Cats are known to be fastidious groomers, but this doesn’t mean they can do it all on their own. In the summer, especially, the heat and humidity may make owners more conscious about the ways they can help their feline friends stay clean, cool, and well-groomed.
Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses a few aspects of cat grooming in which owners can play an important role.
A cat’s tongue is covered in barbs that allow it to comb the top layer of hair, but regular brushing can still have many benefits for cat and owner.
“Regularly brushing your cat removes dirt, grease, and dandruff,” Teller said. “While most cats are fastidious about keeping themselves clean, removing dead hair with brushing also minimizes shedding and the amount of hair that the cat ingests while grooming, which can then help limit hairballs.”
The time spent brushing a cat is also a good opportunity to check for lumps and bumps, areas of hair loss, lesions, and fleas and ticks. Plus, since most cats enjoy being brushed, it can be a great bonding activity.
With regular brushing and the grooming cats do themselves, it is rare that a cat will need a bath, unless they have a medical condition that requires bathing or get into something messy or dangerous to ingest.
Sometimes, especially for cats that go outdoors, owners are tempted to shave off long fur in an effort to keep the cat cool, but this is rarely necessary or recommended, since a cat’s fur actually plays a role in keeping it cool during the summer by creating a barrier of cool air within the coat.
Shaving may be necessary, however, if a cat develops large mats in its fur or has difficulty grooming itself.
“Brushing your cat’s fur regularly will help prevent mats from occurring,” Teller said. “If your cat does develop mats, you may be able to tease out small ones with a comb and your fingers.
“A cat that is overweight or obese may have a hard time grooming certain areas, especially near the rear end of its body,” she continued. “Sometimes these cats will need a ‘hygienic’ shave in this region to prevent the accumulation of urine or fecal matter, which could damage the cat’s skin.”
When it comes to cleaning ears, owners rarely need to get involved, unless things appear extra dirty.
“If you notice that your cat appears to have excess wax or dirt in the ears, or if your cat’s ears are red or inflamed or have discharge or an odor, it is important to have your veterinarian examine your cat’s ears before cleaning them,” Teller said. “If your cat’s ears do need to be cleaned, your veterinarian will recommend an appropriate cleaner and show you how to clean them without hurting the cat or potentially rupturing an ear drum.”
Another important aspect of cat grooming is keeping their claws trimmed, which can protect the cat, its owner, and the owner’s furniture. This should be done every two or three weeks, and sometimes more often for older cats.
Claw trimming can be a stressful experience for cats and owners who are new to it, so Teller recommends taking things one step at a time to reduce anxiety.
“The first step is getting your cat used to having its paws handled. Pick up a foot, gently massage it, and press on a toe to extend the nail. Once your cat is used to having its paws handled, you can then trim the nails,” she said. “When starting out, just do one or two feet. As your cat accepts the procedure, you’ll eventually be able to do all four feet in one session.”
It can also help to do the nail trim after a cat has had a play session and is feeling relaxed and to reward positive behavior with the cat’s favorite treats.
Regular grooming can help keep a cat healthy and happy in addition to looking good. When a cat’s feelings are taken into account, grooming can also be a pleasant and relaxing way to spend time together.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to email@example.com.