming keeps your cat’s hair coat clean, healthy, and shiny. It also gives the two of you a chance to bond and is the perfect time to check for abnormalities that could be detrimental.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.