There are lots of things to love about cat ownership; one is that the majority of cats need little help to stay clean and looking good. Self-grooming is a natural, instinctive behavior. Shorthaired, indoor cats typically do a good job of taking care of themselves. They lick and clean themselves for short periods several times a day and eventually work over every inch they can reach. If they have a feline housemate they get along with, they may also get some assistance in the grooming department. If a shorthaired cat doesn’t have fleas, then a simple combing every week or two might be all an owner needs to do to keep their kitty looking good.

I always recommend that owners get their cat used to being combed at a young age, before any problems with the coat develop. Getting a kitten to tolerate being held and combed is part of his training process. The kitten needs to learn that the comb is not a toy, and that staying still for a few minutes is not the end of the world. Use treats and praise to reward good behavior. Shorthaired cats may not get matted, but they can definitely shed a lot, and combing is an excellent way to help control where the hair goes. I think a flea comb is a very good tool for grooming a shorthaired cat that is not having any problems with its coat or skin.

Cats come in a variety of sizes with different types of coats. If you have an overweight cat or senior cat that cannot groom itself, you will need to take a more active role in keeping him clean. These cats may need combing daily or at least several times a week. They might need what we call at our clinic a “sani shave,” where we shave the hair in the perineal region to keep it from trapping urine, feces and dirt. If you have a long-haired cat that is unable to keep the area under its tail clean, we recommend a “baboon butt” where we shave a larger area under the tail and around the upper back legs. Then you can use baby wipes daily to help keep a cat’s rear end clean if needed.

A flea comb is typically too fine to use on a medium- to long-haired cat; a medium- to wide-toothed metal comb would be the best tool to use. If your cat is matted, work on a small area at a time. Never cut out a mat unless you work a comb between the skin and mat and cut to the outside of the comb. Unfortunately we frequently have to stitch and surgically glue wounds accidentally caused by owners when they attempted to cut out mats at home and weren’t using a safe technique.

Does a cat ever need a bath? That all depends on the oiliness of the coat, flakiness of the skin, matting and dirtiness. Some owners are able to bathe their cats, but this can be a challenge. If you need help with bathing, combing or shaving of your cat, you will need to find a groomer or vet clinic that can do this for you.

Some cats want no part in being groomed or bathed. When their coats become a mess, and grooming is needed to keep them clean and looking good, sedation is needed to safely perform the process. At our clinic, if we suspect a cat might not tolerate grooming, we start with having his owner give an oral sedative prior to dropoff and the excitation and stress of being away from home. If this does not provide adequate relaxation, we will use injectable sedation. Injectable sedation is the healthiest way for all involved to be safe and protected. It is not good for a cat to get scared, freak out and possibly hurt himself during grooming. Upset cats can easily tear toenails when struggling, hyperventilate and even pass out. It is not safe for the people handling the cat when he becomes aggressive. This can slow down the grooming process, creating more stress for the cat. It is very difficult to do a good job of bathing, combing,and clipping if a cat won’t stay still. We use an injectable protocol that allows us to reverse some of the medications when we are done. If you have a kitty that is uncooperative, talk to your vet about recommendations for safe grooming.

Nail trimming is a part of routine cat grooming, and it’s great to get a kitten used to nail trimming at an early age. Many owners get on a schedule to trim nails every two to four weeks. How quickly nails grow and how sharp they are depends on the cat’s activity level, lifestyle and scratching post habits. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for senior cats to develop ingrown toe nails if their owners do not trim their nails at least every two to three months. If you have a senior cat, be sure you monitor his nails and get them trimmed so that painful infections don’t occur. If you cannot trim your cat’s nails, your vet or groomer can help.

Cats like to be clean, and you will enjoy your cat more if you are able to help control shedding and matting and keep his nails from being a problem.

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