Cats are beautiful creatures, and each individual cat breed will have a different set of requirements when it comes to care and grooming. From the lack of any hair at all in the Devon Rex to the long, luscious coat of the Maine Coon, the variety of grooming requirements across breeds is astounding.
It is very important to understand why cats groom themselves and why it is important to assist them with this grooming by regularly brushing them.
How & Why Cats Groom
You will have seen your cat groom him or herself on a daily basis. Cats groom very regularly, in fact, they can spend up to one-third of the waking hours grooming. If cats can often sleep up to 16 hours per day, this translates to your cat grooming for a solid 2.5 hours daily! Typically a cat ‘grooming’ itself means that it is licking every single inch of its coat. Papillae, the raspy hooks on the cat’s tongue, help to ensure that its fur doesn’t matt.
The regular daily licking action also stimulates the skin under the fur, helping to keep it healthy. You may have also seen a mother cat groom her kittens. This helps to remove dirt from their coats, but can also stimulate them to pee and poop as well when they are very young.
If you have a medium to the longhaired cat, you will likely also have noticed that cats shed a lot of hair. Cats facilitate this shedding via grooming. Imagine for a moment the amount of fur that is lying around your home right now from one of your cats. Well double that amount and that is the quantity your cat typically swallows as a result of grooming. In most cases, this hair would pass through the intestinal tract and out with the poop, but unfortunately in some cases, cats will bring up hairballs.
Hairballs are bits of fur your cat has swallowed during the grooming process that have stuck together in your cat’s food pipe or stomach. Eventually, if this fur doesn’t move along the length of the intestine, your cat removes it by vomiting it up — and typically on a nice, cream-colored carpet! By regularly brushing and grooming your cat, you can help to limit the amount of hair they ingest, and thereby help to lessen the number of hairballs they bring up.
Can Cats Over Groom Themselves?
In cases where your cat is itchy, you will find the amount of grooming they do dramatically increases, which can quickly turn into a medical issue as a result of over-grooming. Over-grooming can occur for a wide range of reasons, including suffering from fleas or an allergy. If you have noticed that your cat seems to groom most of his or her time awake, then it is likely an excessive amount of grooming.
Likewise, if your cat seems to have any patches of hair loss, or if you can see red skin or scabs, then there is likely an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. In each of these cases, follow up with your veterinarian. Also make sure that you keep up to date with your cat’s flea and worming treatments, and be sure to use a reliable product from your local veterinary clinic when doing so. Whatever the underlying cause of the over-grooming might be, regularly brushing your cat will still help to limit the amount of hair your cat swallows into their intestinal tract.
In some instances, cats will over-groom because of stress. This can occur if your home is not set out in a cat-friendly manner, or if there is a neighborhood animal that your cat is stressed about. Always refer back to the map of your home and try and alter it to best suit the needs of your cat. Doing so will help to ensure a stress free environment for them and help prevent over-grooming if stress is at the root of this behavior.
If there is a cat nearby that seems to be taunting your cat through a certain window, then limiting access to these areas is a very good idea. The product “Feliway” can also be very useful in these situations. Feliway is an over-the-counter feline pheromone diffuser that can aid in decreasing any stress that your cat might be experiencing within your home.
Regardless of the reason, in most cases of over-grooming, you are best to follow up with your veterinarian sooner rather than later.
Ways to Groom Your Cat
Understanding the grooming requirements for your cat will help minimize issues like matted fur, hairballs and skin problems. Yes, your cat needs regular grooming to keep their skin and coat healthy, but this activity also provides some ideal and relaxing bonding time — if done correctly! For many owners, grooming their cat is a scary and/or impossible task. While great care needs to be taken with some cats, if carried out in the correct manner and using the right tools, a grooming session should be something your cat absolutely loves.
Regular brushing of your cat can help to keep their skin and coat in good condition, reduce hairballs and improve the bond you have with them. However, just like their pickiness with the location of water bowls, cats can be very particular about what you can groom them with, where you can groom them, and how long you can groom them for.
