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How to groom your cat

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Cats love to groom, but sometimes they can use a helping hand. As independent as some cats can be, they can all use the help and protection grooming provides.
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A cat being brushed on the head

Cats are naturally clean creatures and will spend hours pulling out knots, licking and grooming themselves. If you’ve ever seen this rigorous process, you already know that they take great pride in their appearance.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t help – it’s a big job, after all. Here are some ways you can make this ongoing chore a little easier for your cat.

Why should you groom your cat?

Grooming your cat reduces the amount of hair your cat swallows while self-cleaning as well as the amount of hair it will shed around the house. When you brush your cat, you also help distribute natural oils that help maintain your cat’s skin and coat health and you free its coat of tangles and grass seeds, which can cause matting, painful skin infections and abscesses.

Brushing offers you a good opportunity to check for parasites and skin, ear or teeth abnormalities. As you groom and handle your cat, you’re more likely to recognise when something isn’t right and visit your vet sooner for diagnosis and treatment.

Regularly grooming your cat from a young age helps it get used to being handled and examined and gives the two of you special one-on-one time together. Best of all, your cat will enjoy these times as the loving attention releases endorphins and gives your cat pleasure.

Not every cat needs every type of grooming, but all cats will benefit from brushing and nail trimming. Additionally some cats may need clipping or bathing.

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A woman lovingly cradling a cat in her arms

Make sure your cat is comfortable

Cats are sometimes wary of grooming, so be gentle and take things slowly so your cat learns to enjoy the process. Begin with brief sessions and slowly build to 5-10 minutes.

How often your cat requires grooming will depend on its coat, state of health and lifestyle:

  • Senior cats often need a little more help to groom hard-to-reach places.
  • Outdoor cats may need more frequent brushing to keep their coats free from grass seeds and burrs.
  • Indoor cats may need more regular nail trimming.

To help make your cat feel comfortable, handle it gently but with confidence. If you’re nervous, your cat will be too. Always remember to reward and encourage your cat for good behaviour during grooming.

Brush your cat

The length of your cat’s coat – long, medium or short hair – will determine the type of brush you use. Ask your pet health professional for advice on choosing the right brush. When brushing your cat, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Longhaired breeds will typically need more brushing than shorthaired breeds and may require daily brushing to prevent tangles.
  • Focus on areas your cat has difficult reaching, such as the armpits, belly, under the neck, behind the ears and behind its legs.
  • If your cat’s hair is lightly tangled, you may be able to gently brush it out, but more tangled or matted hair must be cut out to avoid causing pain.

Be careful with sharp tools like scissors and clippers. Enlist the help of a professional groomer or vet clinic, especially if you’re not confident cutting or clipping.

Check for parasites, skin problems or a dull coat

The grooming process is a good time to take a closer look at your cat’s skin and coat. External parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites can cause discomfort or itchiness, and even transfer disease or other parasites like tapeworm to your cat.

Start by running your fingers through your cat’s coat, feeling its skin for anything unusual. Then part the coat for signs of sores, rashes, bald spots, dry or flaky skin, redness and parasites.

A dull coat or dry and flaky skin may be caused by arthritis or older age, poor diet, allergies, weight problems, skin infections, diabetes or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid glands) or parasites. If you notice any changes in the appearance of your cat’s skin or coat, or you are concerned about its ears, talk to your vet.

Check your cat’s ears

As you groom your cat, look for the following signs of an ear infection:

  • The insides of the ears appear moist or reddened.
  • Ears contain more or different discharge than usual (a little wax is normal).
  • Your cat reacts when you examine its ears, though that is usually tolerated.
  • Your cat’s ears smell or your cat shakes its head or scratches at its ears.

If your cat shows any of these ear infection signs, consult your vet for treatment.

Bathe your cat

Something as simple as being outside in the mud and rain can turn your cat or kitten into a soggy mess. But even though many cats enjoy playing with running taps or wet shower floors, they don’t all like to be bathed.

Fortunately, many cats will only ever need a bath if their coat becomes very dirty, if they’re not able to groom themselves, or if they have a skin disease that requires medicated shampoo.

Cats can be adamantly independent and will sometimes object to too much attention. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need your help. Grooming your cat helps protect them from disease and parasites, and can help your cat look and feel its best. And better yet, it will bring the two of you closer together.

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