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Cat Grooming - Less is More!

Grooming your Cat


Caveat:  This article contains advice for grooming pet cats and kittens and does not address the grooming of show cats.  A happy, healthy friend and a pageant winner are two different animals!



So, let’s begin by discussing bathing.  I understand that a lot of people, especially folks who own dogs or have in the past, feel as if they are being irresponsible if they don't bathe their pet.  However, a cat is not a dog!  It's ok to let a cat take care of its own bathing most of the time, particularly a short haired cat.


Cats are naturally obsessive groomers and this serves several purposes.  One of which is keeping clean.  Cats have rough tongues which act as little combs or brushes and their saliva is effective as well at keeping their fur soft and clean.  A healthy cat has natural oils and beneficial microbes in its fur (from the saliva) that are almost always stripped, to some degree, by even the gentlest shampoo.  It will replenish, but can't keep up with frequent soap and water baths - the fur will become dryer and rougher, and can become thinner and sparser. 


In addition, bathing your cat regularly is likely to dry out its skin, leaving it flaky and uncomfortable and vulnerable to many skin conditions that cats are prone to anyway.  Healthy fur and skin require their natural oils.


Cats hate water!  OK, we know that and sometimes we have to do what's best for them, despite their differing opinions, like trips to the vet.  But, if there's no good reason for regular bathing, why terrorize your cat?  Different cats react differently, but unless yours is most unusual, it will really hate its baths and possibly dread them.  I have seen cats come to fear their owners just because of frequent baths and I have seen more than one cat that ran away from the sound of running water and/or wouldn't go in the bathroom voluntarily.  I’ve seen cats that were scared to be picked up because they thought they’d be carried to a bath.  Sad and unnecessary.



Another good reason not to immerse your cat in water is that being wet makes a cat susceptible to colds and respiratory infections, and this is even more true for young kittens.  Even if your cat will tolerate the noise of a hairdryer, it is impossible to dry their fur quickly enough, especially a long haired cat, to dispel the risk.  Ever noticed how a cat, or particularly a kitten, will tremble and shake when wet?  Warm and dry is the safest, most comfortable and happiest way for your cat to be.



However, there are legitimate hygiene issues that we all know sometimes have to be addressed!  What if your cat gets into something really messy that is way too much for kitty to deal with alone (and maybe dangerous to ingest, not to mention tracking around the house)?!  One good answer is to use an old towel or washcloth dipped in warm water and a little cat shampoo to gently wipe only the affected area.  Your cat will be less adversely affected, physically and emotionally and it is just as effective.  Just keep rinsing the cloth and dabbing the fur until kitty is nice and clean.


You can also buy pre-moistened wipes at most pet stores that are designed for “spot cleaning” your fuzzy friends.



Allergy baths:  I understand about suffering allergies and you don’t want to sacrifice having a cat.  Try using a wipe-on liquid that doesn’t require water to be used.  Keeping your home immaculately clean and having a minimum of carpeting on the floors will help a lot.  Look into alternatives to constant baths.


Flea baths – another reason many cat owners regularly bathe their pets is because they use a medicated, pesticidal flea bath or dip.  This is also contraindicated, in my experience, for the above reasons as well as the fact that the flea bath can be dangerous and really doesn’t work.


First of all, flea baths kill most of the existing, adult fleas so you will see dead fleas and it looks like its working.  But, no matter what the label says, I have never run across a flea bath product that kills flea eggs or kills or repels fleas (or ticks) that jump on the cat after its bath. 


In addition, remember, pesticide is a toxin.  I have heard people describe their cats as having adverse reactions after a normal flea bath, such as drooling, lethargy, disorientation and vomiting.  It is almost impossible to regulate flea bath pesticides; you end up using too much without even knowing it.  Also, you have to wash the cat’s head, which causes the toxin to get into your cats eyes and mouth.    Flea baths are dangerous for adult cats and should never, never be used on a kitten, no matter what the label tells you (this applies to flea collars too, by the way, because they concentrate so much pesticide in one area).


The best things to use are Frontline or Advantage flea drops, which works really well and is much safer and less traumatic.


Toilet hygiene – some cats, especially fluffy longhairs, kittens, older cats, pregnant cats and sick cats, have trouble keeping their bottoms clean after the litter box.  They get litter and feces stuck in their fur which causes all kinds of problems for their health and for the state of your home.  Here again, there are alternatives to total immersion bathing.


There’s the spot cleaning I was talking about above.  Just check kitty each time the litter box is used.  If poo-poo butt is a chronic difficulty, however, I recommend something called the “hygiene clip”.  This is a hair cut for the butt, so to speak!  Seriously, keeping the backside and if needed, back legs, of your cat clipped short or even shaved (although I don’t really recommend this long term) will spare you both a great deal of stress.  Of course, it should go without saying that your cat should be under a vets care if it is having toilet problems of any kind which can be indicators of more than one serious condition.


Last thing on the subject – skipping those cat baths will spare you all those scratches!



Brushing and combing:  Do lots of it!  All you want (and your cat will put up with!).  It is wonderful for their fur, necessary for a long haired cat, to keep their fur from matting, and helps keep the skin healthy.  Not only that, but it will bring you closer!  Cats generally love to be brushed and combed and will love you for it!!



Claw clipping:


Clipping your cat’s claws at home or having it done at a groomer is commonly done, but presents its own pitfalls that you should know about.


Most important is the fact that a cat claw clipped with a too-dull clipper can be crushed (even a little, you won’t see it probably).  When it’s crushed, it is opened it up to bacteria which can cause serious infections.  We adopted a cat who is missing a toe due to a very serious paw infection, and he is permanently adversely affected by the experience.  This is nothing you want to fool around with.  Especially since it is almost impossible to get clippers that are sharp enough to absolutely preclude crushing the claw.


I have spoken with more than one very reputable, experienced vet on the subject of clipping cats’ claws and their opinion is pretty unanimous – don’t do it, there’s no reason for it and it’s dangerous.  Even if you’ve clipped your cat’s claws regularly for years, well, the next time could be the one that causes the damage. Why take the chance?


In my opinion, the best option is to give your cat a good scratching post and let them keep their claws properly cared for on their own.


If however, you concern is not the health of your cat, but scratching of the furniture, yourself, maybe your children… that’s another story.  First of all, clipping the claws will not really keep this from happening.    And, you must never declaw your cat (see my upcoming article for more information on the subject).


There is a wonderful product called “Soft Paws” that really works.  The product consists of little claw cases or covers that you actually glue onto your cats claws.  I have never heard of a cat that didn’t get used to it quite quickly and it really does keep the claws from doing much damage.  And they come in a variety of colors (your kitty can have hot-pink claws!).


But, cats scratch.  It’s inherent to the species and, not only is it natural, it’s necessary to their mental and physical health.  Unless you have a new baby or your cat has emotional issues, it might just be something that you can learn to live with.



My personal feeling about all of this kind of thing, based on pretty extensive experience:

if you are doing something to your cat that it  objects to, there might be a good reason not to do it.  Not always the case (like with meds and vet visits) but something to consider.


Your cat knows what it’s doing, 9 times out of 10.  As long as it’s healthy and happy, consider going along with what kitty wants instead of forcing kitty to go along with what you think is best.


It’s best to adapt to your cats rather than making your cats adapt to you.  It’s better to cat proof a home than to home proof a cat (just like with children!).


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