You have probably noticed that cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, but have you ever wondered why?
Why Do Cats Groom Themselves?
- To remove loose hair
- To stimulate glands at the base of the hairs that keep their coat waterproof
- To spread their own scent across their body
- To spread saliva across their coat which evaporates, cooling the cat down in hot weather – a bit like us sweating
- To remove parasites like fleas
- Some cats also enjoy grooming each other to bond – some even try to groom the dog!
Cat’s bodies are very flexible enabling them to reach most parts of their body and their rough tongues are perfect for removing loose hair and dirt. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t help them too, and there are actually lots of benefits to us helping them – for the cat and for us!
Why Do We Help Them?
- To stimulate the skin to produce beneficial oils
- To reinforce the bond between us and our cat
- To avoid the cat ingesting its own hair, which can form harmful hairballs
- To relax ourselves – lots of studies have shown the health benefits to humans of stroking animals
- Grooming a cat is also a great opportunity to spot any lumps or bumps, and check for any unwanted visitors – fleas, ticks, mites etc.
When grooming your cat (or clipping its nails, cleaning it, administering medication, etc.) it is important to ensure your cat feels safe and secure so your cat is happy and you don’t get scratched! It is best to get your cat accustomed to being groomed from a very early age. As soon as you bring your kitten home, make a fuss of it for short spells at a time until your kitten is quite happy for you to stroke it and then gradually increase the time spent stroking. Most kittens will eventually enjoy being stroked and actively seek you out for a pampering session – although male cats are usually fonder of this kind of attention than females. This will make it much easier if your cat ever needs veterinary attention. However, it is important that a cat is never forced into a situation they find stressful and they should always have the option to escape.
Once your cat is happy being stroked and petted, you can introduce a brush or a comb for some more intense grooming. It is a good idea to try different types of brush and comb to see which your cat prefers. It is also advisable to let your cat see and sniff the brush before you use it so that they get used to it. If your cat really dislikes brushes and combs, you could use a grooming glove – this is a glove with knobbly bits that catch the hair in the same way a brush would, but to the cat, it feels more like stroking than brushing.
Having calming treats on hand to reward your cat for sitting comfortably is also a good idea!
How to Hold Your Cat for Grooming
Spraying a natural pheromone spray can help your pet feel relaxed before you even start grooming – it can be sprayed on a towel or on your cat’s bed.
Let your cat sit on your lap and make itself comfortable. Start with gentle affectionate stroking to help your pet relax and then gradually increase the intensity of the grooming. Wrap your arm around your cat and place one hand across your cat’s chest and front legs. This will restrain the cat with one arm, allowing you to groom with the other arm. Let your cat move around occasionally so that he doesn’t feel out of control.
Another position to try is to sit your cat between your legs, facing away from you, and place a hand under his chin. Be very careful not to squeeze his neck in any way. This is a good position for grooming his back.
Some cats will also tolerate being cradled on their back. Hold them snugly in one arm and use your free arm to gently groom their tummy.
While grooming, it is important to not to restrict your cat’s ability to move its tail. It is thought that cats twitch their tails to deal with stress.
If your cat really dislikes being restrained, you can wrap them in a towel. This helps them feel very safe and secure, but does make it more difficult to access all areas on their body.
If you notice any signs that your cat is not feeling relaxed and comfortable, stop the session, let them calm down, and then re-start another time. Some signs to look out for include;
- Flicking ears or rotating them backwards
- Swishing the tail
- Licking lips
- Freezing or feeling tense/stiff
- Shaking the head or any other sudden movements
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Grooming is an important part of your cat’s daily routine and should be an important part of the relationship between a cat and its owner, strengthening the bond between you both. Some cats will never tolerate grooming, especially if they have been rescued from an uncaring home. In these situations, it is best to seek help from a professional groomer and possibly advice from your vet. Sedation is an option but should only be used as a last resort.
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- Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley, How to Care for a Cat, HowStuffWorks
- Tips for How to Bathe Your Cat or Kitten, WebMD
- Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Handling Exercises for Trimming Nails and Brushing Teeth, VCA Hospitals