THE IMPORTANCE OF GROOMING YOUR CAT
You wouldn’t leave the house in the morning without cleaning your teeth or brushing your hair. And that monthly trip to the beauty parlour is just the thing to lift your spirits and boost self-esteem. But while a weekly blow dry or manicure may not be on the cards for your feline family, grooming your cat on a regular basis is essential to keep your four-legged friends both happy and healthy.
A CLEAN CAT IS A HAPPY CAT
Cats are famously clean creatures, and a content kitty will groom themselves several times a day to keep their fur free of loose hair or debris. Along with keeping themselves clean, cats will also groom their offspring, siblings and companions, which is an important part of feline social bonding. Similarly, grooming your cat helps to strengthen the relationship between a cat and its owner, and the sooner you start, the stronger your relationship will be. Aside from the bonding process, grooming your cat from an early age also gets it used to being handled – which is especially helpful when trips to the vets arise, as it minimises the stress encountered by the cat (and in turn, the human who cares for it!) Moreover, it prevents the matting of fur, reduces the likelihood of hairballs forming, and allows the owner to be familiar with their cat’s general health, from noticing any lumps on the cat’s body, to keeping their ears, eyes and noses clean.
THE GOOD GROOMING GUIDE
There are five key areas of cat grooming: Brushing; Bathing; Nail Clipping; Ear Cleansing and Eye Cleaning. In addition, checking for any abnormalities beneath the fur, like lumps, bumps, cuts and legions, or infestations of parasites, like fleas or ticks, should be done on a regular basis. Finally, although uncommon, some breeds of cats suffer from impacted anal glands, which need expressing to prevent abscesses. If there is any redness in this area, or if the cat is licking itself there excessively, it’s worth taking them to the vets to be checked over as soon as possible.
As a rule of thumb, the sooner you introduce a weekly grooming regime to your cat’s life, the better it is for the both of you. But taking it step by is key, so your cat doesn’t feel threatened or stressed by the process. The aim is to get your cat to enjoy being groomed, but to get the whole thing over and done as quickly as possible. Just break their grooming into manageable chunks. Don’t do everything at the same time, don’t forget to reward them for their patience, and if they start getting fidgety or cross, stop, and try again later.
STEP 1: Start by gently stroking your cat first to get them used to being touched.
STEP 2: Check for lumps, bumps or injuries on the skin – you will feel them as you stroke your cat. Part the fur to check if there are any parasites like fleas or ticks. The area around the neck, under the chin and on the tummy are common places to spot them and their waste, which looks like hard, black specks.
STEP 3: Check their paws to see if there is no matted fur or debris like chewing gum, stones, twigs or tar between their pads. If your cat lives indoors, check for rogue pieces of cat litter that can easily get stuck.
STEP 4: Make sure their claws are not too long. Not only is it uncomfortable for your cat, your furniture will thank you for it! If they are too long, clip them using specially designed claw clippers, making sure that you don’t clip them too far down. If you have never clipped a cats nails before, have them done by a vet first, who can show you how to do it. It’s relatively quick and easy, but you need to learn how to do it safely and effectively.
NB: NEVER consider de-clawing your cat. Not only is it barbaric, it’s totally unnecessary. It’s easy to keep your cats claws in check with a monthly nail clip.
STEP 5: Short or long-haired, every cat needs to be brushed. Long coats require daily brushing to remove any dirt or debris and reduce the likelihood of matting, while short-haired breeds should be brushed two or three times a week, less frequently in the winter. Use a specially designed cat brush that won’t damage the cats skin or pull too hard on the fur, and be gentle when you brush, starting at the head and working your way down towards the tail. If you do encounter any significant matting of the fur (anything larger than your thumb) don’t try and tackle it yourself. A cat’s skin is very thin, and can easily be damaged by over-zealous combing. Go to the vets or the grooming parlour who will remove the tangled lump of fur carefully without harming your cat.
STEP 6: Look inside their ears to see if there is any accumulation of ear wax or evidence of ear mites. Gently remove any dark brown wax from the ears using a soft damp tissue or face cloth, or special ear cleanse pad, by carefully rolling the ear back and wiping upwards. Do it frequently, and this won’t seem like an ordeal for your cat, being extremely careful not to touch the inner part of the ear. Any stubborn wax, or wax that is too hard to reach without upsetting your cat can be removed by a vet, or by softening with ear drops before being cleaned.
STEP 7: Helping your cat keep their eyes clean is an important job. You cat’s eyes should look clear and bright, but if they are watering, red, or have discharge collecting at the inner corners, take them to the vets immediately. Like humans, dust and debris will accumulate in the corner of the eye, and will need to be wiped away. Every day, or every other day, use a cotton ball soaked in warm water to clean away any grime, making sure you use a new cotton ball every time you go back to clean each eye to stop any chance of cross-contamination. Work from the inside out, being careful to only wipe around the eyelid, and in the corners, not on the eye ball itself.
Always be sure to wash and clean your hands before and after cleaning your cat’s eyes.
THE POTENTIAL CAT-ASTROPHE: BATHING
Cats are very adept at washing themselves, but occasionally, they will need to be bathed. This can be extremely traumatic for a cat, so preparation is key, as is keeping the whole process quick (and finding a friend to help you out if needs be!)
If you have no choice but to wash your cat, first, make sure you place a rubber mat in the bottom of the bath or shower tray to stop the cat slipping over. Fill a bucket with warm water and have a plastic jug to wet the cat’s fur. DO NOT use a shower head – the noise of running water will scare your cat.
Get two large towels (one to wrap your cat in beforehand, one to dry your cat with afterwards) and two face cloths – one to wash the face, and one for the body. Then ensure you have special cat shampoo to hand – regular human-use shampoo, household soaps and cleaning liquids are dangerous to use, and can damage your cat’s delicate skin. A proper cat shampoo will also not lather as much as normal shampoo and will be easier to rinse off.
Remove your cat’s collar, and make sure the coat has been well-brushed, so the shampoo can easily work through the fur. Slowly wrap your cat in a towel to restrain it, talking to it calmly the whole time. When you reach the bathroom, gently place your cat in the bath.
Using the jug, pour water over the cat’s body, not the head, then gently but quickly rub the cat shampoo into the body area, remembering to talk to your cat calmly and softly, using reassuring words. Pour clean warm water over the body and squeeze the fur to make sure all the shampoo is removed. Do not take too long. Make sure that you keep the face dry during this process.
Once all the soap is removed, tightly wrap the cat in a large clean dry towel and try to give them a quick pat down rather than rubbing (rubbing will tangle fur, especially long cat hair) to get rid of the excess water. At this point you can wipe the face area with a wet cloth but do not use any soap.
Do not attempt to dry your cat’s hair with a hairdryer. Better to let them find their favourite hiding place, and air dry naturally indoors. Sitting in a sunny spot, or by a radiator is perfect. They may be slightly grumpy, but a plate of some yummy treat and a little time alone to dry off, and they will soon be back to your normal, fun-loving furry feline.
Written by Lucy Wildman