One cat may allow you to groom their entire body, but only for 1 – 2 minutes. Another cat may only permit you to brush their back and head, but won’t let you anywhere near their belly! This is where brushing becomes an exercise in trial and error for each cat. Whatever the case of your cat’s preferences, always try and make brushing and grooming a pleasant experience. For specific tips relating to your cat’s existing behavioral quirks, it is a good idea to ask the veterinary technician at your local veterinary clinic for insight. As with each of the other tools mentioned in this book, there are wide ranges of different brushes for cats, each dependent on the feline’s coat length and type. Your local pet store will be able to offer advice on the best brush based on a description of each of your cats.
There are some “one size fits all” brushes that will suit almost any cat with fur: the ‘ZoomGroom’ and the ‘Furminator’. These are available from most pet stores and veterinary clinics. A ZoomGroom brush has large plastic cone tips instead of thinner prongs, which both provide your cat with a pleasant massage and also remove any loose hair from your cat’s coat using static electricity. The Furminator works by painlessly stripping excess hair from your cat’s coat. Both are excellent products, and they work even better in tandem – the Furminator first to strip some excess hair away, followed up by the ZoomGroom to pick up any loose hair it leaves behind.
Brushing your cat several times per week is very important. It only takes a couple of minutes to give your cat a quick brush, and if you can do this multiple times per week, you will drastically lower the number of hairballs and skin issues your cat might have. Also remember that your cat will naturally shed more hair in the period from spring and summer, so you may need to groom them even more frequently during these warmer months.
As you have probably experienced, most domestic cats love a good pat! There are always exceptions: there are cats that would rather be left alone, and others who would rip you to shreds if you tried to even touch them. But in most cases, petting your cat should be enjoyable for them, and ideally for you as well.
Gentle stroking action on their coat as well as a small, soft scratch under their chin and around their ears releases endorphins (the family of feel-good hormones) in both of you. Not only that, but petting in itself can also help to ensure the fur stays nice and smooth and will help you to find and locate any knots of matted fur, or scabs on the skin.
Regularly petting your cat also improves the bond you have with them. Having a strong bond with each of your cats helps create a stress-free, happy, and cat-friendly home. The next time you are sitting on the couch, give your cat a nice gentle pat and scratch under the chin. If they tolerate it, put them on your lap. If they fall asleep, then let them be until they are awake again. Oh – and why not make it a rule for your home that whoever has a cat on their lap is lucky enough to get things brought to them, so that they don’t have to disturb the comfortable cat!
Other Coat Care Tips and Tricks
Regularly brushing and petting your cat will definitely set you in the right direction, but here are a few pointers you shouldn’t forget about when considering your cat’s coat: Apply a reliable flea, mite, or tick product to your cat as often as directed by your veterinarian (depending on the product you use). If you notice fleas on your cat, or if your cat has scabs or is scratching and grooming excessively, be sure to follow this up with your veterinarian.
Be sure to treat all of your cats and dogs for fleas at the same time (preferably the same day). Don’t forget to regularly wash your cat’s bedding. Flea eggs are commonly found in the general environment, not just on your cat. Regularly washing bedding and vacuuming are both very important. Remember that cats shed more hair in summer, and so are more prone to eating their fur and having hairballs during this time. Try to brush your cat more frequently in summer.
Take time to learn what your cat likes when it comes to brushing them, and don’t force anything on them, as this will just cause stress. If your cat won’t allow you to brush him or her, then you may have more success by taking them to your local veterinary clinic to have the veterinary team do this for you. Cats generally don’t tolerate getting wet — so don’t attempt washing your cat unless you are certain it is going to go well. Because cats groom so often, they are actually very clean animals, and they really don’t require bathing as dogs often do.
This is Chapter 7 of the 12 Chapter Series: