Cat Grooming 101: How To Groom A Cat

The ultimate guide to grooming your cat.

Cats do an excellent job of grooming themselves, but do cats need to be groomed by their parents, too? And if so, what exactly goes into grooming a cat?

If you’re looking to take on cat grooming at home or seek the help of a professional, then you should be equipped with all the facts, figures, tools and tips to do so, and thanks to experts in the grooming sphere who spoke to The Dodo, we have the answers you’re searching for.

Grab a pen and paper and get ready to take some notes. Cat Grooming 101 is in session.

Do cats need to be groomed?

The short answer is, yes — but the ideal grooming routine will vary from cat to cat.

All cats groom themselves on a regular basis, but some cats need to be groomed more thoroughly at home or by a professional to maintain a healthy coat and skin. This is especially true for long-haired cats, as their coats are often more tricky to keep tangle-free, and hairless cats, who may need regular bathing since their skin can get dirty or oily more quickly than their furry counterparts.

“There are a large number of cats that require grooming, although for some it may not seem like a necessity until they get older,” Lynn Paolillo, a certified feline master groomer and owner of Cat Naps Cattery, told The Dodo. “Too often I see cats where they aren’t seeing a groomer until after there’s already a problem, like matting, knots, excessive shedding, hairball blockages, etc.”

If you’re noticing your cat is experiencing matting, itchy or flaky skin, sores, or isn’t able to groom herself, then taking charge of her grooming is definitely necessary. You can also consult your vet to get advice on which grooming steps you should take to keep your cat happy and healthy.

Cat grooming cost

According to Paolillo, pricing depends on your location, the groomer’s setup and skills, and what services are needed.

“The average starting range is usually $65–$100 for a base groom and could go upwards of $250+ if the cat is severely matted, in a high cost of living area and/or requires specialty services,” Paolillo told The Dodo.

“Demographics, breed, as well as temperament and condition [have] much to do with determining cost,” Julie Matthes, cat groomer and owner of Feline Fancy, told The Dodo, noting her prices are a bit lower than the average groomer. “I do it because I love it and I want owners to take care of their cats, so I make it affordable.” Matthes said a grooming session that includes a brush-out, sanitary cleanup and a nail trim costs about $45.

Consult your local groomer to grab an estimate and discuss what grooming services your cat potentially needs.

Cat grooming at home

Unless your cat is dealing with a severe case of matting or other skin and coat issues you’re not comfortable tackling yourself, grooming can be done from the comfort of your own home.

Brushing your cat

All cats should be brushed, no matter their coat length (except for hairless cats, of course). And this is the easiest of all grooming tasks to do at home.

“I recommend regular brushing for every cat,” Matthes said. “5 to 10 minutes daily is ideal, but [brush] at least three times a week. Start early in life, make it fun and a time for bonding. Treats are always welcome.”

It’s important to find the best cat brush for your cat’s specific coat. “Many short-haired cats tend to be heavy shedders, and brushes like the Zoom Groom are gentle on skin and can attract a lot of dead hair,” Paolillo said.

“For short-haired kitties, I love to use the Furminator,” Matthes said. “It works well with removing their loose coat.”

And for long-haired cats who need more consistent brushing, combs are most effective.

“Smaller combs are great for around their head, legs and paws. Whereas large, metal combs are a better choice for the body, chest, legs, tail and belly,” Paolillo said.

Matthes added that her favorite comb for long-haired cats is a greyhound comb. “[It] takes care of mats before they become too big to remove.”

Soft, natural bristle brushes aren’t super effective at removing dead hair, but they can offer a relaxing massage for cats, so you can use one after a more in-depth brush. And slicker brushes, Matthes noted, are OK when used lightly. “Not my favorite tool … it can cause injury if used on older, thin-skinned kitties.”

Always brush in the direction of hair growth and brush in short strokes, stopping if you hit a tangle or mat. Less severe mats can be picked apart with your fingers or combed using a metal comb with even shorter strokes.

“Small mats, under the size of a quarter, are usually more likely to be removed by combing,” Paolillo said. “But larger, severe or widespread matting will require a professional to use clippers safely. There are also occasions where cats cannot be shaved or have mats removed safely without being sedated by their veterinarian. A professional cat groomer can evaluate your cat to let you know your best options.”

This is why sticking to a regular grooming routine is so important, especially for mat-prone cats. “Combing your cats, both long-haired and short-haired, is something that can be incorporated into the cat’s regular routine,” Paolillo said. “I recommend to my clients to put their comb next to the TV remote. While your cat sits with you watching TV, get in the habit of combing sections of their body throughout the week. High-risk areas that can mat include the base of the tail, the chest, the armpits, belly and the back of the rear legs. If you are noticing knots or mats on their back or sides, then most likely there are a lot more mats on the underside.”

Trimming your cat's nails

Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed is a much more humane way to keep scratching and furniture destruction at a minimum compared to declawing. And regular nail trims are often necessary for senior cats with lower activity levels — sometimes their claws can actually grow into their pads if not properly maintained.

[Cat] nail trims can be done at home, especially if starting as young as possible with the cat,” Paolillo said. “I prefer small dog nail trimmers, but there are several different nail trimmer styles, so you can choose what feels the most comfortable.”

There are guillotine-style nail trimmers, scissor-style trimmers and some cat parents even prefer human fingernail clippers.

Dr. Megan Conrad, a veterinarian who works with telehealth pet care company Hello Ralphie, said she likes the scissor style as they’re the easiest to use, especially for those who are just starting out with at-home nail trimming.

Having styptic powder or cornstarch on hand, too, is important just in case you clip your cat’s quick and she starts bleeding.

“If you've never trimmed your cat's nails before, the key thing to remember is to start slowly, and start while your cat's mood is calm,” Dr. Conrad told The Dodo, adding that you should let your cat get used to the feeling of having her toes touched first. “Try gently squeezing a toe (push the pad and top of the toe) to extend the nail, then quickly release it. Do this for a few toes, take a break for a while and do another session later.”

Then, when it’s time to trim, extend the claw and only cut the curved, pointed tip above the pink quick line “Your goal is to cut only the pointed end of the nail, without cutting into the area of the quick, to avoid bleeding,” Dr. Conrad said.

Give your cat plenty of breaks and treats during her nail trim session, and if she’s squirmy, focus on clipping her front nails, as these are the ones that can cause the most damage, and leave her back feet for later.

Bathing your cat

The first thing you should ask yourself before getting ready to bathe your cat is if your cat even needs to be bathed at all. More often than not, she probably doesn’t.

“Not all cats need to be bathed,” Matthes said. “Some specific breeds should be bathed, specifically hairless cats because of oil buildup and [for] skincare, as well as older cats [who] may have an oily coat and a buildup of dander due to medical reasons or lack of self-grooming.”

Other situations that may require giving your cat a bath include if your cat gets into something toxic, sticky or smelly, or if she has a health issue that must be treated with regular bathing. Always consult your vet first if you suspect your cat has a skin issue, pests or if you’ve noticed she’s not grooming herself.

But, if your cat does need to have a bath, The Dodo explained how to bathe a cat without making her hate you (hopefully!). You’ll need a bit of patience, the right shampoo and lots of cat treats.

Cat grooming wipes are also an excellent alternative to a full-on bath. These are great if your cat got into something dusty or dirty that doesn’t really require her to get shampooed.

Cleaning your cat's ears

Cleaning your cat’s ears is another task that depends on your cat’s current condition and doesn’t need to be done regularly.

“If the cat’s ears are free of wax, debris and any redness, then cleaning at home isn’t as necessary,” Paolillo said. “However, some need more cleaning than others.”

Matthes suggested a simple, non-invasive cleaning twice a month or so can be done if you notice your cat’s ears getting a bit dirty. “You can purchase an ear cleaner for cats and put it on a cotton ball … Wipe what you can see. Not too hard. Then back it up with a dry cotton ball.”

Never clean inside your cat’s ear canal, because you could end up doing some damage. Reserve your cleaning for just around the outer ear.

“If you see buildup in a shorter time, redness, frequent scratching or head shaking, I would definitely recommend a vet visit to rule out infection or ear mites,” Matthes said.

It should be noted that some cats simply will not tolerate being groomed at home. And sometimes a cat parent can’t commit to a regular grooming schedule. Both situations are OK, but you’ll need to find an alternative solution to at-home grooming.

“Getting on a regular schedule with a professional cat groomer can prevent a lot of issues,” Paolillo said. “Many cats are much more tolerant of the bath and blow dry process when done by a trained pro.”

Be patient and gentle with your cat, and hopefully she’ll warm up to the idea of grooming and realize that, although she does a great job on her own, every little bit helps.

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