So, why do we need to groom our cats?
One of the most frequent activities we see cats performing is grooming. They’re good at it, seem to like it and engage in it often. Consequently, many of us have the impression that cats don’t need any additional grooming from us. Very not so.
A cat has his remarkably abrasive tongue, his teeth and his paws and claws to bring to the task of keeping clean and all that goes a long way to keeping his fur in fine fiddle but there is a lot we can do that he can’t, to help in the ongoing effort of cleanliness. For one thing, grooming is not just about cleanliness. And for another, there are important tasks our cats cannot, or cannot easily accomplish by themselves.
What grooming tools?
Tools we use for cat grooming are a brush with bristle length and spacing appropriate for the length of our cats’ fur. Too short for a long-hair cat won’t be very effective – nor as pleasurable and too widely spaced won’t work on a short hair cat; a wide-tooth comb for long haired, a fine-toot metal comb and a small pair of good quality, sharp scissors. The latter is for matted fur – we address that, controversially, further on.
Most cats have three types of hair: The coarser outer, ‘guard hairs’, the inner coat of medium length ‘Awn hair’ and soft, short ‘down hair’. Different breeds will have these in differing proportions. It is mostly the inner coat that concerns us but the outer coat is involved in the process too.
Most specialists recommend brushing in the direction the hair grows but there are those who recommend brushing both directions. This is to be decided by your cat. Try a gentle brushing the ‘right’ way, then try going opposite, very gently. He might like it and it is a good way to increase the massaging effect to the grooming if he does, stimulating blood flow and distributing his natural oils throughout the area (which happens no matter the direction). If he doesn’t like it you’ll know it, so a respect for his wishes is advised. Anecdotally, we brush our cat, Bijou with a brush that has very fine, metal bristles and he likes it both directions. In fact, he loves it.
For a short hair or medium length start with the metal, fine tooth comb from head to tail, gently teasing out any knots if there are any but don’t pull. A cat’s skin is very sensitive and causing him pain is antithetical to what you are trying to achieve; (an enjoyable experience for you both that is also beneficial to him). Then use the brush. If you have the right sort of brush he will show considerable pleasure at this and you will be removing the soft, short inner hairs that end up as hairballs he has to regurgitate. Be extra gentle and respectful when brushing delicate areas, like his belly. If you have a long hair cat start with the wide tooth comb, freeing up any knots or tangles, then go to the brush. You can find a lot of really good brushes for long and short haired cats online for under $4.00.
If you encounter matted fur and can’t gently tease it out there are oil based detangling sprays that can be very helpful. Follow the directions (spray and use a comb to work out the mat.) In some cases you may need to try the following but be very careful. Most discussions on this subject say never to use scissors but if you are careful you can use them with no ill effect at all and may very well resolve the problem. With your sharp (never dull) scissors, cut the mat at the end furthest from his skin by holding the mat firmly, close to his body so you don’t pull on it when cutting. If you can’t see where you are cutting, don’t cut. You need to know that you are cutting only matted hair and not risking cutting his skin. Don’t try to cut the whole mat off and if your cat is fidgety at all, don’t cut at all or you risk cutting him. Once the end is cut off it may be easier to tease out the tangle with your comb or something like a knitting needle (used very carefully. Hold it parallel to the cat’s body and gently work it into the mat. If your cat is the squirmy kind, don’t do this either. He needs to be still.) Instead try pulling the mat apart with your fingers.
The ancillary benefits of brushing are that it stimulates circulation in the cat’s skin, distributes the beneficial oils, cleanses him of dead skin cells and hair, reduces hairballs, massages his skin, brings you both closer together and gives you an opportunity to inspect him closely for ticks, fleas or other undesirables. How often you groom your cat will be in part determined by his needs – a long hair needing it more often than a short hair. It takes very little time and is great for you both, contributing significantly to his well-being and your relationship.
Here is a link on brushes and combs for cats.