As your senior cat ages, her grooming needs may change. Some cats will need more frequent grooming, but for others less is better. Many older cats lose the flexibility they had when they were younger and have difficulty maintaining their coats as they once did.
Should You Groom Your Cat?
You know your cat needs grooming, but is this a task you should tackle? Factors that influence this decision include:
- Is your cat healthy enough to groom? Is she lethargic or are her gums pale? Both can indicate inadequate blood flow.
- Is your cat in pain? Manipulation of already painful joints on an arthritic cat may cause you pain in the form of a bite.
- Is your cat stressed? Cats have a difficult time calming down, especially if you exacerbate the situation by insisting on doing an activity they do not enjoy. Signs of stress include dilated pupils (larger than normal), heavy panting, unusual vocalizations and/or ears pointed backward.
- Is your cat simply in a bad mood? Angry cats can become stressed cats in short order.
- Elasticity of skin: As your cat ages, her skin may become thin and papery. This is important because thinner skin scratches easier. Unlike the skin of dogs and people, cat skin is not attached to muscle. A slight nick has the potential to become a large tear.
Preparing To Groom Your Senior Cat
Begin the grooming process by gathering your equipment and supplies. Check your equipment before you use it. Damaged tools may cause injury. You will need:
- Cat-safe shampoo: Manufacturers determine whether a shampoo is cat-safe. No state or federal agency oversees this. Read the ingredients. Some manufacturers may list categories instead of ingredients, such as earth-based shampoo base and coconut-derived cleansers. I recommend avoiding essential oils or shampoos that use toxic chemicals. Essential oils may not be listed on a category-based ingredient lists. Cats cannot metabolize most essential oils or toxic chemicals. They are stored in their livers and kidneys. If used long-term, these may cause chronic medical conditions.
- Brushes: Use a rubber curry brush for short-coated cats, and a pin brush and standard metal comb for long-coated cats. The cheaper brushes and combs may have sharper edges because they do not round the tips. Run the brush up your arm; if it scratches you, it will also scratch the delicate skin of an older cat.
- Cat comb: This is a particular style of comb that alternates long and short tines. It is more effective at removing undercoat than a standard comb.
- Nail clipper: I prefer the scissor-action to the guillotine-action type of clipper, because I believe the guillotine action pulls on the nail as it cuts, which may cause discomfort to your cat.
- Fur trimmer: Use a hand-held, adjustable clipper for shaving out small mats. This clipper has a lever on the blade that changes the size from 9 to 40 in five increments. The 9 is a short shave and the 40 is a surgical shave. They are lightweight, quiet and have low vibrations. Avoid clippers that may be too noisy or have a higher oscillary rate that causes a vibration that may irritate your cat.
- Blunt-tip scissors: These are for light trim work. Do not use scissors to cut out mats, as this can result in substantial injury if you accidentally cut your cat.
- Hand-held dryer: These dryers can become dangerously hot very quickly. Monitor the heat flow while in use to avoid burning your cat.
Before you begin grooming, set the mood. Reduce the stimuli as much as possible. Turn off the TV and play soothing music, such as classical or harp. My favorite music to play in the background is “Chakra Suite” by Steven Halpern. Remove noisy children and other pets. Make cat grooming one-on-one happy time between you and your cat. Have plenty of your pet’s favorite, yummiest treats at hand and be generous with them.
Cat Grooming Time!
If you choose to begin by bathing, half fill your sink with lukewarm water. Place towels in the sink. Your cat needs something soft to grip. Fill an empty 16-ounce soda bottle with about 2 inches of shampoo and fill with lukewarm water. Shake well. Place your cat in the sink and thoroughly wet her by gently moving the water over your cat. Most cats will not like water sprayed directly on them unless it is a very gentle flow.
Once you are certain the bath will not stress your cat, take the bottle with the pre-mixed water and shampoo, and work the mix into her coat. Use a washcloth on her face. Use the water in the sink to remove as much soap as possible. Drain the water, and refill the sink. Repeat this until all the soap is removed. Towel off and dry your cat with a hand-held dryer. Toss out any unused, diluted shampoo, as it will begin to collect bacteria. Once your cat is fully dry, you can begin to comb, brush or clip her.
Most cats do not respond well to being scruffed at the neck. Scruffing is when you grab your cat by the loose skin at the neck. Instead, use a gentle touch on her body or cover your cat entirely with a towel. If you towel your cat, expose only the part that you are working on. The brush is used for loosening up the coat, while the comb is for finishing. Your comb should move easily through the coat starting at the skin outward. If you meet resistance with the comb, go back to the brush to loosen the coat.
Always work at your cat’s pace and tolerance. Cats respond better to shorter, consistent and more frequent grooming sessions rather than sporadic, longer sessions. At the first indications of stress, stop the grooming and try again another day. There is a possibility you will need to stop during the bath while un-rinsed shampoo is still on your cat. If this occurs, allow your cat time to relax. Then, using warm, wet towels, gently wash the shampoo off.
When Home Grooming Isn’t An Option
There are times when you will need to seek out a professional groomer or veterinarian. These include:
- If you are unable to groom your cat.
- Your cat is matted. Look for a professional groomer trained in the low stimuli, gentle handling techniques for cats. The Holistic Cat Groomers Alliance or the Professional Cat Groomers Association of America are two professional organizations that have online member listings.
- If your cat has a chronic medical condition that may be aggravated by stress.
- If your cat becomes aggressive because of the grooming process.
One of the best benefits of regularly grooming your cat is that you will know her physical condition and can spot irregularities sooner. Early detection means early intervention. The sooner you attend to any health concerns, the better the outcome. And don’t forget that your senior cat will feel good and look better with regular grooming care.