Anyone who has spent any time around a cat will know they are extremely fastidious animals who spend a lot of time and care grooming themselves. In fact, their bodies are adapted to allow this job to be done to the best of their ability, with backward pointing spines on their tongues and great flexibility in their bodies. But it doesn’t hurt to give a hand with this process and your cat will enjoy the help and the attention.
Why groom a cat?
Cats have three types of hair on their bodies; down, awn and guard. Different types of cats, especially pedigrees, have different proportions of their hair made from these different types and this is why they look different. Cats moult to a degree all of the year and much of this moulted hair is swallowed during the grooming processes. It then either passes through their digestive system or is brought back up in vomit as a hairball.
Cats groom for a number of reasons as well as the removal of the moulted hair. When the weather is hot, they spread their saliva across the coat and this helps as a cooling agent, lowering their body temperature. It also maintains the quality of the coat by stimulating glands at the base of the hair and then spreading these secretions, called sebum, along the hairs. This also collects vitamin D from sunlight to help the cat’s metabolism. This is a similar idea to a human brushing their hair, as it is a similar hormone produced.
When you groom your cat, it serves several important functions. The most important is that it helps remove the hair that is being shed to prevent it entering their digestive system and possibly causing hairballs. It also helps you to bond with your cat, especially if you are a new owner, as in the wild cats would groom each other to form social bonds. Lastly, it lets you do a quick check of your cat unobtrusively to make sure there are no parasites or lumps and bumps that may indicate a health problem.
How to groom a cat
The first thing to remember about how to groom a cat is never to corner them or make it so they are trapped and cannot escape. If you do, this will make the grooming a traumatic event that they will avoid. You want grooming to be a pleasurable thing for them that they are keen to repeat.
For shorthaired cats, a fine toothed comb, a bristle brush and a grooming pad or mitten are all you need. Try to groom once a week and start with the comb to examine for any signs of fleas or other parasites. You can then use your fingers to loosen up the hair and use the brush from head to tail following the direction of hair growth. This brings all the loose hairs to the surface and when you run your hand over them with the grooming pad, this will collect the loose hairs.
Grooming longhaired cats needs a little more caution. A wide-toothed comb and a mitten or pad are all that is needed and this should be done on a daily basis. After a good gently rubbing with your fingers to raise the loose hair, use the comb to check with fleas or parasites and also to gently tease apart any knots in the hair. Don’t use scissors on any knots you find. Check between the toes and paw pads as this is another area hair can become matted and debris can collect. Finally rub over with the mitten or pad to collect the loose hair.